The Wise Man Accepts

In psychological terms, one crisis-survival skill is distraction. A selection of distraction techniques have been described in such a way that they can be remembered by the acronym ACCEPTS. The techniques are also referred to as ‘Wise Mind Accepts,’ and this phrase will help you find relevant information if you search online. The distraction techniques are listed below.  Some of the strategies may sound glib or trite, assuming you have limitless money and time to do them. They are, however, just a guide and the aim is to tailor the idea to see if it has potential to help you.

Distract with Activities:
Do hobbies, watch a video, go for a walk, play a sport, cook, garden, go fishing, go shopping.

Make a list of your activities and put it someone easy so you can find it in a hurry.

Distract with Contributing:
Contribute. Do volunteer work. Babysit so a friend can go out. Do something nice or surprising for someone.

What have you done this week to contribute? What can you do next week to contribute? Plan something in advance. This takes you away from your pain and puts your attention on your concern for someone else.

Distract with Comparisons:
Comparing yourself to other people can be useful if it is positive. I personally do not find this helpful as it is too easy to fall into comparing yourself to someone ostensibly better off. It also consolidates the view that we are individuals rather than a collective consciousness. This latter perspective does not sit well with Western society. This viewpoint, however, has been the foundation of Eastern techniques including meditation, whose medical value has been statistically verified by Western researchers, for many hundreds of years.

What do you think about comparisons? What comparisons would you find useful to improve your mood? Would it make you feel grateful to compare yourself to someone in a war-torn country or would it make you feels worse? If  you can find any comparisons helpful for yourself (e.g. I am better than I was last year) make a list of keep it handy.

Distract with opposite Emotions
The premise of this distraction is to shake up your feelings and move yourself to a different emotional state. For example, if you are sad or angry, watch a comedy, listen to silly music, sing and dance around on your own.

Try and identify the emotions that trouble you the most and consider what activity has the potential to move you out of that emotion. Notice that the word emotion contains the word ‘motion.’ This can be used to help remember that are emotions are not static and can be moved or changed.

Distract by Pushing Away a distressing situation

The basis of this technique is to give yourself a break from the painful situation you are in while still feeling safe that you are managing the issue and not hiding/avoiding. A common method which works well for people is to mentally put the problem in a locked box in your brain. In this way you can temporarily ‘shelve’ the issue to alleviate the immediate distress. You are not dodging or avoiding the issue either as the problem is still in your ‘to-do’ list; you are choosing not to look at it at the present time as it is unhelpful and can revisit it a later date if you feel you want to.

In may cases a period of time away from the painful situation can change your perspective of its severity. It also has less of a grip on you as you have chosen when to shelve it and when to address it.

What metaphors or mental techniques do you think will work for you? As with everything this may take practice or you may need to try other mental scenarios. Alternative it just might not suit you.

Distract with other Thoughts

The typical examples given for this technique are crosswords and puzzles, counting things and writing a journal. I believe that to be truly versatile, the thoughts need to be something you access whether you are at home or in public. One option is a vision board with pictures of your hopes and dreams and the things you love. You can consolidate this by keeping a list of positive thoughts with you when you go out. This can easily be done on your phone with apps for making flash cards. For example, I have a card carrying a list of hobbies and skills I would like to learn and activities I enjoy. If I find my mind being invaded with unwanted thoughts I can (sometimes) distract myself by imaging what potential outcomes could come from my hobbies and activities. Sometimes I sketch it on paper; the activities branch into as many outcomes as I can think of whether they seem realistic or not. I call this the Tree of My Life.

Can you compose a list of positive things to distract yourself with such as a personal goal or dream? Can you think of some other ways of distracting with thoughts?

Distract with other Sensations.

Any strong physical stimulus such as a cold bath, very loud music or snapping an elastic band on your wrist can break your connection to the mental pain you are experiencing (this is one of the reasons people use self-harm as a coping mechanism for mood disorders). Crystals can be useful to distract you with touch and sight when you are out. Small portable roll-on fragrances which can be carried in your pocket are now sold (about £4) to distract people with smell. Smell is the most emotive of our senses and if you can use a specific smell as an anchor by smelling it when you feel positive it is possible to improve your mood by simply smelling the positive fragrance.

Can you think of anyway you can distract yourself with sensations? It is harder to find examples when you are out.


The Relaxation Response

Many people receiving mental health care are aware of the flight or fight response. This response prepares the body for danger and, among other things, releases adrenaline and cortisol which instigate a range of physiological responses to assist the body in dealing with a threat. This flight or fight response is activated by a branch of the autonomic nervous system (the system which deals with involuntary or unconscious neural responses) called the sympathetic nervous system. To understand how repeatedly activating the flight or fight response can make this your default way of thinking it helps to imagine your brain as a field of long grass (or a jungle) which is difficult to walk through. When you activate a pathway in the brain you create a path in the difficult terrain. The more you activate a response in the brain and walk down its path, the more the glass is flattened and the easier and faster it is for the brain to take that route. In other words your brain becomes sensitized to that pathway and follows that path even when the threat is no longer ‘real.’ The individual who suffers the distress of the physiological symptoms certainly does not want to feel this way they have inadvertently trained their brain to react this way*. Early intervention in mental health, therefore, is crucial because it can stop the development of unhelpful pathways in the brain

