Distress Tolerance: four tips to interrupt mood swings

Waves of emotion can be strong. Anger, fear, and frustration can come out of nowhere, rushing into our bodies and highjacking our brains. And sometimes loved ones end up on the receiving end of harsh words and actions that we don’t really mean.

Extreme emotions can be triggered by a lot of things new moms experience. Not sleeping. Hormone surges. New roles, responsibilities, and adjusting to having a new baby. These surprise mood swings can pop up pretty often, and they can be scary for both mom and her family. And for moms with postpartum depression, anxiety, or OCD, those strong feelings can be even worse.

If you find these extreme emotions bubbling up a lot, it’s worth talking with a therapist. They can help you figure out where they’re coming from and how to control them. In the meantime, try these simple tips to help refocus your brain and calm yourself in the moment.

Cool your temperature.

Hold your breath and dip your face into a bowl of cold water. Or press a cold pack over your eyes and cheeks. Do either for 30 seconds.

It might sound strange, but there’s science behind it. After 15 to 30 seconds, the cold water causes your body to go into “dive response” mode. Your heart slows down. More blood gets sent to your heart and brain. Like divers who need to stay alert under water, this has a mind-clearing effect. It removes strong, worrying emotions and interrupts the urge to do something impulsive.

Move with intensity.

A short burst of intense exercise can calm your body when it’s supercharged by emotion. Get rid of pent-up energy by running, power walking, or jumping rope. Or any activity that gets you breathing heavy and your heart beating for 10 to 15 minutes.

Pace your breathing.

To catch your breath, slow it down. Take a deep breath into your belly. Then breathe out slower than you breathed in. Try counting to 5 on the inhale, hold for a second, then exhale for a count of 7.

Pair muscle relaxation with breathing.

As you take a deep breath into your belly, tense the muscles in your entire body like a robot. Hold for a second and take notice of the tension. Exhale and say the word “relax” in your mind as you let go of the tension, letting your body become a rag doll. Mentally take note of any area that’s still tense and focus on releasing it. Take a moment to notice the difference in your body. Like any skill, paired relaxation might take some practice to master. Try practicing in a seated position in a quiet room first. As it becomes easier, this is a portable skill that can come in handy anywhere.

Adapted from Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition, by Marsha M. Linehan.

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If you feel that you’re in deep depression and you fear that there is immediate danger, such as self-harm or harm to your baby, please call 911 or 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) for help.

To find support and resources outside of Western PA, contact Postpartum Support International at postpartum.net or call 1-800-944-4773.

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