Distress is everywhere, no matter how many times you wish you could run and hide from it. But instead of avoiding distress, you can learn to better tolerate it using a formula called ACCEPTS.
ACCEPTS is one of the methods of distress tolerance taught as part of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). ACCEPTS stands for Activities, Contribute, Comparisons, Emotions, Push away, Thoughts, and Sensations.
How does ACCEPTS work? Let’s say you just had an interview with an employer for a new job that you would really like. At the end of the interview, the employer says you will hear back about whether or not you’re hired in three days. Three days can be a very long time not to hear about such an important and possibly life-changing decision.
But instead of wringing your hands for three days, you can utilize ACCEPTS and change your internal state to a positive one. Here are some ways you can use ACCEPTS and Dialectical Behavior Therapy to better manage your internal distress:
Activities: Participating in an activity you enjoy will not only distract you from whatever is bothering you, but it can instill a sense of calm. Find whatever activity it is that you enjoy and do it as often as possible. If you really like reading magazines, go to your local library and read some for free. If you really like being outdoors, go for a hike or a walk around the neighborhood.
Contribute: While you’re waiting, help someone in your family cook dinner or volunteer your time by picking up trash at the park. Helping others and contributing to society makes you feel good about yourself and keeps your mind focused on more productive things.
Comparisons: Remember when you could not even get a job interview? Remember when you didn’t have the skills to obtain this job? Compare your current state to a past state in which you were not doing as well so you can see how far you’ve come.
Emotions: If your emotions are feeling wired, watch or read something comical, or simply watch children playing in the park. Anything that uplifts your spirits will help you to cope.
Push away: There is nothing you can do about the employment decision, so it doesn’t make any sense to think more about it. Push it out of your mind and occupy yourself with something more pressing, like paying bills or taking care of odd things that need to be done around the house.
Thoughts: Still thinking about the job? Stop! Sing a song. Count down to zero from 100. Say a mantra or prayer. Try to think of a state or country for each letter of the alphabet. The mind is capable of thinking so many thoughts, but only you can choose which ones those will be.
Sensations: Nothing takes the mind off something more than a prominent physical sensation. Have some sour candy or take a cold shower. Sometimes just feeling the sunlight on your face does the trick.
Using these DBT distress tolerance techniques anytime you are facing a stressful situation or one that seems unmanageable can help you to focus on the present and stop worrying about what you can’t control.