During this time of lingering uncertainty due to the global pandemic, along with the heightened conflict and polarization amongst the people in our nation, many of us are feeling increased sadness, anxiety, fatigue and emotional exhaustion. It is during these times that our coping skills are most needed, and yet frequently most difficult to put into action. One of the skills I want to talk about today is the value of accumulating positive emotions and adding positive events into your life.
Building positive events into our lives gives us something to look forward to and brings on positive emotional experiences. In fact, everyone needs positive events in their lives to be happy. Without such experiences, one is prone to depression and emotional vulnerability.
While it is tempting in times of stress to push away negative emotions, we need to remember that when we do so, we also push away all positive emotions, even if this is not the intention. The cutting off of difficult emotions results in the cutting off of all emotions, even the good ones. Unfortunately, we can’t have our cake and eat it too.
So rather than shutting off emotion, intentionally working toward something is a much more effective way of navigating stress and uncertainty. Having purpose is critical to reducing mood instability and increasing goal-directed behavior. Setting short-term and long-term positive events will ultimately move us to our life worth living. Short-term positive events (i.e. planning a night out, scheduling a massage etc.) are those things that are occurring in the moment, while long-term positive events (i.e. saving for a home) give us a more lasting sense of peace and happiness.
Although it can be incredibly difficult to cope ahead and plan positive events, it is imperative, especially during times of heightened distress. Engaging in positive events may require some opposite action, the skill where we do the opposite of what we are inclined to do. So remember, avoid avoiding events that could bring on positive emotions. If this is a struggle for you, perhaps you need to do a pro and con list of your avoidant behavior and then listen to wise mind to determine the most effective approach.
Finally, try to bring mindful attention to positive events as they happen, while allowing yourself to fully participate and engage in the experience. When the mind wanders back to the negative, remember to refocus attention on the good that is happening in the moment. Many times, people worry that when they’re finally experiencing a positive moment, it will be taken away from them. It is exactly at that time that the moment of joy is lost. Try to not destroy these moments with worry thoughts that take you down unnecessary rabbit holes.
With that said, I challenge you to set at least one short-term and one long-term goal to work on. Once you’ve set the intention to do this, half the battle is already won. If you need support or collaboration to help you figure out your goals, reach out to a friend or mental health professional.
Source: DBT Skills Training Manual, Second Edition