Another take on acceptance
For many who struggle with daily or near-daily Chronic Migraine, it can feel impossible to accept the reality of constant pain. Acceptance doesn’t have to be complicated. The biggest hurdle most people have is a misunderstanding of the word.
It doesn’t mean that…
• the situation doesn’t hurt.
• you approve or like the situation.
• you don’t try to improve your situation.
• you believe you deserve your situation.
You will probably find that some of the skills work well while others don’t work at all. That’s perfectly normal. Just use what works for you and set aside the rest. You can also use these skills between attacks to fend off any anxiety or fear of having another attack.
Distract yourself by engaging in activities that are tolerable during an attack. Listen to quiet music or a meditation CD. Watch a favorite movie. Reach out for support from an online support community or a close friend who is a supporter. The idea is to ease both your physical and emotional pain during an attack. Distraction will not stop the attack, but hopefully it will help you tolerate it easier.
Distract yourself by helping others. While you may not be able to volunteer at a soup kitchen or Habitat for Humanity, you can still help others. I found that the more often I could offer tips to other migraineurs, the better I felt, even during the worst attack. Sharing what you know, however limited, can help both you and the person you help. You might also consider signing petitions, sending letters to lawmakers, sharing or liking the awareness posts of others. You might even want to start blogging.
Distract yourself by comparing your situation to others who are worse off than you. I know it seems like sometimes you can’t get any worse. That might be a good time for some comparison. You can also compare your current level of coping to times when you were doing a lot worse. You can also compare yourself to those who are experiencing a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, or simply facing extreme poverty (i.e. people who live in third world countries). Most people say this particular skill is either very effective or totally ineffective.
Attempt to generate the opposite emotion by engaging in activities that will trigger the desired emotion. If you are feeling sad try watching a comedy or checking out funny YouTube videos. You can also try inspirational quotes or memes. This skill is also called “opposite to emotion action” because your actions are exactly the opposite of what you are feeling. When this skill is successful, you will be able to change your mood by what you do.
Many migraineurs are already quite skilled at this particular strategy. It involves distracting yourself by refusing to think about what’s troubling you. It’s not meant to be used with physical pain (which must be treated) but with the emotional pain that often accompanies our pain. Instead of telling ourselves that we’re never going to get better, we deserve this pain, or other negative messages, simply refuse to think about the problem. Each time it pops into your head, think of something else, tell it to go away, or mentally put a barrier between you and the thoughts you want to avoid.
Distract yourself with random, unrelated thoughts. This might take the form of counting to 100, watching TV, listening to music. The activity can be almost anything that distracts you from all those negative messages. It is very similar to the previous two skills, except that you are not attempting to block thoughts or generate an opposing emotion. You are simply trying to keep your mind busy with random thoughts so that it cannot generate the thoughts and emotions that make you feel worse about yourself and your situation.
Use your body’s five senses to create an uncomfortable stimulus. The pain from that stimulus might be just enough to shake off the emotional pain you experience because of Migraine. We often use ice packs on our heads when we feel a Migraine attack coming on. I have also used a fan to blow cool air in my face. We can use these same strategies to cope with negative emotions. Plus, you might also try activities such as a rubber band snapped on the wrist, clenching an ice cube in your hand, taking a cold shower or a dip into a cold swimming pool. The list can be endless.
Use with caution. Obviously, this Sensations strategy isn’t one you’d want to use in the middle of an attack because many of these tips might make the physical pain a lot worse. However, between attacks when emotions might spin out of control, using these strategies might work as long as they aren’t triggers.
Everyone is different. Like medical treatments, these strategies will have varying results. It certainly won’t hurt to give them a try. Just set realistic expectations. Most often people find one or two of these strategies work the best. So try them out and let me know which ones work for you.
- Linehan, Marsha, PhD (1993). DBT® Skills Training Manual, First Edition, The Guilford Press, New York NY.