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7 ways to increase your tolerance for distress

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We all experience distressing times in our lives when we find it difficult to cope – and, with the advent of the COVID-19 virus, we’re all definitely living in a very distressing time.

Front-line workers are putting their lives on the line, people we love are becoming ill or dying, many have lost their jobs and source of livelihood and, for all of us, our lives have been turned upside down thanks to being confined and social distancing.

So, what do you do when you start to feel overwhelmed and distressed? Here are some ways you help yourself cope:

  1. Stop
    Stop and take a step back from the situation; observe how you’re feeling emotionally and physically – and then proceed mindfully, with a planned course of action.
  1. Pros and cons
    Consider the pros and cons of acting on an impulse, giving in or avoiding what needs to be done.
  1. Change your temperature
    When you’re experiencing extreme distress, changing your body temperature will do wonders. You can put your face in a bowl of cold water or hold a cold pack (Zip-lock bag) on your eyes and upper cheeks for 30 seconds. You can also engage in intense exercise for a short time. If you have any medical problems, these strategies only should be used after checking with your doctor.
  1. Distract yourself

For example, try distracting yourself:

  • By taking on activities – work on a project you’ve been wanting to do, play a game, etc.
  • By contributing in some way – keep in touch with someone who is isolated, help at home
  • By exposing yourself to different emotions – listen to emotional music, watch a scary or funny movie
  • By pushing away – remove yourself from the distressing situation for a bit
  • By considering different thoughts – count to 10, work on a puzzle, watch TV or read
  • With new sensations – squeeze a rubber ball in your hand hard; listen to loud music, put an ice cube in your mouth
  1. Try self-soothing
    We can self-sooth by using our senses:
  • Vision – look at beautiful pictures of the sunset; look at a picture of a loved one, etc.
  • Hearing – listen to music that you find soothing; open the window and listen to the birds chirping outside
  • Smell – engage in aromatherapy and smell the scents that you like, smell baking as it comes out of the oven or your favourite shampoo
  • Touch – touch your cozy blanket, wear your favourite t-shirt or sweatshirt)
  1. With self-encouragement and rethinking the situation
    You can remind yourself that you are alright, that you have the capacity to get through the situation and that this too shall pass.
  1. In the moment
    Help yourself stay in the moment with imagery, finding meaning in a painful situation, prayer, spiritual practice, relaxation strategies and meditation. There are some very good apps for imagery, relaxation and meditation practice.

What do you do when you start to feel overwhelmed and distressed?

Stronger Minds content is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to establish a standard of care with a reader, you should always seek the advice of your mental health professional, physician or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. If you think you may have a medical or mental health emergency, call your doctor, go to the nearest hospital emergency department, or call emergency services immediately. You should never disregard or delay seeking medical advice relating to treatment or standard of care because of information contained herein. Medical information changes constantly. Therefore the information herein should not be considered current, complete or exhaustive, nor should you rely on such information to recommend a course of treatment for you or any other individual. Reliance on any information provided herein is solely at your own risk.