Many of us may experience states of emotional distress at some point in our lives. This could result from facing any number of challenges that end up becoming overwhelming for us. A number of factors can be of help at such challenging times. These include the support of friends and family (Lakey & Cohen, 2000), healthy coping strategies (Vivyan, 2009), and a sufficient amount of self-care. If the distress becomes too overwhelming for us to cope with it, it is a good idea to seek professional help. However, there can be times when any or all of these supports may be unavailable to us while the experience of distress continues to affect us. It is at these times that it becomes unavoidable for us to help ourselves until we are able to access other sources of help. There can be a number of strategies that can help us survive the immediate challenges of concerns we are facing. Some of these are mentioned below:
- Rationale: Sometimes when we feel an overwhelming amount of emotional distress, we can start to feel disoriented, disconnected from reality and a sense of detachment from our surroundings (Schwartz, Galperin, Masters, 1995). At such times, grounding can be a useful technique of deliberately anchoring our attention in the present moment (Jaffee, Chu, & Woody, 2009).
- When to use it: A grounding technique can be beneficial in a number of instances such as the experience of trauma, anxiety, panic, dissociation, excessive fear or worry.
- Method: This technique relies on actively reorienting ourselves to the here and now by relying on our senses. One way to use the grounding technique could be through the use of the 5,4,3,2,1 technique where:
- We start the exercise with thinking about 5 things we can see around us. We could even do this by trying to identify 5 things of the same colour (e.g. trying to identify all red coloured objects in the room).
- We then try to identify 4 sounds we hear in our environment (e.g. sounds of the fan or the chirping of birds outside).
- We then try and touch 3 different objects or surfaces around us to feel their texture against our skin (e.g. touching the surface of the chair we are sitting on).
- We could then try to identify 2 things we can smell around us (e.g. the smell of food, perfume, paint, etc.).
- Finally, we can take 1 slow and deep breath. If the experience of distress continues even after this exercise, we can repeat the 5 steps till we experience some relief.
For more information on grounding techniques please refer to the following link: http://www.get.gg/flashbacks.htm
Paced Breathing Technique
- Rationale: Our mind and body are closely linked and changes in states of the mind can bring about changes in our physiology (Bambling, 2006). For instance, when we are anxious we tend to hyperventilate or take short, quick, or shallow breaths; this is called “over-breathing”. Experiences of dizziness, racing of the heart, or headaches can result from over-breathing. Similarly, we can control some of our physiological experiences to bring about favourable changes to our emotional experience. Learning how to relax our breathing by taking slower and regular breaths can be a handy tool for whenever and wherever we have an emotionally overwhelming experience.
- When to use it: Paced breathing can be used when feeling stressed, anxious or worried about anything.
- Method: When trying paced breathing, if sitting on a chair, it is a good idea to have a straight and relaxed posture with our arms on our lap or placed on the arm-rest of the chair (“Calm Breathing”).
- We can begin the paced-breathing exercise by taking a slow breath in through the nose for 4 seconds. The breath is to be taken into the lower belly and is not to inflate the chest.
- The next step is to hold the breath for 1 or 2 seconds.
- We then slowly release the breath through the mouth (for about 4 seconds).
- We then repeat this about 5 – 10 times or for as long as we are comfortable initially and then over time slowly increase the length of the exercise.
10 – 15 minutes of this a day on a regular basis can be a good practice in general. For additional information on paced-breathing technique please refer to the following link: https://www.anxietybc.com/adults/calm-breathing
- Rationale: Heightened emotional experiences can make us feel as if our thoughts, feelings, or behaviours are out of our control. This may bring about behavioural consequences that are unpleasant or unhealthy for us e.g. screaming, throwing objects, or violent outbursts. The time-out technique allows us to remove ourselves from the distressing environment (Foxx and Shapiro, 1978) and gives us the time and space we need to gain some composure.
- When to use it: A time-out works well in the experience of anger. However, it can be useful for other intense emotional experiences as well.
- Method: A time-out basically involves following some measure to ensure that our emotions do not escalate to the point of bringing about unpleasant consequences.
