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We continue to soldier on with distress tolerance. We start and end each session with a mindfulness exercise. This week it was focusing on a rock for 2.5 minutes. Hrm. Not much to say about that. I was feeling pretty low on Monday evening this week, so that didn’t help either.

Less than inspired doodling.

Then we reviewed the homework. I expressed some frustration at finding it difficult but not very useful. There was some good discussion around that – all of the other people in the group have been through this module before and a couple had updated their worksheets from the last time, and remarked on how things had change. All in all, it sounded like my problem with it was either a) I don’t really want to change the behavior (marginally true), b) I haven’t contemplated it enough yet to really see the full extent of pros and cons, c) it’s the wrong strategy for the issues I want to address, or d) some combination of the above. I would guess…d.

The new strategies this week seem trivial, but also potentially really useful. They include mindfulness breathing exercises, and the half-smile. Yes, half-smile. I’ll get to that. Out of a choice of seven different breathing exercises to promote mindfulness, I picked the one that involved counting breaths. I do so like to count things. I already used it against the anxiety of oral surgery this week (the valium also helped…) Controlled breathing is something I’m down with; it’s definitely a good skill to have in the arsenal. I just don’t think to deploy it often enough or strategically enough, I guess.

The half-smile. It was likened to a “Mona Lisa smile.” Not a full smile that involves your eyes – no, that would be trying to force it. That’s basically the “fake it til you make it” model, the lying-to-yourself version of using somatic conditioning to improve psychological functioning (which science shows does actually work). Instead, the half-smile focuses on acceptance and, after a fashion, transcendence. The problem with “fake it til you make it” is that it invalidates a painful experience, which is a self-perpetuating problem.

So we are to practice half-smiling, sort of like a smirk. Upturned corners of the mouth but a relaxed face. I’ve been trying to do this when I think of it. I try to put on the face I see on serene-looking buddhas, which feels a bit silly and I’m not sure what it’s accomplishing. It’s the sort of strategy I could use whenever, so in case it does actually do something for me, I might as well give it a try.

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