Distress Tolerance 2: Distracting with A.C.C.E.P.T.S.

It’s Acronym time!!!

Joy! Rapture!

A.C.C.E.P.T.S. is a set of skills to help you get through a crisis by distracting yourself until the moment passes safely. Often when in a crisis that can’t be solved immediately the best thing to do is to put your pain and distress aside for the time being and trick yourself into a more comfortable state by distracting your mind and body.

Once you’ve successfully distracted yourself past the initial pain of a crisis you may have gained some insight into how to face the cause of the crisis without resorting to impulsive or damaging behaviours.

The point here is not to ignore the pain, because that’s impossible, but we can redirect the pain. Let’s get to it!

A – Activities

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Engage in something that will focus your energy more positively. This could be a hobby, craft, or sport. Get yourself busy doing light chores, make a to-do list that includes little things like eating a meal or texting a friend. The top items on my list here are drawing and sketching, writing, playing or listening to music, scrolling on pinterest, facebook, youtube, etc., doing a home manicure, crafting, cosplay, tend my houseplants…

Make your own list of enjoyable activities that you can use as a personal reference before the distress occurs so it’s ready for you when you need it.

C – Contributing

Doing things that contribute to your environment and/or community. It’s a sort of pay-it-forward idea, without needing to be material. Giving the gift of your time can go a long way in restoring your self-esteem and strengthen relationships. My list includes having a snuggle with my kids, crafting a gift for a friend, teaching, cooking, and gardening.

There are also many support groups online where people in pain are reaching out for validation and support. Engage with these people, share your story with them, or help them through their own crisis. You may find yourself giving advise you need to remember to follow yourself anyway.

C – Comparison

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This is not what it seems! Don’t unfairly compare yourself to those who seem better off. That’s toxic. Instead, find inspirational comparisons. Stories, people, or events that bring you a sense of hope and purpose.

Mister Rogers would say to look for the helpers when disaster strikes. The people who roll up their sleeves and jump in to help in the face of adversity. I like to compare myself to a knight in armour, with a sharp sword and thousands of brothers-in-arms by my side. We fight together against the scourge of mental illness!

This is also where I tend to geek out and dive into Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, or google some of my favourite historical figures like Marie-Anne Lavoisier, Granuaile, or Laura Secord.

E – Emotion (opposite)

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Interrupt the negative emotion with something positive. If you’re overwhelmed with feelings of guilt, focus on something that makes you proud. If you’re angry, turn that energy into something constructive. If you’re sad, indulge in something that makes you laugh.

There is no shortage of funny cat videos on the internet. Revisit a film or book that has made you laugh in the past. Play a song that makes your toes tap, or that you can sing along to. If you’re struggling to find something reach out to trusted supports to make suggestions.

P – Pushing Away

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Again, this is not to ignore the pain, or deny it’s existance, it’s more of a mini vacation from the thoughts and feelings that are causing distress. Especially if there’s nothing you can do to change a situation in the moment, put your worry aside for now, you can always pick it back up again later.

Worrying about something you have no control over is like suffering twice as much as you need to. Worry is a response that alerts you to something you need to take care of to protect yourself or a loved one, but until you’re better able to make the change needed to improve things, there’s no use putting yourself through more distress than you need to. Push it aside for now, you can figure it out later.

T – Thoughts

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Get your thoughts pointed to another direction by engaging your brain. Do a puzzle or mental challenge. There are brain activity apps all over the internet, or find another way to excercise your mind in a way that keeps your thoughts busy like Sudoku, Crosswords, or brain teasers.

I like to sketch celtic knotwork designs. They’re very geometric and tricky sometimes, and can be very satisfying when completed.

S – Sensations

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Physical stimuli that will interrupt the distressing spiral is sometimes the most immediate solution. Go for a quick walk or jog, take a bath, dance to music. Release some Oxytocin* with a hug from a loved one, indulge in a tasty snack, light a scented candle or dab a drop of essential oil on your wrist or temple and enjoy some aromatherapy. Get yourself an orgasm. We’re all adults here, there’s no mistaking the pleasurable chemical soup released into your system there, just be safe about it!

*Oxytocin: a natural chemical released in the brain that plays a role in social bonding. Also known as the ‘love hormone’.