Dealing with Distress

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy: Distress Tolerance

Humans are emotional beings, experiencing an array of emotions throughout the span of a lifetime. Because of this a person will inevitably feel emotional distress and overwhelmed. These emotions present themselves in the form of stress, angst, fear, loneliness, anger, rejection, and/or failure. The practice of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, an evidence-based therapy created by Marsha M. Linehan who is a psychology researcher at the University of Washington, states that one must first accept their emotions, saving themselves from what Buddhist Psychology states is the second dart of blame or shame, then work to temporarily distract and soothe the mind, and finally create a new behavior/ habit of mind to better work through emotional upheavals. Doing this builds one’s distress tolerance allowing them to better handle difficulties that may come their way.

The first step to developing distress tolerance is acceptance. Remember, acceptance does not mean giving up or surrendering. The DI in DIALECTICAL Behavior Therapy means holding two opposing viewpoints together. The first being acceptance. The second, taking deliberate action to change, which is addressed in the final step of this process, creating new coping skills. Rather than give up, one must work on truly allowing what is happening. One strategy for this is to use different phrases, known as self-talk, such as “This is what happened” and “This is where I am now”. This allows a person to state the facts of the situation without blame or shame. This is similar to the naming used in mindfulness meditation which involves labeling thoughts as they arise, for example, “thought” “past” “worry” “projection” “anger” “anxiety” etc. The practice of labeling takes one out of the emotional mind, which during high emotional states can be irrational, and brings one back to the factual/rational mind.

Remember, acceptance takes time. Often, one must pause for a moment (or five) to calm the nervous system before true acceptance can occur. This can be accomplished buy seeking out a tactical and temporary distraction, followed by returning to the practice of acceptance. Often the second time acceptance is addressed a person has enough time and space away from the event to be able to fully embrace the event, situation, or emotion.

Distraction, step two of developing distress tolerance, doesn’t mean avoidance. Distraction refers to taking some time to move the mind away from the emotion, event, or situation to calm the nervous system with the plan of coming back. The time frame can be minutes, hours, or days depending on the situation. With the situations and events which are familiar triggers of emotional upheaval, 30 minutes may be all that’s necessary in terms of distraction. Other strong emotions or unplanned life events may take days, weeks, or months to work through enough to gain the capacity to come back with a rational mind to work through an issue.

Occasionally, if one is not purposeful about using this temporarily, a person can become stuck in the cycle of experiencing uncomfortable emotions and distracting themselves, never coming back to the issue until something else comes along which disturbs their equanimity only to repeat the cycle. This means never growing emotionally and leads to a forever state of poor self-regulation and upheaval. To avoid this cycle, always make a plan to revisit the emotional event. One can do this by writing the event in a journal and coming back to it when there is time to fully contemplate the event and move through the subsequent steps. If the emotion or event feels too big to revisit by oneself, see a professional counselor or therapist to help move through the situation with support.

The first form of distraction covered is for individuals who use self-harm or Self Injurious Behavior (SIB) to move their mind from the distressing thought, event, or emotion by means of cutting, having unsafe sexual encounters, abusing drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or food among many other options. If you are one who tends to self-harm when distressed, utilize a different means to move the mind using harm-reduction. Harm reduction involves using a substitute means of SIB to distract the mind which is less harmful than the familiar self-injurious behavior. Examples of harm-reducing replacement behaviors include squeezing an ice cube, taking a cold shower, writing on body with marker, snapping a rubber band, popping balloons, tearing paper, throwing socks, writing letters to people you hate, holding your breath. The eventual goal is to discontinue self-injurious behavior and instead use positive behavioral replacements, which I go into later in this post.

It is worth noting that stopping or reducing the use of self-injurious behavior can take time and requires conscious effort. I suggest getting in touch with a professional counselor, therapist or coach, a community of supporters such as book clubs, churches, or 12-step programs.  You could even recruit friends and family to support you. You deserve to live a happy life free from harm. That means freedom from harming yourself. If you tend to think self-injuring/bullying thoughts use the same method: distract the mind, then follow by soothing yourself. Think of what a loved one would say about you and come up with a new thought and seek out the support of a professional and/or community of supporters.

