Skills to help cope with difficult emotions and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) from my experiences 🙂
Coping with your emotions
“I get sick of my emotions – the slightest thing sometimes, I cannot cope with – I want to, but my body starts shaking and a panic comes on, and the anger, I just cannot stop it sometimes…”
They say, although you can help yourself, there is no evidence that self-help alone is enough to treat BPD. I agree with this. BPD distorts our ideas and therefore reactions, so a professional should be included in any self help plan to keep an eye on what we are doing and to make sure that we are actually getting better, not just relying on ourselves as we may think we are when we are not.
Skills to cope with emotions
Being an emotional person is not the problem. It is the way in which people deal with their emotions which can be destructive. Self harm can erode your self respect, as can other impulsive actions, like drinking or drugs. You may keep doing the same destructive things or avoid your emotions completely. Avoidance also stops you from solving the problems in the first place, like me when I was younger – I ran away abroad by myself every time I had issues.
Other, more helpful ways to cope do not have such unfortunate side effects.
Practise accepting your emotions and your situation right now.
We all have emotions, some are more emotional than others, but it is not the emotions that are the issue, it is how we deal with them and behave as a reaction to them which is important to change. Let your emotions be what they are – you cannot change them, so practising accepting them is the key. It does not mean liking, but accepting, so that you are not fighting them.
• Be still and watch your emotions come and go – don’t judge them, just let them be what they are. Watch the physical sensations come and go too, such as a racing heart or knots in your stomach. They will come, but they will also go.
• Say ‘I accept that I feel …. Now’ and know that it will pass.
• Say to yourself ‘I accept that that thing has happened’ such as an argument, losing your job etc
• Practise saying the negative event ‘I was fired’, ‘we argued’ etc
• Write down how you feel and then just look at what you have written – accept it. (of course if the event was abuse or something very wrong, then acceptance is not key, and help/police should be sought)
• Breathe in, say ‘accept’, breath out, say ‘accept’ breathe the emotion in and out.
Radical acceptance – Acceptance is key to moving on from environmental issues and also to helping yourself. Accept that when something happens to you, be it from another person or your own illness, that it is what it is. If you can do something about a negative action/event then do so. If you can do nothing about it, why fight it? What will you achieve by fighting a losing battle? Nothing. So to try to accept that something has happened is the first step to dealing with that adversity, letting it go and feeling better.
Turn a negative thought into a positive thought – so when I was ripped off for £25k, 2 years unpaid work, lost my company and had to liquidate and go bankrupt, naturally I was very upset and angry – but later I learnt to change the negativity, so instead of saying ‘I have no money, I am doomed’ (negative thought), I realised I could say ‘I have no debts’ (positive thought). It’s that glass half full or empty trick but it does work! 🙂
Distraction – (this is my favourite and has not only been a way to escape emotional situations, but has been productive/constructive for me and enjoyable, like writing my book or replying to emails etc.)
• Think about something else
• Do something that keeps your mind busy (jigsaw puzzle, making models or cross stitch etc)
• Do some work/chores and really get into it – using energy, the end product of getting things done is also very rewarding.
• Sit and do nothing. This is not really useful if you are very stressed or emotional, but if you can, then just to sit and think about nothing can be liberating and often I find that all my best ideas and creativity hits me when I allow myself to clear my mind and just stop for a bit, particularly if I practise this in the morning. Get up, make the tea, but then instead of cracking on with the day as usual, spend 10 minutes even, just doing nothing and see what comes to mind. It can be very refreshing as well just before going out somewhere. Instead of leaving in a rush, to sit for 10 minutes, no TV, no distractions, and see what happens…
• Instead of just being still and thinking of nothing, you could do the opposite and completely utilise your imagination – imagine you are on a beach, in a place you love or in a fantasy where you feel great and are dealing with your emotions etc.
• Listen to music to change your mood – upbeat music if you are sad or down or quiet, slow music if you are angry, anxious or tense. This ‘triggers’ opposite emotions and using ‘opposite emotions’ is very useful in other ways. If you feel like wallowing and sad, then get up, go out and integrate with the public. If you feel angry perhaps use massage or soft music. And so on.
• Do something active (as active as your health allows of course) – a hobby or go for a walk for example, and really enjoy it, notice the movement of your body, what is happening around you – really ‘see’ what is happening in the present moment.