The flight or fight response is talked about extensively by  mental health care providers. There is, however, another equally (if not more) important response which is the converse of the flight or fight response which receives little press. The sympathetic nervous system has a sibling called the parasympathetic nervous system. This has an involuntary response called the relaxation response and was first published by Herbert Benson in 1970’s. The relaxation response is the opposite of the flight or fight response and activates relaxation in the body by reducing breathing rate, lowering blood pressure and increasing oxygen to the brain to name but a few. You can intentionally sensitize this pathway in the brain through daily relaxation practice. This practice needs to be regular and consistent and approximately 20 minutes in duration to get the full benefits of the response. Understandably people with mood disorders find relaxation harder as their other ‘negative pathways’ are triggered very easily. Although it may sound like an impossibility at first, it is advised that this sort of practice becomes an integral part of your life, such as cleaning your teeth or eating breakfast, in order to alleviate your mental distress for the the term of your life. If you are skeptical, consider trying it for 21 days as this is the average time taken for the brain to start or break a habit. Remember to be kind to yourself because, even if you do allocate a 20 minute daily slot, you may not be able to relax some days so it is expected that it noticeable benefits will take longer. I know it is easier said than done but being hard on yourself for not being able to relax is counter-productive and not evidence-based. There is, however, evidence that people withe mood disorders will find the practice harder as their other ‘negative pathways’ are sensitized; persevering with this practice deserves a real pat on the back.

If you wish to know more about the relaxation response, please feel free to ask as I have a copy of a book called The Relaxation Revolution written by Herbert Benson 30 years after he first published his findings in a medical journal in the 70’s. This book has a more detailed explanation of the underlying physiology and more advice for exercises to trigger the response. It targets the general public and not just mental health suffers as relaxation is necessary for everyone’s health.

*The notion of making sensitized pathways is the brain doesn’t just apply to the flight or fight response; it applies to many of our thought processes such as automatic thinking styles. If we have laid a nice neat path in the brain by repeatedly telling ourselves we are a failure, for example, the brain will take that ‘easy’ path rather than the alternative path with longer grass where we are compassionate to ourselves.

Basic Maths of Dieting

Below are some calculations to help with healthy dieting and exercise.

A pound of body fat contains 3500 calories. In order to lose a pound of fat (not water) a week you must consume (3500/7) 500 calories per day less than you expend.

The average resting metabolic rate is that every kilogram of body weight requires 25 calories per day to maintain itself. In general the calories per kg you expend per day is the same as your BMI. I am 10 stone which is 140lbs or (140/2.2) 63.5 kg and I have a BMI of 25. In order to maintain a stable weight, therefore, I can eat roughly  (63.5 * 25) 1600 calories per day.

A sensible way to lose 500 calories per day is to eat 200 calories less and exercise for 300 calories.

Walking to Lose Weight

Travelling one mile on foot expends roughly 100 calories for the average person. This is the same whether you walk or run, but naturally if you run you can do more miles in the same time and burn more calories. If you have a country walk and do not know the distance you can estimate it as follows:

Walking one mile at an amble pace takes 20 mins

Walking one mile fairly briskly takes 15 miles

Aerobic walking (as fast as you can normally) takes 12 mins.

A 45 minute session of a brief warm up, aerobic walking and a cool down will burn roughly 300 calories. If you are above a BMI of 25 or if  safely increase your weight with a weighted vest or gloves (but not ankle weights) the calories expended will naturally be more as the body as to work harder.

Foods for Thermogenesis

Certain foods increase your metabolic rate. These include cayenne pepper, hot chilies,  sweet chilies, ginger,and the juice and peel of citrus fruits. In fact lemon peel is one of the healthiest things you can eat (Google it 🙂 ).  As a rule of thumb, spicy foods increase your metabolism but it is generally recommended to not go overeat them for weight loss (I cannot remember the reason why, I think it affects the homeostasis of your body temperature). For example I drink water containing lemon juice and peel and ginger. It tastes nice and is inexpensive.


Debating and Evidence

Questions to ask yourself to challenge your negative thoughts:

Is this a thought or fact?
What evidence supports the thought?
Is there evidence to the contrary?
How do I know this belief is true?
Are there facts I am ignoring or dismissing?
Are there other possible explanations?
How realistic are my thoughts or beliefs?
Are there other ways of thinking?
What would a trusted friend think?
What would I think if I was not depressed?
Does it help me to think this way?

Unhelpful Thinking Styles

Mental Filter
This involves a tunnel vision typically looking at the negative parts of a situation and forgetting the positive.

Jumping to Conclusions
We jump to conslusions when we assume we know what someone else is thinking (mind reading) and then make predictions about what is going to happen in the future (predictive thinking).

This involves blaming yourself for everything that goes wrong even when you may be only partly responsible or not responsible at all.

This occurs when we blow things out of proportion and see something as dreadful when in reality the problem is quite small.

Black and White Thinking
This involves seeing one extreme or another and not seeing any in-betweens or shades of grey.

Should and Must
These are statements often based on our core beliefs that we should or must be able to do. They are often unrealistic and put unreasonable pressure on us.

When we overgeneralize we take limited instances from past history and extrapolate to  future situations. We do not consider the alternative that every day is a new dawn.

We label ourselves and othes when we make global statements based on our behaviour in limited situations. We get into the habit of using this label even when it doesn't apply.

Emotional Reasoning
This occurs when we think that the reality of a situation is the same as our mood. Just because we feel bad doesn't mean something bad is going to happen.

Magnification and Minimization
In this thinking style you magnify the positive attributes of other people and minimize your own. Similarly you minimize the negative aspects of other people and magnify your own.