Describe experiences mindfully

In the last installment on DBT, we explored the Mindfulness “what” skill of observation. I do hope you’ve had a chance to put this new skill into practice. If you’re not familiar with DBT skills, please start at the beginning by reading Using DBT skills to manage migraine. The focus of this DBT series is to introduce DBT concepts to patients with migraine and other headache disorders. Naturally, each post in the series will offer helpful tips that apply specifically to those dealing with migraine.

Choose an experience

Think about a recent migraine attack. Choose one that was distressing but not terribly traumatic. Think about what happened in terms of what you observed with your five senses. Take all the time you need to review the event using the observation skills already covered.

  • Stay in the moment
  • Have a “Teflon mind”
  • Create a mental guard

Narrating your story

Now tell your story using the observation skills you’ve already learned.  Stick with the things you can describe using your five senses. Leave out any emotions or value judgments.

  • What time was it when you became aware that a migraine attack was starting?
  • What did you feel, hear, see, touch, or smell?
  • What did you do or say in response to these sensations?
  • What did others do or say?
  • Did you take medicine? What was the taste?
  • How did your body respond?
  • How long did the attack last?
  • Were there warning signs that you missed?
  • What do you think triggered this attack?

State your feelings

Now take a moment to state the name of any emotion you experienced during the attack. Describe anything you did, said, or thought in response to those emotions.

Feeling ≠ Fact

Remember that just because you experience an emotion doesn’t make it true. Facts (truth) are the things we can observe and describe using our five senses. Emotions are a result of experience plus our thoughts or beliefs about that experience. They may or may not be true.

Feelings may or may not fit the experience

Sometimes our feelings (emotions) do not fit what we experience. They are out of place. That doesn’t mean they are wrong, bad, or inappropriate. However, the expression of such emotions might create problem for us. So it’s important to recognize when our feelings are out of place. Sometimes just recognizing they don’t fit is enough. At other times we might need to set them aside to be examined later. In urgent situations, we might need some help to process these emotions quickly so they don’t hinder us from achieving our goals.  That’s what DBT therapy is designed to do. Later in this series we will also explore some advanced skills that can be used.

Describe the experience of feeling

As a final step in the process, take the time to describe what’s it’s like to experience these feelings. Examine their effect on your five senses. Emotions can affect how your body feels, too. Remember that this doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything wrong inside your body. It’s just part of the natural alarm system that helps the body prepare for danger. Remember that this alarm system can misfire, setting of warning signals by accident. It’s okay to describe what happens when emotions are part of a false alarm.

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