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February Mental Health Memo: Making this Valentine's Day a Sweet one

Making this Valentine’s Day a Sweet One
About the Author: Natasha Auch, CSW-PIP, QMHP is a Psychiatric Social Worker at the Human Services Center in Yankton.
Growing up, Valentine’s Day was always an important day for my family’s business, a local floral shop.  It always brings a smile to my face watching people choose a gift to help say “I love you” to their loved ones, whether it is through a simple card, a box of chocolates, or the most exquisite floral arrangement. While many spend this day in celebration, there are others thinking about being alone or mourning those they have lost.
The good news is we can use positive thinking and energy to derail negative emotions.  We can recreate our own Valentine’s Day experience by making new memories and healthy connections. Valentine’s Day is also a good reminder to reflect on our own value and love ourselves and that we don’t need to depend on cupid or other people to make this Valentine’s Day sweet.
If you need a way to sweeten up Valentine’s Day, then I have a great skill for you! I want to teach you one of my favorite skills from Dialectical Behavior Therapy. The ACCEPTS skill is a simple yet powerful distraction or refocusing skill to help you get through that very real emotional pain, see things from a different perspective, and create some new memories. Following are seven different distraction techniques you could try:
Do something that creates a neutral or positive emotion. Some ideas include finding an event to go to, exercising, doing a puzzle, playing cards, going out to eat, spending time with someone, or starting on that DIY project.
Contributing to someone else’s wellbeing can shift the focus off your own emotions. Another benefit to contributing is that for many it increases a sense of meaning to their own life. Some ways to contribute include volunteering, helping a friend or family member, surprising someone with something nice, giving away things you don’t need, or sending a card to someone. Making cards for people in a nursing home, hospital, or other similar setting can be a great way to help other people get through difficult times, such as holidays.
Using comparisons can also shift focus off your own emotions, but in a different way. You can compare to a time that was different or compare to someone who has it worse. Let’s talk about examples as this is a tricky one. Many people do not like making comparisons to someone who may have it worse. However, watching TV or reading about natural disasters for example may help you feel more positive about your own current situation. Examples of comparing to a time that was different could be looking back at a scenario when you coped well or comparing to a time you overcame a difficult situation.
Create different emotions than the present moment. It is difficult to just tell yourself to have a different emotion or wish it away so often you must do something that creates a different emotion. Some examples of this can include watching a funny movie, reading a mystery novel, listening to upbeat positive music, or imagining your dream vacation.
Pushing away from a painful emotion should not be the first and only technique but can be helpful on a temporary basis. You can do this by leaving a painful situation physically or blocking it from your mind temporarily. For example, if you are at a restaurant and painful emotions arise, you could leave the restaurant physically. An example of blocking it from your mind temporarily, would be imagining that the emotion is put away in a box and stored up on a shelf.
Distracting with other thoughts fills the short-term memory, so the painful thoughts do not continue to activate emotions. Some examples of this are counting back from a large number, thinking of song lyrics, or focusing on things in the environment such as shapes, colors, numbers of windows, trees, etc.
This skill refers to using intense sensations, such as tasting tabasco sauce, or lemon wedges (something extreme), taking a hot or cold shower, or listening to very loud music.
While the seven parts of the ACCEPTS skill can all be good for distraction or refocusing on the positive things to get through a difficult day, it is important to remember these techniques are not intended to be solutions for everyday problems or for getting through long-lasting, painful emotions.
If you find yourself continuing to have difficulty with painful emotions, please reach out for help. Help can look different for everyone.  It might be reaching out to a friend or family member; it might be going to church or talking with a pastor; or it could be seeking professional counseling services.  
If you want to seek professional help and don’t know where to start, you can learn more about resource options by visiting dss.sd.gov and clicking on the Behavioral Health tab or calling the South Dakota Treatment Resource Hotline at 1-800-920-4343.
You can also visit 605Strong.com or dial 211 to reach the 211 Helpline Center.

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