If you have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) or are in recovery and living as an emotionally sensitive person, one thing you can probably relate to is this: You experience things far more intensely than others around you. This may be your observation, the feedback you receive from others, or a combination of the two.
Over the past couple of months, I have been undergoing a series of medical tests that have been causing me to feel anxious. Not only that, but I was on some pretty strong medication for the physical symptoms I was experiencing, and one of the side effects of the medication is feeling sped up. I was talking more and faster. I was sleeping less. Although I've never been clinically diagnosed with any type of mania, I have had my emotions escalate into a scary place before, and the sensations, thoughts, and emotions that this medication generates feels very similar to that experience. What has been helping to ground me and keep me feeling as best as possible is to practice very specific DBT Skills.
Fortunately, there are a few important things that we can do to help ourselves when we become over emotionally stimulated to help bring us back from dysregulation to baseline -- whatever that may be for you on a given day.
Today, let's focus on: Notice & Describe
So often we jump from a thought, sensation, feeling, or urge to a conclusion or action -- in no time flat. Recently, in the MRI, I practiced this skill (and a bit of describing as well.) When I noticed a surge in my anxiety, I just noticed the anxiety and let it go. When I noticed a sensation in my body, I just noticed it and let it go. When I noticed a scary thought, I noticed and let go. This is very different from getting caught up in whatever has caught our attention and allowing it to carry us away into Freakoutville.
It also sends a powerful new message to the brain that whatever is trying to cause us to panic isn't really, in fact, that urgent. A common example of this skill in action is something you may be familiar with if you've ever had a panic or anxiety attack in the grocery store, mall, or other crowded public place.
Although things seem to happen in a split second when we are anxious, if we allow ourselves to really NOTICE our experience, we might see the series of steps that happens:
- Body sensation freaks me out
- The thought, "I'm going crazy" enters my mind.
- I need to run out of here now!
- Action: Runs out of store
If we run out of the store, we reinforce the message that if I have anxiety symptoms in the store, the safest thing to do is to run out. Here's the scenario again, using the notice and describe skills:
- Body sensation observed. I note to self, "Body sensation."
- The thought, "I'm going crazy" enters my mind, and I recognize this as an anxiety reaction to the body sensation. It's just a thought. Just because I think it doesn't mean it's true.
- The thought, "I need to run out of here now!" enters my mind. I notice the intense urge to run out of the store, and I remind myself that just because I have this thought and urge doesn't mean I need to act on it.
- Action: I stay in the store, complete my task, and feel a sense of accomplishment that I overcame the situation.
This willingness to slow down our process when we become very anxious or otherwise emotionally dysregulated, is of course not easy. It is, however, one way we can empower ourselves to take better control over outcomes in our lives. Putting that pause, slowing things down, allows us the opportunity to make different decisions than we have in the past... and we all know the saying "If you keep doing what you've always done, you'll keep getting what you've always got." Eventually, we get to the point where we are ready to try something else.
How might slowing down to notice and describe your experience help you to get through a distressful emotional situation?
Thank you for reading.