The second form of distraction I will go over involves positive or pleasurable experiences which naturally elevate serotonin, a mood-boosting hormone released in the brain. Examples include moderate exercise, spending time outdoors, calling or meeting with a friend, listening to music or going to a concert, taking a drive, having safe-sex (with a committed partner preferably), writing letters to people you admire, journaling, meditating, gardening, watching a movie, laughing, cooking, rearranging a room, etc. This distraction should serve two purposes, to soothe the nervous system and expose oneself to supportive and healthy experiences. At this point, it can be helpful to circle back to step one, acceptance, which can lead to a deeper sense of acceptance, clarity and forgiveness.

Now that we have accepted the emotion, thought, event or situation, then successfully distracted the mind temporarily, followed by soothing the nervous system while exposing oneself to new experiences, one is now ready to create a new way of perceiving and reacting to the event. By perceiving and reacting to an event differently one creates a new way of coping with the difficulty.

Creating a new habit is different than simple distraction and diversion. Distraction is temporary and focuses of the short term. Creating a new habit involves setting the intention for permanent life change and is the second aspect of dialectical behavioral therapy, taking deliberate action to change. The motivation behind this deliberate action is important to ponder. One might ask themselves, “Am I creating this habit to get out of a certain uncomfortable thought or feeling? Or am I creating this new habit to support my health and well being over the course of my life?” and, “Do I truly value and enjoy this new habit? Or am I doing it for someone else?”. If the new habit is not in line with one’s values, it will not stand the test of time and will only serve as a detriment to oneself, creating uncomfortable feelings and emotions, starting the vicious cycle over again.

If the deliberate actions taken are directly in line with one’s values, while also seeking to becomes aware of upheavals as a learning opportunity, a persons’ capacity to overcome the negative effects of distress will be limitless. This is not to say emotional distress will not be experienced, but rather that when distress presents itself, a person will not be completely knocked off their equilibrium. An event which once sent a person into an emotional down-spiral lasting three weeks will now only last three days. One which upset a person for an hour or two might come and go in the flash of a thought.

In your pursuit to become better is where life is lived. Enjoy this. Not every living creature has the opportunity to feel or have emotions. They definitely do not always have the ability to look at such emotions and take action to handle themselves in a way which would support their own health and well being long term. Enjoy the experience of being human.

Tell me how this works for you by writing me an email or writing a comment below.


McKay, M., Wood, J. C., & Brantley, J. (2007). The dialectical behavior therapy skills workbook: Practical DBT exercises for learning mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation & distress tolerance.


Updates and Offerings with Caitlin

Dear fellow readers,

My goal in writing this blog has always been to inspire and support my readers (YOU!) in living happy, healthy lives. In the past this meant sharing my spiritual journey of becoming mindful by means of meditation, healing my physical body with yoga and plant based recipes, and how to overcome the obstructions, irritation, and frustrations which arise on the Bodhisattva path. Sharing with you what is going on in my life has been a way of creating community, fostering creativity, and defining what I am focused on at any given moment. Currently I am focused on addiction recovery, life and couples coaching, mindfulness, and developing healthy relationships by communicating, setting boundaries, trusting, and being honest.

My upcoming in-person events include a 3 hour Mindfulness and Yoga Workshop December 8th at Pure Body Bliss register @

My final Movement and Meditation class December 10th at The Flourish Foundation from 6-7 PM followed by a going-away (see more about this below) potluck from 7-8 PM.

Coming soon is a project I have been working on for several months, an eBook entitled Getting to Know Yourself Sexually; Explore, Discuss, ExperimentA sneak peek from the introduction:

No matter your age, taking care of and getting to know yourself sexually is as important as finding the right career, group of friends, lifestyle, or committed partner. I encourage you to keep an open mind while reading and working through this process. Who knows? You might just learn something about yourself.


