Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Practice What You Preach

There is a skill in DBT that is used for distress tolerance, where a person uses techniques to help themselves feel better in the moment. Yesterday, I was speaking with a colleague regarding the skill of taking a brief vacation, and how it can be a difficult skill for some to use. The idea is to take brief vacation from whatever is bothering you, so that distress can come down, and when you come back to it, emotions are less intense and you feel more regulated.
In skills group, we give examples of going for a drive, or day-dreaming, or even shutting down your cell phone for a day. When we bring up "disconnecting" from our phones, people often speak about how this will cause a rise in their distress because "I do everything on my phone" or "I feel naked." In a recent group, someone shared that they had used this technique without knowing it, when they went away and could not use their cell phone. They spoke about how in the moments before shutting down, they experienced a great deal of anxiety and began ferociously texting everyone they could before powering off, and then a sense of emptiness as they put their phone away. These intense emotions were followed by two weeks of actually connecting with the people around them.
I often stand up at the front of the skills group and speak about how useful this skill can be.  I make the point that "there was a time when cell phones didn't exist… and people survived. Taking a break from your cell phone, or taking a brief vacation in general, can allow us to experience our lives in a way that we haven't in a long time, and it often forces us to become more mindful."
Yesterday afternoon, I left my cell phone in my friend's car.  In a matter of minutes, I was experiencing all the anxieties that many of my skills members talk about when we bring up this skill. By the time I realized I didn't have it, my heart was pounding and I was trying to retrace my steps to the last time I remembered holding it in my hand. The thought that I had just lost an expensive "lifeline" sent me into frenzy, and I borrowed my girlfriend's cell phone to call my co-worker. Once I knew my phone was safe in my colleague’s possession, the fearful thoughts died down a bit, and I used a little radical acceptance that I wouldn't have it until the morning.
I sat at the kitchen island and became very mindful of all the time this little device strips away from my life, as well as how much power I put into that thing! My thoughts starting churning at warp speed: "How am I going to wake up in the morning? I have a routine every morning; this is totally going to throw me off. What if someone needs to reach me? What am I going to do with myself???" There was a rise in the panic in my chest, and then my Wise Mind kicked in to assure me this is exactly what I need. "Now maybe you can get a blog post written. You can enjoy your morning cup of coffee completely and fully. You can take a longer shower, or make a nicer lunch. You can take a mini-vacation before work."
It turns out; my phone takes up a lot of my time in the morning. I wake up every day 3 hours before I have to be at work. I enjoy my morning time to leisurely get ready for my day. I write, read the news, check my emails and bank statements, scroll through social media, and more often than not, I have a little time to play Bubble Shooter. Without my phone distracting me, I have the opportunity to actually sit down and write a post for my blog that I have wanted to do for an entire year, but have felt too busy, or uninspired, or overwhelmed, or distracted to write.
Just as I mention to my group members, sometimes by taking a brief vacation, you actually come back to the moment feeling refreshed, more motivated, and sometimes more accomplished. I feel like the Universe was sending me a message when I mindlessly left my phone in my friend's car:
 "Practice what you preach, Kate."

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