Washington DC Therapy Adults Children, Couples Families

My 7 Step Strategy for Healthy Coping ©

 

Use these 7 steps to help yourself cope with difficult, stressful, or painful emotions and thoughts:

 

1. Name the feeling: You are feeling a difficult emotion … anger, sadness, fear, disappointment, loneliness, confusion, guilt, shame … anything that is causing you emotional discomfort or pain.

 

2. List the thoughts that go with these feelings:

 

Write down or list in your head the thoughts that accompany the painful or uncomfortable feeling.

 

3.  Take each thought individually and determine whether it is FALSE, HAS SOME TRUTH TO IT, or is TRUE.

 

Imagine you have a gate that thoughts have to pass through to get to your inner sanctuary or “Temple of Truth.”  Thoughts – voices with lots to say – bombard your gate all day but now you listen to each one and ask, “What is the evidence?”  You say, “Before I let you in, you have to pass the truth test!  If not, I am going to talk back to you and shoo you away.”

 

Ask each thought ... what is the evidence this is true? 

 

Watch out for common ways our brains trick us to believe stories that aren’t true:

 

We catastrophize … overestimate the probability of a negative outcome.

We underestimate our ability to cope.

We use absolute words like always and never.

We become mind readers and ascribe thoughts and words to others.

We hypothesize the outcome - and embellish and weave messages - and then fear them.

 

If you determine that the thought is False (Big F), here’s two ways to keep the thoughts from coming into the gate:

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a. Talk back to these voices/thoughts, refute their assertions and say, “That’s not true ...life is hard enough without you telling me stories and lies.”  There is tremendous power in detaching from these “dysfunctional” thoughts and getting outside the messages they are telling you.  By stepping outside the thought, creating a bubble around it, feeling a firm ground under you, you can develop a wise mind that is distinct from the thought,  You can grow the part of you that can look with discernment and evaluate whether the message is helping you function and is grounded in fact.

 

b. If your internal voice is bullying and undermining your ability to function say to it, “Who are you to be talking to me now about this?” Remind yourself that at one time, these critical voices arose to protect you, but then they just became ingrained, and habitual, and are now lodged in your brain.  They often sound false alarms.  So, you need to learn to talk back.  Say, “Even if it were true, you are now like a bullying voice that is not helping me right now.  I’m walking along doing my best and boom in you come with toxic waste and dump it on my head.  I wouldn’t do that to my worst enemy.  Who are you and why are you in my head right now?” Imagine your best friend sitting there with the same thoughts and issues you have and then imagine saying to her or him the same things your inner voice is saying to you.  You would NEVER say that to your best friend, and you should be as kind to yourself as you are to others.

 

4.  Reframe thoughts: If there is some evidence that the thought has some truth to it (little t), “reframe” it (shrink it down or restate it in more accurate words).  Often there is some evidence for the thought, but the thought has woven a huge web of distortions that the truth is snagged in, with catastrophic outcomes or exaggerated pieces thrown in.  Bring the thought down to its true size … and then it can go through the gate.

 

 

5. Let the truth in!  If you determine that the thought is accurate/true (Big T), let the truth in.  Open the gate to the truth. Once inside, we have to deal with truth that is painful.   ­How to do it?

 

 

6.  Change what we can:  First, we take the thought and apply the Serenity Prayer to it. Change what we can and accept what we can’t change (this system will teach you how to do the acceptance work next).  But first what can be changed?  Try problem solving if it’s applicable.  List all the options that you have to make this thought/problem work better in your life.  Think deeply about each option and decide if it will help. Make an action plan for the steps you want to take.  When this step is done, draw a line under it on paper or in your head.

 

It’s important that you know that you tried to change what you can, that you have taken the steps to improve your situation, if possible.  For our mental health, going through this process instead of avoiding the difficult issues in our lives is empowering. When we believe we have tried to defend ourselves in this world, it allows us to the do the next step of acceptance.

 

 

7. Accept what we can’t change:  If there is nothing that can be done, sit with that and surrender.   Acceptance work.  It’s true and it hurts.  You’ve heard it said, “Be in the Moment" and “Let it go.” Sounds good but not easy to do!  Here’s three steps that can help pave the way:

 

I)    Validate the feeling:  We have now gone through the steps that have gotten rid of false thoughts and are left with real pain and suffering.  So, name the feelings and say, “Yes, of course I feel this way … anyone in this situation would feel these feelings.”

 

II)   Self soothe:  Imagine yourself having walked with the pain to its furthest point.  And there you sit.  But you don’t want to sit there anymore.  How can you walk back to a place of comfort, to calm your head and heart? 

 

Here are the approaches using your mind and your body:

 

A. Mind:  Use wisdom to walk you back to a feeling of centering, of more control, and comfort.  You can only use this approach once you validate your feeling. Otherwise, it is a dismissive voice saying, “Get over it, it’s not so bad, so stuff it.”  That is not what we are doing here.  We are allowed to feel these feelings, but now will rub a soothing balm on them to calm them down.  Here are three basic tools to lead you to greater comfort.

 

1.  Perspective can be brought in to allow you to feel better by detaching and looking at the big picture. Look at your life like a huge canvas.  How big a space do these thoughts or the problem take?  Is it a black spot in the corner of your canvas or is it really a huge growing black spot in the center? Estimate the true size of your problem and, if possible, talk to yourself to see the problem as it is and that it is manageable.  In the scheme of your life, perhaps this is not commensurate with the amount of pain you are feeling.  Then look at the world and put it in perspective relative to other suffering.  Not to say you are overdoing it – no negative talk allowed – you are trying to use perspective to soothe yourself. If it doesn’t work, as it may not, move on the next wisdom point.

 

Remember that we often cause unnecessary suffering by underestimating our ability to cope.  We tell ourselves, “If that happened. I couldn’t cope with it.”  Perspective wisdom will help us to remind ourselves that we can cope and will cope with it.  The fear of falling apart before an event is paralyzing even before anything has happened, and overwhelmingly false.  We usually rise to occasions with strength, habituate, and make new meaning of events that we experience in ways we cannot predict.  So, talk back to the thought, knowing it is a common trick our brains play to undermine us. 

 

2.  Gratitude.  As Bene Brown says, gratitude leads to joy.  Gratitude is like a happy pill.  So, to soothe yourself, you are going to bring in gratitude.  First, look for what you have to be grateful for.  Medical care that is caring, friends who are helping, resources that are supporting, food, shelter, love.  Nothing is too basic to be continually fed into your gratitude practice.

 

3.  Forgiveness.  Either of yourself or others.  Work through with compassion and detachment the wounds and barbs that are not allowing you peace of mind.  

 

B. Body:  Realize that all stress, trauma, and negative emotion lodge in your body.  So do behavioral interventions to heal your body.  Exercise, meditate (guided meditation for starters with aps online), journal, talk to friends, pray, create, walk in nature.  What have you done that has helped before?  Go back to those things and with baby steps incorporate them into your life.  If your negative emotions lodge in a certain part of your body, visualize those areas and send healing energy to them.

 

III )  Focus you mind on something entirely different.   Look at that balloon up there!  Bring your eyes level and look out, see the world and step into it.  And when these thoughts pop in again, start the steps all over again. 

 

There are many circumstances in which this system will not work, because some suffering can only be mitigated.  When events are seriously traumatic and loss is great, pain will not be worked away.

 

For problems less severe, this system can lead to healing.   The more you work the better you get at it.  You will be able to field problems with so much skill that when challenges arise you will find that you can deal with them with greater success.