“You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf”
Jon Kabat Zinn
We are all now living in a changing world and this brings with it uncertainty and anxiety for many. Coronavirus has brought with it many challenges. Anxiety and fear are understandable responses to the challenges we are all facing. Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) has much to offer us as we seek out new ways of coping effectively and look to psychological strategies and skills to help us manage the distress we may be experiencing.
Following the first news reports of cases in the UK, many of us will have struggled to radically accept that life as we knew it needed to change. Many of us will have been in denial; some may have sought to focus on ways to reduce those initial feelings of anxiety, hoping that was all that was needed. Some listened to the advice to wash our hands more, practice good hygiene and reduce our social contacts; others were more wilful. As Linehan writes, rejecting reality does not change reality.
To cope adaptively with the changes, willingness is required. A willingness to recognise that we must do things differently and fully participate in the changes needed to manage day to day life in a world that brings new challenges on a daily, sometimes moment to moment basis. Many of the activities we engage in that are so fundamental to our wellbeing and self-care have had to be put on hold for the foreseeable future. Making travel plans, spending time with friends, family, loved ones are things that we can no longer take for granted. Problem solving is required.
In DBT, when faced with a problem we have four primary ways we can respond. 1). We can work out how to solve the problem. We can use technology and we can explore video calls as a way of staying connected with friends. We can practice ways to limit the spread of the virus. 2). We can change how we feel about the problem we are facing. We have a choice. We can focus on the restrictions to our liberty or we can focus on the safety of staying at home. We can practice mindfulness of our current emotions. We can learn skills that will help us to more effectively regulate the emotions we are experiencing. 3). We can learn ways to tolerate and accept the problems we are facing. We can focus on acceptance as a way to reduce our suffering. Acceptance is needed when we can’t solve the problem and the ways we cope don’t work to change the emotions we are experiencing and 4). We can stay miserable or we can make it worse (by ignoring government advice to stay at home and gathering with friends).
Coronavirus brings with it opportunities as well as challenges. Acceptance is critical. This pandemic is here and for now we have to remain committed to practising physical distancing and stay at home. Our interpersonal effectiveness is being tested daily as we find new ways of maintaining our relationships. The longer we refuse to accept that we are all affected by this global pandemic and all have our part to play in reducing the curve, the longer our suffering will be.
A reduction in social contact and an increase in feelings of social isolation and loneliness will happen. We do not have to cope alone. There are many things we can’t do. There are also many things we can do. Staying home and reaching out is possible. DBT may have been developed to solve the problem of chronic suicidality but it has since been adapted for clients in a range of settings and with different clinical presentations. It has much to offer us all now. Supporting capability and motivation is a fundamental aspect of DBT. We have much to offer to our front-line keyworkers as they adapt to their new reality and the myriad of difficult decisions they will have to find the strength to make in the coming weeks.
Getting this right requires a synthesis of acceptance and change. Our changing worlds mean personal and environmental factors are at play that may inhibit the use of our existing skills and capabilities. If you need help learning new skills, if you need help finding the right dialectical balance in your life, if you need help to walk a middle path through this pandemic, balancing reason, logic and emotion to make wise choices or if you want to explore ways to reduce your vulnerability to the overwhelming emotions that you may experience in the weeks to come then DBT has much to offer you. It has much to offer us all. Coping ahead and building mastery has never been more important. Finding new ways of tolerating distress will be critical to how we adapt to the changes we all face.
DBT Sussex are offering telephone and video consultations. DBT skills help individuals to experience a range of emotions without necessarily acting on those emotions. DBT skills help individuals navigate relationships and DBT can help individuals create a life worth living; never has this been more needed that in the midst of a global pandemic.
Lisa Davies, DBT Therapist
On behalf of DBT Sussex