What exactly is a crisis?
According to the awesome Dr. Marsha Linehan, creator of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), a crisis is considered a highly stressful, short-term (meaning it isn’t going to last forever) situation that causes a sense of pressure to resolve the crisis immediately. A crisis situation is subjective, as not everyone views every situation the same. For example, giving a presentation in front of your boss and the team while you’re also afraid of public speaking may seem like a crisis to one person, but not another. Realizing you can’t pay your rent this month may seem like a crisis to one person, but not another. You get my point. During a crisis, we can use distress tolerance tools when we feel intense emotional discomfort (anxiety, panic, anger) which also can lead to discomfort in the body (e.g. rapid heartbeat, hyperventilating, dizziness, tunnel vision). We should especially use tools when we feel like this and still need to GET. STUFF. DONE (e.g. take your kids to school, work, attend class). Dr. Marsha Linehan calls tools to help these types of situations “Crisis Survival Skills.” One acronym she created is TIP, which stands for Tip the Temperature, Intense Exercise, Paced Breathing and Paired Muscle relaxation.
One way to sort of “shock your system” out of a fight-flight response is to use cold water with the Tip the Temperature technique. It is suggested to hold your breath and dunk your face in a bowl of cold water, but I also think putting hands or feet in cold water or taking a cold shower is effective. From my knowledge, I know that shocking yourself with cold water immediately stops whatever thought process you’re having that is contributing to interpreting your situation as a crisis (how very CBT of me lol), which can help slow down or stop the fight-flight response. It also increases alertness and helps you focus if you’re starting to panic or experience intense emotions to the point of feeling overwhelmed.
In regard to Intense Exercise, when we are in a fight-flight response (experiencing anxiety, panic, and even anger) we need to do something with all those chemicals our body is releasing to keep us safe from danger (our body is trying to do us a favor, but little does it know that giving a presentation is not an immediate life-or-death situation). Use that energy to avoid that shaky, dizzy, lightheaded feeling we can get when feeling overwhelmed. Go for a brisk walk, do pushups, jumping jacks, jog, shake about like a little kid who has heard music for the first time. Sometimes I stand on my tippy toes and pulse over and over as a way to burn off excess adrenaline. Try it. 😉
With Paced Breathing, in a nutshell you need to breathe DEEP, SLOW, FULLY, and WITH YOUR BELLY. Push your belly out as you inhale and keep going (slowly) until your lungs fill up fully, then exhale (slowly) with your mouth the size of a Cheerio until all the air is gone, and repeat. A trick is to breathe in 4 seconds every round, and breathe out longer than you breathe in (so breathing out 5, 6 or 7 seconds, every round). You will notice I state this breathing method A LOT in my posts. It activates your parasympathetic system which is key to calming down in a crisis situation.
Regarding the Paired Muscle Relaxation, the DBT technique indicates you tense your body muscles while breathing IN with your belly, and releasing your muscles as you exhale. If you want a different method of relaxing muscles, I suggest actually clenching various parts of your body (feet, calves, gluteus [yep, your butt], stomach, back, raise your shoulders up toward your ears, make fists with your hands, and scrunch of your face TIGHT), and hold for 15 seconds, then release. Aaaaahhhh…feels good.
I obviously added my own spin on some of these as this is all a collaborative effort. I want you all to have as much control over yourself as possible, and when faced with a crisis it is imperative to ground your body so you can GET. STUFF. DONE.
You are all amazing. Don’t forget.