As a children we are engaged by the world around us: the dry, vibrancy of the sun, the soft, slippery feeling of water. Our curiosity is unquenchable, and the smallest, most trivial object is folded into the essence of life. Along the path toward adulthood, we learn lessons about good and bad, right and wrong … opinions form and our personalities emerge in full force. Some people enter adulthood with a strong foundation and whole sense of self. Others leave behind a childhood wrought with traumatic immersion, forced to face the cruel lessons that life has thrown their way. For most of us, we experienced a combination of stable times and times when life got rough.

How well we manage with the distressing events that come packaged with life may require some fine tuning during our adulthood. But in order to adapt and learn a new way of reacting, it helps to know what triggers our maladaptive patterns and automatic responses. After all, we all must grieve when a love one dies, work through how we will go on when life’s responsibilities become too much to bear, and face disappointment and heart break.

Take a quiet moment to reflect. Think about how you presently cope when tough times show up unannounced. Once you’ve written your list, ask  yourself, Did my reaction make things worse? Did it help pile on more distress, more pain or shameful feelings? If no, great! If yes, ask yourself, What else could I have done that would still help me get through the bad times but wouldn’t cause harder times for myself and my loved ones? If this exercise causes emotions to rise too close to the surface, the exercise loses its effectiveness. In this case, it helps to imagine that this event happened to a friend. Imagine a response that would allow them to tolerate distress without working things up into a frenzy.

Imagine this scenario: It’s your last week at work before you start a new job. You’ve been training another employee to take over your job responsibilities and you hardly have time to stop and sip some coffee and take a bathroom break before you’re off to writing reports and tying up loose ends. To make matters worse, your mother recently died and the family suffers from your father-in-law’s long term degenerative brain disease. On your way out the door, just as your about to take a deep breath and blow off the steam, your daughter calls to inform you that she has dropped out of college.

Reactions That Compound Problems:

Slam and break the car door, throw and shatter cell phone, punch a wall, drink a bottle of wine, call ten friends and after each subsequent phone call your emotions escalate, Hoover vacuum a bag of chips, three pieces of cake, and a pint of ice cream.

If a distressful situation like this were to happen again, what else can help you tolerate this distress but would not make things worse for yourself or loved ones? Perhaps it’s to … Take a time out. Recognize that life is overwhelming. Begin a self care regime, knowing it will help you find clarity in a tough situation. Step away to a quiet place, journal or scribble ferociously with a black marker, call a friend who knows how to stay calm and listen, commit to short term psychotherapy or grief counseling, book several massages that will help your mind and body reboot. Build your own list and leave it where you can find it so it’s there for you during the tough times.

When the mind is more flexible and able to accommodate the ebb and flow of life, the body will mirror this state and become more supple and vibrant. As the mind goes, the body follows.

Written by Tammy Campbell, NC LMBT #390


If you’d like to learn more about this topic, perhaps these links will interest you:

Growing Awareness – (Yoga Journal)

Trauma is Treated in the Body, Not the Mind

What Behavior do you Want to Change? (Business Week)

Distress Tolerance

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