By Michael Salsbury,
WEOS Substance Use Program Coordinator
The writing prompt arrived from Forum Editor Christi Baron after a meeting of the West End Business and Professional Association where she pointed out that discussion had turned to a need to help one another by talking about behavioral health.
Simply put, people are being impacted by COVID-19 and some of us would benefit from reminders or suggestions towards “positive ways to deal with the fear, anxiety, or loneliness (they might be experiencing).”
As an addiction counselor, I’ve walked this path with clients several times before and have seen their resiliency and recovery firsthand. Fear, anxiety, and loneliness can be relapse triggers. More specifically, internal triggers. To stay healthy a person benefits from learning to cope with their triggers, both internal and external.
In this context, I’m reminded that to enter a life of recovery from drug or alcohol addiction is a courageous act and serves as a stark reminder that all of us, no matter our place in life, are vulnerable to many different types of struggle and, more importantly, we are capable of finding a light hidden within the darkness.
Carrying this thought, I asked some substance use disorder clients, our wounded healers if you will, what expert advice they might offer to our West End community based on their own personal journeys in recovery. With their permission, I share a few tips on positive ways to cope with feelings of fear, anxiety, or loneliness:
• Engage in physical activities.
• Live in the present moment, the here and the now. Don’t “future trip.”
• Learn acceptance. Know what you have control over, let go of what you don’t.
• Turn off the news. Watch your favorite movie instead.
• Heart breathing, meditation.
• Spend more quality time with family.
• Stay active. Clean your home, walk your dog, make an indoor garden …
• Reach out to a trusted friend.
• Open up and express your feelings to other people.
• Limit and use social media with caution.
• Take a hot, soothing bath.
• Read a book.
• Journal your feelings, write them down, be aware and notice what is working for you.
• Find positive settings, hang on to what you like, and worry less about what others think.
It might be good to read that list again and remember that each of these activities, beyond having a range of healing potential, are all things that one does within their own control. Perhaps really knowing what you can control and acting on it might just be the best medicine for these anxious times.
Being fearful, being lonely, or being anxious are of themselves not necessarily bad emotional states to be in, even though these are often unpleasant to endure. I firmly believe that each of these may be functional in a way that promotes the well-being of the individual when that person learns to sit with the discomfort. For instance, being fearful when you are in a dangerous situation enables you to take steps to be safe. Likewise, being lonely when isolated may prompt you to reach out to others to make meaningful connections. Anxiety may cause you to identify and take effective action to deal with potential problems in your immediate future. However, these emotions can become extremely challenging whenever they are experienced as unrelenting, or when you feel powerless to protect yourself from danger, powerless to make meaningful connections with others, or powerless to identify and cope with what you perceive as problems arising in your immediate future. It follows, from my perspective that the answer to combating “fear, loneliness, and anxiety” is to look at how to alleviate or mitigate this underlying feeling of unrelenting powerlessness.
Powerlessness is the inability to act in an effective way. If you can sit with the discomfort of feeling the emotions of fear, loneliness, and anxiety, the answer to the feeling of powerlessness may be as simple as to take stock of what assets you have at your disposal right now.
“ If I am in danger, where is the danger and what do I have at my disposal to protect myself?”
“If I am isolated, who can I call on now to engage?”
“If I am worried about what may happen in the future, what am I able to do now to shift the chances of a better immediate outcome?”
“Can I sit with my discomfort long enough to ask and even answer these questions?”
“If I am lacking that which I need, can I seek outsources to provide what I need?”
Asking these questions takes bravery but costs nothing but the discomfort of sitting with the emotions themselves. As always, we at the WEOS team are here to assist our community through times like these. All you have to do is ask.
Laura Fridley, Licensed Mental Health Therapist, Lead Designated Crisis Responder
COVID 19 has compounded our daily life stressors I believe for most everyone in our community and United States at large. There has been an increase in fearfulness, anxiety, depression and loneliness due to isolation and limits on activities for most individuals. My hope is that as a rural community of Forks that we continue to focus on ways that we can remain “strong” and build our resiliency factors.
One such way is with the acronym ACCEPTS from DBT. There are many ways to do this such as:
Activities: Engaging in activities that require thought and concentration. For instance, reading a book, writing in a journal, doing work project or school assignments or playing sports or exercise.
Contributing: Doing something that allows you to focus on another person like, asking a friend about their day, make a gift for a loved one, volunteer, or send a thoughtful card.
Comparisons: Put your situation in perspective by comparing it to something more distressing such as, realize how resilient you are by how things are not as bad right now as other things you have overcome in the past.
Emotions: Do something to create a new emotion that will compete with your distressing emotions such as, watching a comedy movie when sad, practice deep breathing when anxious, and going for a walk or taking a time out when mad.
Pushing away: Avoid a painful situation or block it from your mind using a technique such as imagery: Try to delay harmful urges for one hour. If the urge doesn’t pass, put it off for another hour.
Thoughts: Use a mental strategy or activity to shift your thoughts to something neutral such as, Sing a song out loud or recite it in your head, Count specific objects around you or what do you see, hear, taste, touch to get grounded.
Sensations: Find safe physical sensations to distract you from distressing feelings such as, holding an ice cube in your hand, eat something spicy or sour and take a cold shower. Often when we are in the moment emotions and strong feelings seem difficult to overcome. However, over time, these emotions will lessen in intensity and eventually fade away. These seven techniques from DBT are used to help distract yourself from distressing emotions until they pass.
Heidi Ross, Licensed Mental Health Therapist, Lead Designated Crisis Responder