I’ve been traveling quite a bit this year to give talks and trainings to clinicians in compassionate, evidence-based mental health care. This work has brought me to lots of different places, and I’ve stayed in many different hotels. For some reason, nearly every time I’ve stayed in a hotel over the past year or two, something or someone has woken me up in the night or early in the morning. In one city, my hotel room was right above the outdoor bar patio, the patrons of which were screaming and yelling in the middle of the night. Three times one night, I called the front desk, the security person made the loud people go away, and then shortly thereafter, they came back! In another city in the same state, my hotel room faced a large church with a bell that rang every hour on the hour for 24 hours. I know this because I heard 3 rings at 3am, 4 rings at 4am, and so on! Now, the rowdy patio people bothered me a lot more than the quaint church bell, but I still prefer sleep to the sound of the bell. Another time, a family with a small dog and a toddler moved into the room next to me. When the dog started barking at 9pm, I knew there’d be trouble, and lo and behold, I was up to the sound of the dog barking, the father yelling at it to stop, and the toddler talking loudly at 4:30am. On a more recent trip, a delivery truck arrived at the front of the hotel every morning at about 4:45am, beeping every time it reversed, and then clanging and banging when the workers unloaded the freight. I started to think that I was cursed. No matter where I stay, something wakes me up in the night!
Well, during the trip when I was awakened at 4:45am, I was away giving a long workshop, and after being awakened the second morning in a row, I became worried that I’d be too tired to get through the day. It started to occur to me that this could be a great situation to practice a DBT skill. In the DBT distress tolerance skills, there’s a skill called paired relaxation and effective thinking. This involves a few key steps. First, I would describe the situation, which in this case is being awakened by a beeping (or bleeping!) truck at 4:45am. Second, I’d ask myself – What must I be thinking that I’m so upset about this? In my case, I was thinking I would be tired, less energetic than usual, and would not do a great job with the workshop. The third step is to come up with more effective thinking, so I reminded myself that I got through the previous day even more sleep deprived and jet-lagged than today, and that I can handle temporary sleep deprivation just fine. Fourth, I would think about this situation in a calm state of mind, and breathing in, practice the effective thinking (saying, “I got through it just fine yesterday.”), and breathing out, say, “relax” while relaxing my muscles. This skill can be especially helpful if you already have experience with progressive muscle relaxation, which involves systematically tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in your body, often while saying “relax” or “calm” (or something like that) when you release the tension in your muscles. Over time, the word “relax” becomes linked with the feeling of release of tension, and just saying it to yourself can bring on a similar feeling of relief or calmness. Consider trying out this skill for situations you find really stressful, and see if this combination of using your mind (effective thinking) and body help you deal with these situations effectively. ~ Alexander L.Chapman, Ph.D., R.Psych.