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THE LEADERSHIP ACADEMY

Learn how to cope with distress

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Apply techniques to make goals attainable and reduce feelings of anxiety

Distress is defined as extreme anxiety, sorrow or pain and is your body’s emotional reaction to not being able to deal with stress. However, stress is completely normal. It is simply your body’s response to something happening in your environment. In many cases, stress improves performance because it keeps you more alert and helps you concentrate.

Distress is created when your wellbeing is challenged, and can create uneasiness, worry or fear. There are many emotions and they can be associated with anxiety.

However, there are lots of coping techniques to deal with distress and it takes time to figure out which one works best for you. They range from rating your distress on a 1-10 scale to breaking down tasks to listing strengths.

Rating your distress on a scale from 1-10 requires you to take a situation that is slowly increasing your distress, and rating it in comparison with your other experiences. Is it the worst thing you’ve ever experienced? This helps put your distress into perspective and can eventually lead to reducing a 10 to a 1.

How to deal with distress

● Scan your body for areas of tension or stress. This will help you realise when distress is creeping up on you and that, eventually, the anxiety will disappear
● Break down large tasks into smaller, more realistic goals
● Rate your distress on a scale from 1-10. Think, is this the worst thing that’s ever happened? Normally, it’s not the worst and it helps you reduce a 10 to a 1
● List your strengths. This will help you defeat dependency on other’s strengths

Breaking down daunting tasks is also helpful. For example, planning a family holiday can cause anxiety, but breaking it down into smaller tasks makes it seem more manageable. Focusing on booking flights can be the first task and is more easily achieved than considering the entire holiday. Distress can often be induced by unrealistic goals, so when you make your goals attainable, it’s calming and strengthening.

It can be beneficial to make a note of your strengths. Take a sticky note and list your strengths. Sometimes these strengths can only be seen by an objective outsider and it is helpful to record when someone comments on a strength you have acquired. I remember a colleague once commenting that I remained calm at work whatever challenges were presented. I remember this conversation when dealing with a difficult or stressful situation. What other strengths do you have?

After figuring out which technique works best, apply it using a sticky note technique. Think of something you avoid, or try to avoid, and write it down on a sticky note, accompanied by a distress rating from 1-10. Break it down into small steps. Then, challenge yourself to do the task and rate how distressing it actually was. By challenging your beliefs, you can change your thinking to make it more realistic.

● This article is adapted from Feel Good: How To Change Your Mood And Cope With Whatever Comes Your Way, by Dr Shane Pascoe and Dr Graham Law (Capstone, £10.99).

Shane Pascoe has worked in the field of psychology in a variety of different roles in several countries, since graduating from the University of Newcastle. He has practised meditation since being introduced to it by a group of cancer patients

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