Distress tolerance & sudoku

In this edition of my weekly update, I write about the skill of distress tolerance, a lovely sudoku app, and authenticity.


There is so much to celebrate and be grateful at this time of year. It is also a difficult time for many of us. Wherever your experience falls on that spectrum, I hope you can extend yourself compassion and be mindful of those struggling around you.

Something hard

Life continued to be challenging throughout this past week. As the weekend came to a close, I felt that I had turned the corner, and things were looking up. My mind was caught back to a skill that we discussed at length in my intensive outpatient program at The OCD and Anxiety Treatment Center. Most of the work that we did there involved inducing distress and training our brains to handle it. The skill we needed was distress tolerance. From Wikipedia:

It refers to an individual’s perceived capacity to withstand negative emotional and/or other aversive states (e.g. physical discomfort), and the behavioral act of withstanding distressing internal states elicited by some type of stressor.

Whether the stress that we are feeling is due to a mental health condition, or the pressures of everyday life, this is an important skill for us all to cultivate. There will always be moments in our life when we are confronted with situations or emotions that are unpleasant, and we need to work to overcome them.

One of the keys for me over the past week was being able to sit with the emotions I was feeling and not deny them. I won’t claim that I did this well, but when I was able to, I could notice the difference.

Something good

Good Sudoku app

There is a fine line for me between distracting my brain as part of distress tolerance, and numbing or seeking escape. Whether it was the right thing or not, I found great relief this past week in discovering the Good Sudoku app.

This was perfect for me. My level of agitation continued to be high until I could engage my brain enough to be distracted. Trying to read or watch TV was not cutting it, but sudoku was perfect. I enjoyed ignoring the time component and focusing on finding the patterns and solving the puzzles.

Beyond the enjoyable nature of sudoku, I was delighted by the the design of the app. Not only was the visual design simple and striking, but the experience design was spot on. Just as with any intrinsically difficult endeavor, the secret is breaking down what seems to be an insurmountable challenge into bite-size chunks that can each be solved. The app does a great job of walking you through the various patterns and skills that you can develop in order to improve.

One of my favorite parts of the app is that it makes you feel that you are leveling up in a tangible way. I could notice as the puzzles at a certain difficulty level started out seeming overwhelming, and then became more and more manageable. Anytime you can find an app that makes you feel successful, it is worth celebrating.

Something else

Something that has been on my mind lately is the balance between vulnerability and oversharing. My goal with this blog is to help reduce the stigma of mental health, particularly in the workplace. Part of that work involves normalizing episodes that may seem uncomfortable to discuss or consider. By nature, I am very open and willing to share details of my life and experiences. So the question is, how much to share in these weekly updates?

The reality is that this is an unanswerable question. There is no certainty to be had, which is always difficult for me. I often feel like Calvin in these first couple frames, courtesy of GoComics:

Calvin and Hobbes

I keep coming back to authenticity. It is important for me to not continually second-guess myself, and instead allow myself to do my best each week and keep moving forward. Rather than get frustrated that there is no right answer, I want to enjoy the fact that there is also no real wrong answer. Whatever I write each week is what is done, and I can look forward to the future. In the end, that is all any of us can do.

Wrap up

It feels nice to be pressing on. Change continues to be our constant companion, and we can use that to our advantage. Ride the waves of uncertainty and let them propel you forward. At least, that’s what I’ll continue telling myself.


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