For those of you who couldn’t join Cody and I in September for our Creating and Maintaining Healthy Relationships Workshop, you will have the opportunity January 2019! We are hosting 4 online workshops, each week a different theme. Join live to ask questions and be part of a community seeking to develop peak relationships in all facets of life. You can purchase the entire workshop, four 1.5 hour long classes for $75, or pick and choose by theme, $25 per session. If you can’t make it to the live event, the recording will be sent to your inbox. Register at

Working with clients (addiction recovery, life and couples coaching) will also move to an online platform as I transition to living in a new place, Flagstaff, AZ. This move comes after spending 11 years in Idaho, an amazingly beautiful place with wonderful people. I find myself ready to take on new life experiences, get my masters degree in Family Counseling, and engage a broader population. Find out more about coaching at

Last but not least, Kelsey Johndrow, beloved friend and yogini, and I have started a podcast, Karma is a Bitch. On this new platform we will discuss our personal struggles, provide resources and share methods for overcoming obstacles. These struggles include addiction, chronic pain, relationships, trust, touch, trauma, abuse, yoga, healing, meditation, mindfulness, eating disorders, self-harm, communication. Click the link to listen to the preview and stay tuned for upcoming episodes:–Preview-e2hq68

I hope these new offerings inspire you, as they do me, to be your best self!
Thank you for your support and for reading!
Caitlin Hegwood

Recovery & Life Coaching with Caitlin

My name is Caitlin Hegwood and I am a Certified Recovery and Life Coach based out of Sun Valley, Idaho. I work with clients to achieve their recovery goals. I have an office located in Ketchum or can meet via video conference or over the phone. If you’d like to know more fill out the form below, email me at or simply give me a call at 208-309-1948.

Working with Me

Working with me means looking closely at all areas and aspects of life as YOU define. We then create action steps toward achieving your goals.

Whether you are wanting to make a shift toward a healthier life style, live in line with your values, or get back your time and life, I am here to work with you on creating a life well lived, as defined by YOU. Along with my unique coaching technique we also read inspiring literature, which we don’t just use intellectually, but rather put the concepts into action, define values, realign and re-balance our lives, wake up everyday with mental clarity and live purposefully.

During recovery obstacles, challenges, and obstructions call our attention. When working together we’ll address these by developing the skills and strategies to handle situations that arise, as they arise, and learn from the experience.

My Clients

The clients I work with are the most intelligent, driven, emotionally and spiritually connected individuals I have ever met. Each has their our reasons for turning to substance abuse and an equally good reason for turning toward recovery. Their journey now is to navigate back to their path; the path to happiness, joy and freedom. Which is where I come in. I help jump start and sustain growth and evolution during the process of regaining health and sobriety.

When in an addictive cycle, one cannot live a full life. It takes time to source, abuse, withdrawal and recover from the use of any substance. When in recovery we work diligently to free ourselves of this cycle: mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. In doing so we literally get our lives back, our time, our emotional and physical energy. We get it all back.

Recovery From What?

I help clients recovering from alcohol abuse, tobacco use, and eating disorders. I have direct experience recovering from these disorders of compulsion and self-harm, which I have recovered from and continue to work toward my recovery goals, which is why I am dedicated to helping people achieve their own recovery goals. It is my belief that addiction is a compulsive thought to self-harm, and therefore believe I can help those ready to rewire their brains creating healthy mental patterns. This starts with the physical addictions, then moves toward the mental, and finally the emotional aspects of why we have a compulsion to self-harm.

My Background, Training, and Expertise

I have a Recovery Coach Certification through the State of Idaho, Mindfulness Based Substance Abuse Treatment Certification through the Center for Adolescent Studies, Meditation and Psychotherapy training, and a 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Certification through the Yoga Alliance. I use the recovery coaching model taught and approved by Idaho Health and Welfare, as well as the Idaho Board of Alcohol/Drug Counselor Certification. This sprinkled with Eastern spiritualism, Stoic philosophy, and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Substance Abuse Treatment techniques.
My expertise comes from my training and my own experience moving into substance abuse, overcoming internal and external obstacles, and recovering. I bring this to my clients in a unique and holistic manner.

