People don’t like uncertainty. We like to control things. We like predictable outcomes. But as COVID-19 has reminded us, certain outcomes are simply beyond our control or ability to predict.
COVID-19 and Distress Tolerance: 2 Key Ways to Overcome Anxiety
In the face of uncertainty, we tend to feel anxious. We want to do something productive. We want to fix the problem. With COVID-19, you wash yours hands, you practice social distancing, etc., but much of this situation remains beyond your control. A lot of it comes down to simply waiting things out. When we can’t do something concrete to resolve things in a hurry, we try to fill this gap by worrying. As if thinking the problem to death will somehow eventually beat it into submission. Anxiety is simply misdirected energy. When you notice yourself stuck in an anxious space, try redirecting this energy in a more mindful, intentional way. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) suggests various “distress tolerance” skills. Here are two of my favorites:
People often assume that being a therapist, listening to other people’s problems all day, must be exhausting. But I have found the opposite to be true. When I begin a session, I set aside my own personal challenges for 50 minutes and intently focus on my client. At the end of the day, I return to my own issues, but with a fresh energy, a new perspective. By taking a break from myself, I have created “space” around the issue.
Psychologist Dr. Doreen Virtue says, “When you get nervous, focus on service.” When you’re at am impasse with some stressful situation, set it aside temporarily and do something for someone else. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. Pick up groceries for someone. Make a supportive phone call to an old friend. Smile at a stranger. To help someone else is to help yourself. This is the essence of compassion. When you are able to reach out to assist someone else–even when you are also struggling–you grow in confidence and resiliency.
However difficult your life circumstances right now, you have probably encountered even more challenging times in the past. When you are anxious, it can be helpful to pause and reflect on some of the more difficult times in your life. How did you feel during previous meltdowns? What thoughts did you think? How did you eventually overcome those challenges? What lessons did you learn? What new life skills have you developed since then?
Life is up. Life is down. We want to be happy and carefree all the time, but there is a rhythm to life. It’s not so much about preventing the difficult times as it is leaning in, courageously embracing whatever challenges come your way. Given all the obstacles you’ve overcome in the past, can you allow yourself to mentally fast forward to the end of this particular drama? Part of you already knows you will eventually work through whatever you’re working through, so give yourself permission to feel grateful in advance. This too shall pass.