- We can start by paying attention to some of the warning signs, such as the people, issues, and situations that trigger intense emotions and try to come up with a plan which can help us distance ourselves from these triggers.
- When these emotions are triggered, we can take a time-out by physically removing ourselves from our immediate stress inducing environment (leaving the room, building, or the company of others). However, others are to be informed of our intentions with regards to the time-out (Rosen, Matheson & Stith, 2007) and about when we will return from it.
- The time-out is to be used to calm ourselves and not to continue engaging our thoughts with whatever triggered us in the first place.
- The time-out is meant to be brief, lasting a few minutes. If the emotions get triggered again when we return, we simply repeat the exercise.
- It is best if we do not engage with the trigger/s immediately and negotiate with the others about a time in the near future when we may return to the situation or discussion.
For additional information on the time-out technique please follow the link: http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/10-effective-time-out-strategies-for-managing-your-anger-0505154
Mindfulness of emotions
- Rationale: Kabat-Zinn (2003) defines mindfulness as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment”. The idea behind practicing being mindful of emotions is to help us take a step back from our emotions, observe them, understand them, accept them and not try to push them out of our mind. This is expected to bring about a reduction in the experience of distress.
- When to use it: mindfulness of emotions can be used in any emotionally distressing experience e.g. anxiety, stress, worry, sadness, hurt, anger or any other intense emotion.
- Method: For greater effectiveness, it is best to practice mindfulness on a daily basis.
- We start this exercise by bringing our awareness to our breathing, noticing all the sensations as our belly swells and drops as we slowly breathe in and out.
- We then notice our feelings and choose a feeling word to describe it e.g. fear, guilt, sadness, etc.
- We non-judgmentally observe and accept these emotions as our natural bodily reaction to circumstances. We simply allow them to pass without fighting them or trying to help them along.
- We then investigate these emotions, their intensity, how and where we feel them in our body, if they are causing any tension anywhere, and noticing if there is any change in their intensity as we are observing them?
- We also pay attention to any thoughts that cross our mind without engaging in them. We simply observe them without judging ourselves for having had the thoughts and simply bring our attention back to our breathing, and to the physical sensations of the emotion.
- If any new emotions surface, we simply repeat the process. The efficiency of this exercise increases as we become more regular with its practice. We simply observe our feeling as they come and go.
For more information on mindfulness techniques please refer to the following link: http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/mindfulness.htm
How can iCALL help
Mentioned above are some of the techniques that can be used to assist us in our experience of intense painful emotions. However, it is to be remembered that when the distress becomes overwhelming and we are unable to experience any relief, it is necessary to reach out and seek professional help. Counselling is a safe, confidential, and non-judgmental environment for us to work with skilled professionals who can help us cope with our challenges. iCALL is a psychosocial helpline, which provides telephone and email based counseling services. The counsellors at iCALL are qualified and trained across a myriad of concerns and are available to support you with your emotional needs whenever you need us. If you feel the need for help right now and wish to speak with a counsellor, you can us 022-25521111 any time between 8 AM and 10 PM from Monday to Saturday. Our counsellors can speak in English, Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Konkani, Tamil and Malayalam. You could also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bambling, Matthew. “Mind, Body And Heart: Psychotherapy And The Relationship Between Mental And Physical Health”. Psychotherapy in Australia 12.2 (2006): 52-59. Print.
“Calm Breathing”. AnxietyBC. N.p., 2013. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.
Jaffee, William B., James A. Chu, and George E. Woody. “Trauma, Dissociation, And Substance Dependence In An Adolescent Male”. Harvard Review of Psychiatry 17.1 (2009): 60-67. Web.
Rosen, K. H. , Matheson J. L., & Stith, S. M., (2007). Negotiated time-out: A de-escalation tool for couples. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 29. 291- 298.
Schwartz, Mark F., Lori D. Galperin, and William H. Masters. Post-Traumatic Stress, Sexual Trauma And Dissociative Disorder: Issues Related To Intimacy And Sexuality. 1st ed. St. Louis: N.p., 1995. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.
Vivyan, Carol. “Dealing With Distress”. Getselfhelp.co.uk. N.p., 2009. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.