Our physical and mental health are intricately connected. When we are emotional, there are centers in our brains getting activated and hormones being secreted. This is why it is very important to take care of our physical health so that our bodies can optimally tolerate the stress of overwhelming emotions. In DBT, reducing the physical vulnerability to overwhelming emotions refers to looking at some of the main health-related aspects that influence how we feel. Perhaps you've noticed that when you are sleep deprived you are more cranky or when you eat solely fast food your energy crashes more often. These are some of the types of habits we are going to look at, and we will help you make a plan that will guide you to become less physically vulnerable to overwhelming emotions.
Review you current habits and how they are affecting you. Think about how changes in your habits would change the way you feel.
1. Food & Diet
The food we eat affects the way we feel. For example, when we eat food that contains a lot of sugar, we may feel satisfied immediately after, but then it decreases our energy. The same goes for food that is high in its fat content. These types of unbalanced diet regimes can create a decrease in our mood, and can make us feel not only tired but depressed and sluggish. It is optimal if you try to incorporate more vegetables, fruit, protein and grains.
Take some time and think about your day-to-day diet. What do you usually eat? Do you eat enough, too much, or too little? How do you think this affects your mood and emotions? Keep a diary and see how what you eat affects you. What can you do to improve your diet and therefore decrease your physical vulnerability to overwhelming emotions?
Use the worksheet to answer these questions.
2. Sleep Hygiene
Getting seven or eight hours a sleep at night is very important for our overall health. When you are sleep-deprived or your sleep hygiene is suboptimal, this can affect your mental health and the way you experience emotions. Concentration problems, feeling irritated and being tired can make us more vulnerable to stress and emotional crises. To improve your sleep hygiene you can try one of the following things: go to bed and wake up approximately at the same time, turn off all devices an hour before you go to bed, make your bedroom dark and cool before you go to sleep. Do you get enough sleep at night? Do you wake up frequently? Perhaps you have trouble falling asleep. Think about these aspects and then answer the questions in the worksheet.
3. Working Out
It is scientifically proven that regular cardio work-out sessions (20-30 minutes five times a week) can have the same effects as using antidepressants for milder forms of depression (without the side-effects). Although at first it is difficult to commit to a regular work-out plan, there are many long-term benefits that can make our bodies stronger and more resilient to emotional stress. Working out releases feel-good hormones that immediately elevate our mood. You can try walking, jogging, dancing, swimming or doing a sport you enjoy.
Think about your current physical exercise habits. Do you work out? How often do you do it? If you don't regularly work out, try to be open to experience the positive and immediate mood effects next time you try it.
4. Physical Illness & Stress
There are many stress factors that can influence your emotional state and the way you experience intense emotions. Very stressful life, chronic illness, or chronic pain can make a person more physically vulnerable to overwhelming emotional experiences. This is why it's important to identify the stress factors that are present in your life. Is your job too stressful? Perhaps you have a demanding relationship, too many responsibilities, or you have too much on your plate. If you have a chronic illness or are experiencing chronic pain and you think that you haven't done everything you can to improve your condition, then you should take care of your body so that it won't be burdened by additional trouble that is preventable.
The use of food, nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, illegal drugs and overusing prescription drugs are all types of addictions that deteriorate the physical balance we need to function optimally. They can lead to different types of problems, financially, interpersonally, physically, romantically. Developing addictions is usually a sign that the person is trying to numb themselves down in order to avoid dealing with an eminent problem. The abuse of addictive substances alters the way we experience our emotions.
Take stock of your habits and how they are affecting you. How would changes in your habits change the way you feel.
Q: I know that working out will help me, but I feel like I can't even start. What should I do?
A: If you feel depressed, it is difficult to motivate yourself to get on your feet and move. Practice radical acceptance of your lack of motivation and self-validate your feelings (article 5 from this module). The thing that can be really helpful in this situation is to set small goals at first (and as long as you need). Don't put perfectionist expectations on yourself, instead walk outside for 5 or 10 minutes for starters. You can also dance, or do whatever you feel like is most suitable and realistic for you. Don't worry about whether you are doing a lot or not, it is a success to get yourself to do any physical exercise at the beginning. Then start setting higher goals.
Q: What are some more tips on improving my sleeping hygiene?
A: Beside the tips that we give in the text, you can also try one of the following: don't do anything but sleeping or having sexual activity in bed (avoid eating in bed, or just spending time lying down if you don't need to); try not to drink coffee or any other beverages high in caffeine and avoid addictive substances; working out during the day can help you have a higher quality of sleep; do something that you find relaxing before you go to bed (take a shower or a bath, do some of the breathing exercises from the mindfulness module, write in entry in your diary).
Q: My everyday life is very stressful, but I don't know exactly which aspects are the ones making me the most stressed.
A: It sounds like you can benefit from going over the mindfulness module and systematically doing the exercises presented there. If you are having trouble observing and describing the biggest stress factors in your life, then those are the skills that you should practice - the different mindfulness skills we were working on in the first module.