Coaching is Different

Coaching is different than working with a counselor or a sponsor. In coaching we focus on the present circumstances, not what led us to them. We’ll identify obstacles currently happening in your life, create sustainable goals, and take action steps for a better future. I do encourage my clients to also work with a counselor to gain further support toward mental health.
Is it like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?
AA is a non-profit meant to support those seeking sobriety. Its 12 steps are greatly powerful for some. If you like the 12 step process, great. If not, great. Recovery coaching is different in the way we approach recovery. We take an active approach to regaining physical, mental and emotional health. I encourage and guide my clients to do whatever they need to do to remain on the path to sobriety. These supports include working a coach, a counselor, family and friends, job/ career, ongoing education, and community groups (AA, meditation groups, ski clubs, etc.).

Ready to Work With Me?

If you or anyone you love is ready to get started on the path to living a full and sober life contact me by filling out the form below, email me at or simply give me a call at 208-309-1948. I am here as a resource, support, and guide on the path to recovery. Join me and living this wonderfully awake and fulfilling life.

Recovery Toolkit 101

In our first few months of sobriety it can be easy to move quickly from thought to action. Tough day at work? Argument with a loved one? Tired, hungry, and stressed? The thought, “I need a drink (cigarette, cookie, edible…)” pops into one’s mind and, if alcohol/nicotine/marijuana/food is accessible, BOOM! Thought turns into action.

When this happens one needs immediate access to tools to create space, comfort, and a new behavioral pattern for dealing with triggers which doesn’t have to do with substances. As we get more practiced with having this thought and doing nothing about it, these thoughts become less charged, and there is space between thought and action. In this space we get to choose how to respond.

Struggling with addiction?

How to Start a Toolkit

  • Cleanse your environment of the substance or substance reminders (beer bottles on the mantle, lighters on the counter, cinnamon rolls near the fruit basket)
    • If you have to keep the drug of choice in your house, move it to an area “off limits” to you or a space out of eye sight.
  • Take 10 deep breaths.
  • Go on a walk in the park or around the block. Moving your body allows to brain to readjust and move from the “stuck” place.
  • Practice S.T.I.C. – Stop, Take a Breath, Imagine the Future Consequences, and Choose.
  • Rest for 5 minutes, lay down, close your eyes, and just breathe.
  • Take 5 minutes to meditate, offer yourself loving kindness, and observe the wave or craving rise and fall.
  • Carry essential oils. Lavender, peppermint, geranium, orange blossom, and frankincense all work wonders on alcohol cravings and relaxing the nervous system immediately.
  • Just take a few drops of pure essential oil, rub it into your palms, inhale deeply and you’ve got a quick fix.
  • Carry chamomile, peppermint, or kava teabags.
  • Carry GABA Calm lozenges and pop one under your tongue.
  • Learn R.A.I.N. – Recognize, Accept, Investigate, Non-Attachment.
  • Take a bath.
  • Listen to a song, or better yet an entire album, before taking action. 

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Yoga and Mindfulness Workshop 2018

Recovery Coach Post Card Updated 514

August Yoga Schedule 2018

Private Yoga (1)

Everyday Recovery: It’s a Process!

Recovery is the process of continually showing up for yourself and practicing rigorous self-care. If we aren’t moving forward in our recovery, we are moving backward. Check out the process I’ve outlined below to take steps toward your recovery!

…and if you are ready…

Work with Me! A certified Recovery Coach, Mindfulness Teacher and Yoga Instructor. Working with me means being held accountable on the path to living your fullest, happiest life. I am currently accepting two new clients. 

Fill out the form below


Click HERE to learn more.

What does recovery mean?

A return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength.

The action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost.

Return to Health and Regain Your Mind and Strength

The Process 

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