The alarm rings again and it’s time to face the day. You may feel tired when you think of handling daily challenges, sad about a range of difficulties in your life, or discouraged by recent setbacks. It is reasonable that you would experience a strong desire to hit snooze and avoid getting out of bed. In this way our feelings lead to an avoidance behavior that can actually make it more difficult to deal with such challenges, while increasing our fears and anxiety. This is not uncommon.
The following skills from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Adlerian psychotherapy, respectively, can be helpful for moving through difficult emotions by changing our behavior.
Use Opposite Action when you know that it is more effective not to give in to the emotional urge, such as hitting the snooze button. This means engaging in the opposite of what our emotion is telling us to do, if it makes sense to do so.
The first step for Opposite Action is to recognize and identify your emotion. Are you angry, sad, or fearful? Next, identify the urge or desire to behave in a certain way. Do you have an urge to isolate yourself and avoid, hit snooze, or act out by criticizing a loved one?
After this comes the trickier part of identifying whether or not the urge or behavior fits the situation. If you are angry, does it make sense to raise your concerns with a significant other or would it be better to walk away and take a break? What past experiences can inform this decision? If you feel sad, does it make sense to isolate yourself or would it be better to experience the success of overcoming challenges and the connection of reaching out for support from a friend? Can you think of a time when you successfully overcame a challenge or reached out and felt supported? This is not to say you shouldn’t feel how you feel. The goal is to examine your urge or reaction and determine if it would be more helpful to do the opposite.
The final step is to do the opposite of what your urge is telling you. Get out of bed, call a friend, or challenge yourself to walk away from a tense situation. You may try something small such as getting up for a drink of water or taking a few deep breathes before you make a phone call. If there is no real threat and you are capable of handing the task at hand, move towards your fears and do things to increase your sense of control and mastery.
Acting “as if”
Acting “as if” is a useful compliment to Opposite Action. In the case of avoidance, begin by imagining yourself successfully confronting your fears. You can also try imaging someone you think of as confident and connect with the image of that person confronting a similar fear. How would this person act or handle the challenge? How do they walk and talk? What actions or behaviors take place? Do you feel any different as you imagine being successful in this way?
Once you have thought through and imaged such as scenario, act as if it were true. Act as if you were already successful in facing your fears and act as if you were confident. If it still seems difficult to imagine yourself in this way, try acting as if you were a person in your life you view as confident. You could even pretend you are auditioning for a role in a play.
As you act in such as a way it is likely that you will begin to feel different. As you do the opposite action of avoidance and move towards your fears while acting confident, you may find yourself beginning to achieve mastery over your emotions as well as the challenges that contribute to your fears.
Our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors all interact. When we focus on changing a behavior and put this behavior into action, it can have a positive impact on how we think and feel. Next time you find yourself wanting to give in to an urge despite knowing that it is probably not helpful in the long run, such as hitting the snooze button, consider how you might do the opposite. If you find this difficult, try acting as if you were already successfully doing the opposite action. Act as if you were a morning person jumping excitedly out of bed.
Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Visit us at lindquistpsych.com
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