I often say that there are two things in life that we can count on besides death and taxes and that’s stress and pain. With that said, it’s my pleasure to bring to you Christy Matta, MA. Christy has over 15 years experience in the mental health field, is author of the recently released book The Stress Response: How Dialectical Behavior Therapy Can Free You from Needless Anxiety, Worry, Anger, and Other Symptoms of Stress, founder of the blog Dialectal Behavior Therapy Misunderstood and contributor for the Huffington Post and MentalHelp.Net.
Today, Christy talks to us about what Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is, how it can help with your stress right now and some advice for those of us who are struggling.
Elisha: Can you give us a brief synopsis of what Dialectal Behavior Therapy (DBT) is and how it relates to stress?
Christy: Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) grew out of the work of Marsha Linehan, PhD. Linehan is a cognitive behavioral psychologist by training and developed the theory while working primarily with women who had extreme emotional reactions and who tended to be impulsive and engage in risky or harmful behaviors.
Over time DBT strategies evolved to focus on helping people identify and change problematic thoughts, understand their own emotional reactions and the difficulties inherent in the process of change and to teach practical strategies to deal with crisis, calm and center yourself, relate to others in a positive way that gets your needs met and reduce extreme and painful emotions. DBT’s effectiveness in helping people temper extreme emotions and reduce unhealthy and risky behaviors makes it an attractive treatment, especially for people who struggle with high levels of stress and overwhelming emotion.
Elisha: You mention in your book that there are costs and benefits to Radical Acceptance. Can you explain what that term means and some of the costs and benefits?
Christy: Radical Acceptance, a DBT skill, involves facing reality rather than rejecting and judging it. Some think that acceptance is a state that simply comes—with time, patience, or understanding. This misconception can leave you feeling out of control.
Radical Acceptance involves making a choice to accept yourself and the current situation, even if you wish you or the situation were different. It may mean acknowledging a health problem that you’d like to avoid, accepting that an adult child has made life choices with which you disagree or admitting that you’re disappointed in yourself. Acceptance doesn’t mean that you like the circumstances or even that they are okay. It’s simply acknowledging to yourself the reality of the situation.
Stressful and painful situations happen to all of us. When we fight, avoid, procrastinate, or try to fix something that we have no control over, we usually do so because the situation is scary or it means we are losing something important. The costs of acceptance are often that we have to experience painful emotions, such as disappointment, fear or shame.
However, by acknowledging our circumstances and accepting them and our own emotions and behaviors, we are able to deal with them as they are and find solutions. Sometimes the process is painful, but acceptance allows us to get through difficult times, solve problems and move on.
Elisha: What are some key practices that readers can take away right now to start enhancing their Stress Response?
Christy: When you are stressed, it can be helpful to first get your body into a more calm and relaxed state, which will have a calming effect on your emotions and thoughts. A focus on breathing is an important part of treatment for stress, panic, and anxiety.
One strategy I suggest is called Balloon Breath. You begin by imagining your lungs as a balloon. Slowly inhale and as you do, imagine that your lungs are filling like a balloon. Then exhale slowly, keeping the image of the balloon in mind and try to push all the air out. Continue for ten to twenty breaths (if you start feeling tired or dizzy while practicing, stop and return to normal breathing).
Sometimes symptoms of stress come from the energy that is released during an acute stress response. If you’re sitting behind a desk or are in a car and feeling stressed, you may need to release some of that energy. If you’re not able to get up and walk around or exercise, it can be helpful to tense and then release different muscles in the body.
For example, you might clench your fists as hard as you can for five to ten seconds and then release your fists and let the energy drain out of your forearms and hands. Repeat that two or three times and your body will begin to feel less revved up. As your body relaxes, you will likely find that your thoughts have also slowed and that your emotions have calmed a bit.
Elisha: If you were sitting across the table from someone suffering with anxiety, worry or other symptoms of stress, what thoughts might you have for them?
Christy: Although you might feel overloaded and under constant strain, it is possible to recognize your own response to stressful circumstances, and, with increased knowledge, change the impact that stress has on your life. There are strategies that can help you get through a crisis, lead a less chaotic life and feel less overwhelmed and better able to focus on the positive aspects of life.
Wisteria and lanterns photo available from Shutterstock.
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Last reviewed: 17 Apr 2012