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"When I have a stressful assignment, my mind goes automatically to suicide"

Does this sound familiar to you? If so, read on...

For some people, “stress” is experienced as sign of a “crisis”.

In a crisis situation, there’s intense pressure to do something immediately to solve the crisis. And, emotions tend to run high. You have probably heard about the “fight, flight, or freeze” reactions that people experience in life-or-death situations.

When your mind automatically goes to suicide, you are experiencing a combination of ‘flight’ (fantasy of escaping the stressful assignment by suicide) + freeze (you are paralyzed by an unproductive focus on the suicidal thoughts and cannot focus productively on your assignment).

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a specific type of therapy that teaches “Distress Tolerance Techniques”. Learning these strategies for managing feelings of distress can be a transformative experience.

Here are some beginning DBT steps you can try on your own:

The idea behind “Distress Tolerance” is NOT to get rid of the distress. Instead, the idea is to accept the distress and lessen the intensity of the distress so that you can move forward with the tasks at hand. You can think of the mnemonic “TIPP”:

T = Temperature: Splash your face with cold water or hold ice cubes in your hand. Using something cold to decrease your heart rate can also lessen your anxiety/distress level.

I = Intense Exercise: Increasing your heart rate for a short amount of time (10 - 15 minutes) will also help you to re-set your body’s anxiety/distress level. You can walk quickly, climb stairs, jump up and down, or run on the spot.

P = Paced Breathing: Slow your breathing. Breathe in for 4 - 5 seconds. Then breathe out for 6 - 8 seconds. Count as you inhale and exhale. Do this for a few minutes to bring down your level of anxiety/distress.

P = Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Starting from your toes and slowly working your way up to your head, tense and then relax each muscle group. Focus on one muscle group at a time. Extend your toes, then relax them. Repeat. Then focus on your calf muscles. Tighten them, then relax them. Repeat. Then your thigh muscles. At the same time, you can practice your deep breathing (inhale when you tense your muscles, exhale when you relax your muscles).

Also, if your thoughts move beyond just the idea of suicide - if you find yourself thinking about how you would kill yourself, or, if you find yourself taking steps to act on those thoughts - please make use of the many free and confidential support resources that are available. You can find information for calling, web-chatting, or texting with trained crisis counselors here:

Best wishes,


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