Distress Tolerance Series #7 Half Smiling and Willing Hands

Distress Tolerance Series #7 Half Smiling and Willing Hands

You are almost done with the Distress Tolerance Series, way to go! I hope the skills have been useful. 

The last step is about using our bodies to help our minds accept situations.

As described previously in the series, our minds and bodies are constantly sending messages to one another.

When we are tense, frowning, scowling, and have clenched hands that sends the message to our brain, “We have a problem!” “Get ready to fight!” and sends us into fight or flight mode.

If we can unclench some muscles and even pretend to smile a little and have open hands it automatically sends a different message to our brain, “All is cool here,” “We are ok.” 

Half-smiling is a way of accepting reality with your body. To half-smile try relaxing your face and neck, relax your shoulder muscles, and then half-smile with your lips, slightly turning up the edges of your lips. 

Remember the old saying, “Fake it till you make it”? This is kind of like that. You can fake a smile until it starts to change your mood, reactions, and ability to accept the situation. 

This is not a big, huge, phony smile, just a slight upturn of the sides of your mouth while relaxing the rest of the face. We don’t need you looking like the crazed “Joker” from the Batman series with a painted-on smile, we just need enough cues to communicate a different message to your brain. 

This isn’t for anyone else, you are not putting on a smile to please other people, it is solely to change your reaction in the moment. Think the Mona Lisa’s smile rather than the Joker’s smile. 

Willing hands is another way to accept reality with your body. Notice any tension in your body, especially if your fists are clenched tightly. Try unclenching your hands, turning your palms upwards towards the sky, and relax your fingers. Many meditation practices and yoga encourage this hand posture including placing your upturned palms lightly on your thighs. 

You can practice both half-smiling and willing hands whenever you have a chance. The more you practice, the better you will be when you are distressed. Some examples of times to practice are: 

  • When you first wake up in the morning
  • During free moments
  • Waiting in line at the store
  • Waiting on hold on the phone
  • While watching tv 
  • While listening to music
  • When you are irritated

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Thank you so much for tuning in for the Distress Tolerance Series! I hope these skills are helpful to you right now and for a long time to come. Skills practice is not a replacement for professional help. If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns I encourage you to seek out professional help. ACTivation Psychology offers individual therapy for adolescents and adults struggling with anxiety, depression, transitions, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and other mental health concerns. Telehealth services are available during this time for individuals in the state of Colorado. Please remember that you do not have to struggle alone! 

*The above is adapted from Linehan, M., M., (2014). DBT Training Manual. New York, NY: The Guilford Press. Please see the full text for more resources* 

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