Don’t Think

I’m going to take a break from the series on parenting this week and shift gears a bit. I’ll wrap that series up next week but I needed a break from writing about that shit and no one was able to write an article for the blog today so….here I am.

Lucky you.

Cognitive distortions are habits in thinking that can provoke a more intense emotion about an event than it deserves and they are often a focus of attention in cognitive therapy. Catastrophizing is a common example of a cognitive distortion…

We expect disaster to strike, no matter what. This is also referred to as “magnifying or minimizing.” We hear about a problem and use what-if questions (e.g., “What if tragedy strikes?” “What if it happens to me?”).

For example, a person might exaggerate the importance of insignificant events (such as their mistake, or someone else’s achievement). Or they may inappropriately shrink the magnitude of significant events until they appear tiny (for example, a person’s own desirable qualities or someone else’s imperfections). (PsychCentral)

All of us have experienced cognitive distortions in our lives, none of us are perfect thinkers. Distortions are typically the result of high levels of distress. When we are feeling anxious, sad or angry about something, our thinking shifts and remains on what makes us feel most vulnerable thereby amplifying the emotion. Individuals who struggle with a mental health issue (like depression or anxiety) feel more intensely more consistently and thus, are more vulnerable to cognitive distortions. Because of this, folks who struggle with a mental health issue are more prone to developing a habit of thinking, where distortions arise even when they do not feel depressed or anxious and puts them in a position where their thoughts can act as a catalyst for depressive or anxious feelings and behaviors.

Knowing emotions play a strong role is important, many times we judge our thinking or try to counteract our thinking when feeling highly provoked. The former is unhelpful and the latter is great but difficult to do when highly distressed. In these cases, it is usually more helpful to deal with the feelings provoked by the situation and approaching the thoughts connected to the feeling when we’re out of the hot zone and in a more moderate zone of distress. That’s where TIPP comes in. TIPP stands for Temperature, Intense Exercises Progressive Muscle Relaxation and Paced Breathing.

Here is a helpful primer on TIPP from shitborderlinesdo.

TIP means:

• T stands for Tip your body temperature:  The goal here is to use cold temperatures to flip your “dive reflex” or “dive response” which will slow your heart-rate down and generally make you feel “zen.”  This effectively lowers the intensity of high-energy emotions like anger and rage and fear.  The core of the skill is cooling your face, primarily your temples, for 30 seconds while holding your breath.  There are 3 main ways to do this:

1. Fill up a basin with cold water, hold your breath, and then dunk your face in the cold water for 30 seconds. It’s important that your temples are submerged.  The water can be just regular cold tap water, and shouldn’t be any colder than 10 degrees Celsius (but seriously who is going to stick a thermometer into their water to check how cold it is when they’re in a serious amount of distress? No one)

2. Cover your forehead and temples with an ice-pack, though you might not be able to endure 30 seconds of something that cold.  Be careful not to give yourself a brain freeze! Again, make sure you hold your breath while you do this.

3. Rub an ice cube on your face, going under your eyes, over your temple, across your forehead, down your other temple, and under your other eye, and then follow the same path in reverse.  Again, do this for 30 seconds while holding your breath.  Holding your breath while doing this is very important or it won’t work properly.

• I stands for Intense Exercise: this is good for both high-energy emotions like anger and fear, but also for low-energy emotions like sadness.  When you’re feeling a high-energy emotion, doing intense exercise raises your heart-rate but quickly tires you out so that you don’t have the energy to feel so intensely mad or scared.  Conversely, if you were experiencing a low-energy emotion and then used Intense Exercise to change your emotional state, your increased heart-rate will cause you to feel invigorated and momentarily snap out of the depressed feeling that results from intense sadness or lethargy.

• P stands for three things Paced Breathing, Paired Muscle Relaxation, and Progressive Muscle Relaxation.

1. Paced Breathing: What you do is you place a hand on your belly and inhale so that your belly fills up like a balloon (diaphragm breathing).  You breathe in to a count of four (doesn’t have to be four seconds, it can be longer depending on the rhythm at which you breathe), you hold your breath at the very top of your inhale for a couple seconds, and then you exhale for as long as you can (more than 4 counts).  This will regulate your breathing and calm you down.  Even though this works rather quickly, don’t get to focused on wanting it to work fast because you might end up speeding up the rhythm of your breath, which would render the skill ineffective.  Paced Breathing works so well because when you’re focusing on your breathing, you’re not focusing on the problem.  It’s also very discreet.

2. Paired Muscle Relaxation: Paired Muscle Relaxation is doing Paced Breathing while doing elements of Progressive Muscle Relaxation.  You do the breathing regulation of Paced Breathing while clenching all your muscles on the inhale as tightly as you can, and then during the pause at the top say “Relax” and then, on the exhale, release all your tensed muscles.   This is really relaxing if you do it right, because again, when you’re focusing on your breathing, you’re not focusing on the problem.

3. Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Progressive Muscle Relaxation means tensing your muscles in groups, starting from your feet and working your way up your body to your head and your face.  For each group of muscles, you tense them as tightly as you can, and then you release them.  Then you move on to the next set of muscles and do the process again.  You continue doing this all the way up your body. Then at the end, I like to finish it off by tensing my whole body very tightly, say “Relax” in my mind or out loud, and then release the tension.  This really helps on emotions like anger or anxiety which cause tenseness naturally.

Once you’re out of the hot zone you can try something like dialectical statements as a way of modifying or correcting your thinking.

I’ll drill down into distortions and other types of rational responses eventually but understanding the role feelings play, how to address feelings and when to use (something like) dialectical statements are a good start.

So the TLDR version….

1. Needed a break from parenting and no one else wanted to write today.

2. Cognitive distortions are unhelpful patterns of thinking that usually occur in high levels of distress.

3. We can experience distortions even when we are not distressed if we experience intense emotions often and consistently – cognitive distortions can become a habit.

4. Judging your thoughts – not helpful.

5. Challenging your thoughts – helpful, but not when highly distressed.

6. Consider using TIPP during high levels of distress.

7. Use something like dialectical statements to address thoughts when distress is ramped down.

8. I’ll write more about cognitive distortions and other types of rational responses later.
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