While anxiety is not one of the 9 main symptoms of BPD it is one of the more common comorbidities of it. In my years of helping clients with BPD, I have come across about 1/3rd of them with both BPD and Anxiety so I do feel it is worth talking about. When it comes to DBT teachings about Anxiety the act of self-soothing is the best method of defence, so we will get into that today…
DBT teaches us that the best way to attack and deal with anxiety is to “Self-Soothe”. While some think the act of performing a “Self-Soothe” is to simply smooth yourself, there is a lot more to it than that. The concept of self-soothing is more about smoothing the brain than the body which in turn gives you the ability to calm the emotional turmoil and negative thoughts you might be having. We do this by calming the five main human senses as in the image above, so smell, sight, hearing, taste and touch. The key part of Self-Soothing is distraction and grounding yourself, but you can do this in simple ways which you can self-smooth without anyone noticing that is what you are doing…
- Chew some Gum or Suck on Some Candy
- Dab some Perfume on Your Sleeve and Smell When Needed
- Close Your Eyes and Listen To All The Sounds Around You
- Give Yourself a Hand Massage
- Focus Your Eyes or Ears on Just One Single Thing
- Rip Some Toilet Paper in Your Pocket
As you can see, you can perform all those things and no-one would hardly notice! There are endless ways to Self-Sooth, you just need to find the one that works best for you and which of them has the strongest reaction to your mind. You are probably wondering why on earth you would do any of those things! We do them because they momentarily replace rumination and worry which are the main causes of anxiety. Just in case you don’t know ‘rumination’ is the process of continuously thinking about the same thoughts which often make your anxiety much worse than it already is. This is often caused by people having a weak “attentional muscle”
If you can learn to flex your “attentional muscle” you can indeed learn to better focus on what is going on in the present moment rather than living in the past or thinking ahead to the future. When it comes to feelings of unease or stress people often find themselves constantly worrying about what’s to come more than what is already happened. But it’s no good someone telling you “no-one truly knows what is going to happen in the future, so why worry about it?” because that is only going to make people feel there is something wrong with them.
To fix things you need to deal with the NOW rather than the Future and once again we come back to trigger points. What is really making you feel anxious? Is it money worries, family issues? If these are things you can solve and deal with you can learn to stop feeling anxious about doing so and some of those techniques mentioned above will help.
Sadly I have to be honest here and tell you that high amounts of anxiety are often a sign of something much worse going on in the mind, so you should seek professional advice and help if you are starting to feel out of control. These Self-Soothing techniques are good for those who suffer from mild anxiety, but they don’t replace professional help for those with deeper issues.
This Week’s Homework: For this weeks homework I would like you to try not just one, but all those Self-Soothing techniques listed above. By trying them all you should find the one that your brain has the strongest reaction to. Even if you don’t suffer from anxiety try giving this a go as it will help ground your thoughts and bring you into the “Now” rather than the past or future. Finding ways in which you can quickly ground yourself are the keys to preventing yourself from getting into issues, especially with regards to the BPD symptom of Explosive Anger.