Over the last few months, I have encountered new and unanticipated opportunities for DBT skills practice. I have experienced varying degrees of distress on the macro and micro levels, and I am noticing that mindfulness and distress tolerance skills such as: Mindfulness of Current Thoughts and Emotions, Effectively Doing what is Needed, and One-thing-in-the-Moment have been essential to me during this chaotic time.
It is important to understand that emotions like fear, anger, and sadness may be expected in global situations such as this. However, fighting these emotions has the adverse effect of intensifying them (what we resist, persists!). In order to more effectively move through distress, we can practice mindfulness of emotions and allow ourselves to just notice what is happening to us without pushing away emotions and thoughts, nor holding on to them.
That said, there is a time and place for every skill. For example, I know that it is not effective for me to practice mindfulness of the despair and sadness I feel for the world after watching the evening news. Were I to stay with these emotions in these moments, I would be rendered somewhat useless at the end of my day when I would much prefer to be productive, talk with loved ones, and accomplish needed tasks. I can instead pendulate over to another skill by effectively focusing my attention on one-thing-in-the-moment, and distract from current emotions, which I can come back to once my tasks are complete.
Here is the catch: if we do not revisit our thoughts and emotions upon completion of these tasks, then we may find ourselves feeling more overwhelmed, anxious, and depressed later and over time. Thus, we can pendulate back over to, and more effectively use, our mindfulness skills after improving the moment with distress tolerance skills.
The concept of radical acceptance encourages us to accept the moment exactly as it is without rejecting reality or engaging in useless attempts to control reality. Acceptance also allows us to embrace opportunities for action: while it is important to notice thoughts and emotions without resisting them, it is also useful to utilize opportunities for action when they arise. Moving through this cycle of skills may happen several times over the course of a single day – it certainly has for me! Skillful behavior means knowing thyself, and knowing when things cannot be changed and practicing acceptance, and taking action and making change when we can.