Learning to be mindful on a daily basis doesn't mean that you are perfectly calm all the time. That's not even the goal. It's not how we are. But managing your emotions and being functional is a realistic goal.
Barbara comes in to my office saying she gets very anxious...alot. Especially when she is very busy and there are multiple things to do...work, home, kids, dogs, appointments!
Barbara says " When I get overwhelmed, my head gets hot and I feel like I can't cope..."
"What do you do when you feel overwhelmed?" I ask her.
Barbara then says something that shows me she is an emotional genius!
Barbara says "Well, I just have to get out of there...I go into another room, I take some space for myself...sometimes I talk to another person about the multiple things I have to do..."
I am thinking, this is great! Barbara has self-taught herself some excellent coping skills! She has self-taught her own version of the DBT STOP skill with a sprinkle of mindfulness! I am glowing and cannot wait to reinforce her health skills and expand on them with her!
Barbara goes on..."I don't know why I cannot just cope. Why do I get so anxious? Why can't I just be calm all the time? "
I hear the unspoken "What's wrong with me?"
I think, ah yes, the good old secondary emotions of blame and self shaming. Somehow, there's something... something...in the water, the media, our background, our genetics...something that convinces us that we are not supposed to feel flustered or anxious when there are too many things to do. We are supposed to be Zen Masters or something. Not true! Humans feel anxious. And yes, some people are better under pressure than others. But, that's ok. We can feel our feelings, identify them, cope with them and move on.
And Barbara has learned/developed/created her own manner of coping.
The DBT Skill of STOP is just exactly what she is practicing.
I congratulate Barbara on her awesome emotional skill set!
And then, together, we expand on Barbara's skill. First, we identify her behavior. Then, establish that she handling her emotions skillfully. HOORAY. Then, note the similarities to a widely practiced and well known DBT skill: STOP. And then expand on her self-knowledge by discussing what is behind the STOP skill: the behaviors, the thoughts, the emotions, the intent of the skill.
The DBT STOP Skill is deceptively simple:
S = STOP doing what you're doing.
T = Take a step back. Take some breaths.
O = Observe what is going on inside and outside of you. Observe your internal emotional landscape: your memories, your flashbacks, your body feelings. Relax your body. Observe what is going on externally. Take in your surroundings in order to get grounded in there plait of the moment. Take in what you can. Sort through what you can and cannot do.
P = Proceed mindfully. This means, sort through what you can and cannot do, without adding alot of emotion to it. Feel your anxiety but also feel your calmness.
Feeling More Whole - Parts Work
There is more emotional work in the session to do than discussing the DBT skill.
We also explore her experience of her self and its parts. I ask her to experience and elucidate the different parts of her self that is within. Perhaps these parts are functioning separately. The part that is anxious, the part that is skillful, the part that observes all this. And then we create an awareness of these parts and hopefully, a greater experience of wholeness begins to develop. A bridge is created among the different parts of the self.