Distress Improvement Activities

Updated: Jul 29

We all suffer with emotional distress, i.e. feelings of anger, anxiety and sadness. This emotional distress can be overwhelming, particularly for those suffering with mental illnesses. Many of us will react to this distress with unhelpful coping mechanisms, some worse than others. It is important to allow yourself to sit with these feelings and process your thoughts and behaviours in relation to your emotions, however if you are feeling these emotions too intensely, there are many distress improvement activities to get you through the wave. Alongside mindfulness and breathing exercises, simple daily activities can ground you and improve your mood. These can be categorised into two parts: activating activities and soothing activities. Below are several examples of both; I encourage you to take note of the most realistic or helpful ones to you and your circumstances, and keep a note of them every where you go, whether that be a note in your bag or a reminder on your phone, so you can access them wherever and whenever you need them. Let me know what works for you, or if the case, what doesn't work for you and why!

Activating Activities

  • Exercise

  • Take a walk

  • Go for a jog

  • Go to the gym

  • Lift weights

  • Go to an exercise class

  • Boxing

  • Cleaning

  • Doing the washing

  • Doing the dishes

  • Vacuuming

  • Dusting

  • Gardening

  • Cooking

  • Call a friend

  • Go out to lunch, dinner, or for a coffee

  • Shopping

  • Watch your favourite movie

  • Read your favourite book

  • Listen to your favourite music

  • Watch your favourite TV show

  • Watch/read/listen to books, movies and music that create a different emotion

  • Read magazines or a newspaper

  • Play a game

  • Do a puzzle

  • Volunteer

  • Give someone a present

  • Do something thoughtful

  • Make something for someone

Soothing Activities

  • Have a good meal

  • Have a nice snack

  • Have your favourite drink (non-alcoholic)

  • Have a picnic

  • Light a candle

  • Look at beautiful art or scenery

  • Watch the stars

  • Go to a beautiful place

  • Listen to soothing or invigorating music

  • Enjoy sounds of nature

  • Sing

  • Be aware and let sounds come and go

  • Wear your favourite perfume or lotion

  • Enjoy the smells of nature and flowers

  • Take a bubble bath

  • Take a shower

  • Have a massage

  • Pet your dog or cat

  • Soak your feet

  • Brush your hair

  • Do your nails

  • Imagine a relaxing/safe place

  • Imagine coping, the distress flowing away, distress passing

  • Create meaning or purpose from the distress

  • Read/think of your spiritual values

  • Focus on any positives aspects in your life

  • Pray

  • Listen to a relaxation tape

  • Tense and release muscles

  • Slow breathing

  • Count to 10

  • Smile

  • Laugh out loud

  • Take a break (stay in bed for 20 minutes)

Adapted from Saulsman, L., & Nathan, P. (2012) Facing Your Feelings: Learning to Tolerate Distress



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