• I am particularly fond of massage. If you cannot afford it, or do not like the idea of a stranger touching you, then you can do it yourself at home. Either invest in a back or foot massager, or just massage yourself. My favourite is the feet which, thankfully, I can still reach at the moment! I run my thumb along the arch and use circular movements to decrease the tension in what would normally be the most neglected part of my body. It is great for creating wellbeing.
• Although I spend far too many hours a day working on my netbook or laptop, I still like to give myself ‘me time’ on the internet, which is when I look up things for myself – clothes, cosmetics, enter competitions, read about stuff I am interested in, but for a hobby, not work. And although I read a lot, I still read books and magazines for pleasure. It is important to have ‘me time’ if you can, where you have a little time where it is all about what you want to do, whether it be surfing the net, having a bath, a walk, or even a hairdo at the hairdressers. We all deserve a treat, and to treat ourselves helps us to feel worthy and like ourselves.
• Watch a TV show or movie that grabs your attention with a mood opposite to your own – watch exciting films – thrillers, horrors or comedy – if you are low or sad and something more soothing if you are tense, angry etc. I LOVE films and documentaries. They are a type of escapism, but they can also educate, entertain and relax a person, so I am all for this one.
• Children and animals are great distractions. If you don’t have either of these, then go see your relatives or friends and have some adult time instead. Maybe these people have children or animals as well. Spending time with my lovely niece helped me to relax, take responsibility, play, laugh, entertain and teach all at the same time. And animals, like cats and dogs, well they just like a fuss most of the time, and their fur, purring, adorable eyes, they can be very soothing for us and help us to feel worthy and useful and loved.
• Go out and do something and get active.
• Ice can be soothing, albeit chilly. Holding ice or running cold water over the wrists is something I have practised a few times, to get me back into the present moment when angry or slightly psychotic (feeling a little unreal and not with it).
• Do something to stimulate your senses (or one sense at a time) – I love these!
o Taste – eating yummy food – salt vinegar crisps, spicy Indian food or aniseed sweets are two of my favourites. I also tend to buy things that my late Great Auntie would make me when I was young – it brings back happy memories and is very comforting for me.
o Touch – hot/cold, different textures – grab something tight and feel the tension and then release etc or have a nice warm bath or hold something soft.
o Smell – coffee, perfume, incense, cut grass etc Open the window at home or in the car, to let in the fresh air (unless it isn’t very fresh of course )
o Hearing – blow something, loud music, soft music, listen to birds singing, sounds that you personally like, or just listen to the sounds around you. Old music that has happy memories for you etc
o Sight – focus on something beautiful or a photo and notice every detail. Or read old letters from friends or family that make you feel good about yourself. Watch old films that have happy memories for you.
I was taught to use the senses many a time; the first was on a personalised stress management course, when I had a particular issue with road rage. I would make myself late and then get irate with traffic lights or other drivers, who made me even later. Of course it wasn’t their fault, but I was in the habit of blaming everyone else for my own problems at that stage. So, the counsellor told me that when I was held up at a traffic light, instead of screaming, swearing, hitting the steering wheel and getting very upset, I should use the senses. Open a window, listen to all the sounds from outside. Breathe in deeply, in through the nose, out through the mouth. Look around at what is going on outside of the car – birds flying, an aeroplane overhead, a cat walking past, a woman with her child in a pushchair walking past… And so on, as much as time allowed. Eventually, when held up, I would stop getting so uptight, and really enjoyed using my senses as I felt more integrated into the outside world and noticed far more about my journey – houses, people, shops…
Only use the above distractions when you really need to, as it could turn into avoidance and drug use etc and be even more damaging in the long run.
Relaxation strategies – keep in the present whilst doing them, not worrying about things – try to clear your mind even if for just a few minutes. If a thought comes, let it go, and be still.
Body/muscle relaxation – tensing and relaxing different muscles in your body from your toes up to your neck.
Controlled breathing – breathing through the abdomen and not the chest allows a better mix of oxygen and carbon dioxide and doesn’t cause as much stress as chest breathing. Slow down your breathing – to soothe and de-stress. Really concentrate on each breath and feel it relaxing your body and mind. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
Yoga or Pilates – a controlled way to stretch, tone up and relax, either at home or maybe at a class which can help with social/anxiety issues – take it slowly.
With all outside activities if you are nervous/anxious, push yourself so that you are slightly out of your comfort zone, but not too much, as it may cause anxiety rather than soothing it.
Lastly, you could promote some change in your life – how about painting a room your favourite colour – the newness should make you feel good. Or move your ornaments around, think about style, but mostly, think you YOU. Look after yourself and you will feel good. Doing something for YOU today! 🙂