November marks a time when elections are decided, cold weather settles in and thoughts are drawn towards the holidays. While any one of these can present a source of stress, this year we are also faced with all of the unpredictable ways the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic affects our lives.
Amidst this uncertainty, I am reminded of the classic symbol of Thanksgiving – the cornucopia basket. Cornucopia is a word that comes from ancient Greece meaning the horn of plenty, and we have adopted it filled with seasonal vegetables as a symbol of giving to others at this time of year.
This month, let’s take a different perspective on this symbol and imagine ways to fill up your own personal cornucopia with the coping skills below as a way to give to yourself. Please note that the coping skills described below are not designed to solve problems that are outside of our control. For the people we work with and for ourselves, these skills can be used effectively to manage emotional distress on a moment to moment basis and to help feel more grounded.
Distracting skills help shift our focus away from situations that lead to emotional distress such as anxiety and worry, sadness, or frustration and short patience. These skills often use physical movement.
Examples of Distracting skills are: Play a video game, read a magazine, rake leaves, listen to music, do a crossword puzzle or word search, paint your nails, paint a picture, or bake something good to eat!
Self-soothing skills can be used to bring a little more calm feeling during stressful moments, especially when a problem may be outside of our control. Self-soothing skills use our senses in different ways, and many of us have a sense or two that is more dominant than others. What works best for you and the people your work with?
Vision: Watch a sunrise or sunset, look at falling leaves (or falling snowflakes), look at a soothing picture or watch funny videos.
Hearing: Talk to a good friend and pay attention to the sound of their voice, listen to moving water in a stream (or find a video of soothing water flowing), listen to relaxing music or a fan at night, or sing in the shower!
Smell: Try scented candles or your favorite soap, or enjoy the smell of something baking in the oven. Open a window and breathe in fresh air!
Taste: Enjoy the taste of something you cook or bake, try familiar foods or explore something different, slow down to focus on the soothing aspects of warm foods on cold days.
Touch: Pet a furry friend, or enjoy the simple comfort of your favorite chair or the feeling of your muscles warming up on a walk outside. Take a hot shower or take time to bring a mindful awareness to putting lotion on your hands and the soothing sensations this brings.
Each of these skills come from Dialectical Behavior Therapy, which offers helpful ways for people to feel more grounded during stressful moments. Remember, these skills are not designed to solve life’s problems. They are best used with the purpose to help anyone feel more grounded and calm in stressful situations. Good luck!
- Jim Gorham
Jim Gorham provides oversight to the GBS Maine Case Management department. He has more than 15 years working at mental health organizations with people from diverse backgrounds. Jim is licensed in Maine as mental health counselor (LCPC), and holds national counseling certification.