Distress tolerance is a person’s ability to manage actual or perceived emotional distress. It also involves being able to make it through an emotional incident without making it worse. People who have low distress tolerance tend to become overwhelmed by stressful situations and may sometimes turn to unhealthy or even destructive ways of coping with these difficult emotions.
Distress Tolerance Techniques
- Distraction: Distraction can be a very effective way of taking action to increase your distress tolerance. It involves using a variety of methods to take your mind off your feelings of distress.
- Self-soothing: Finding ways to calm yourself and keep negative emotions in check is an important part of building distress tolerance. Different sensory experiences that involve sight, sound, smell, taste, or touch can all be used to self-soothe during difficult moments.
- Improving the moment: In the third distress tolerance skill, the goal is to use positive mental imagery to improve your current situation.
- Focusing on pros and cons: This involves focusing on the pros and cons of either tolerating the distress or not tolerating. It can be helpful to remember the past consequences of not tolerating distress, and to imagine how it will feel to successfully tolerate the current distress and avoid negative behaviors
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Dialectical behavior therapy can provide you with skills that are directly focused on increasing distress tolerance. DBT is a technique that was originally developed to treat borderline personality disorder (BPD) but has also been used to treat a range of other conditions including:
- Anxiety disorders
- Mood disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Substance use
Though it may take time and vulnerability to build adequate distress tolerance skills, working with a therapist can lead to tangible and lasting improvement in multiple areas across your life.