5 Steps to Achieve Distress Tolerance

Everybody feels distressed. You cannot experience life’s full breadth and beauty if you don’t feel any type of pain, anxiety, or sorrow. It is your ability to get through these challenges that truly matters. 

This is why it’s essential to develop distress tolerance.

What Is Distress Tolerance?

Distress tolerance is the ability to manage your emotions so you won’t be overwhelmed in troubling or difficult situations. 

A big element of distress tolerance is awareness of your inability to deal with big stressors. This awareness is also a major part of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).

What is the goal of distress tolerance? Developing distress tolerance skills and action plans will help you cope with stressors so they won’t affect your productivity and efficiency. 

Here are five simple tips to improve your distress tolerance:

1. Identify Your Triggers

What triggers your distress? Awareness is vital for developing positive coping mechanisms. 

Triggers can be internal or external. External triggers are people, places, events, and certain situations that cause strong negative emotions. Internal triggers are memories, thoughts, mental images, and bodily sensations. 

How Can You Identify Triggers?

Self-assessment will help you determine situations where you turn to unproductive and unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as situational avoidance, suppression, alcohol and/or drug use, excessive sleeping, and binge eating. 

Here are some of the most common distress triggers:

  • Anxiety 
  • Arguments
  • Conflict with friends or family
  • Health issues
  • Money problems
  • Relationship issues
  • Responsibilities at work or school
  • Unemployment

2. Know the Warning Signs

Next, identify the overwhelming feelings, thoughts, and behavioral urges that signal your distress. In many cases, these intense emotions are manifested through physical sensations. 

Here are some common warning signs of distress:

  • Sadness/hurt/despair/depression
  • Low energy/fatigue
  • Crying (or the feeling of wanting to cry)
  • The urge to drink or binge eat to dull the pain
  • Isolation
  • Feeling of hopelessness

3. Choose a Distress Tolerance Action Plan

When you can identify triggers and warning signs of distress, you are better positioned to follow your distress tolerance action plan. 

Commit to managing your distress instead of resorting to avoidance or other harmful behaviors. Absorb the negative feelings instead of wallowing. Process your emotions by writing them down and commit to doing right by yourself.

Remember that unproductive and unhealthy coping mechanisms are the easy way out. You need to be mentally strong to commit to distress tolerance

4. Accept Distress

Like the five stages of grief, the acceptance stage of distress tolerance is crucial. 

What are the distress tolerance skills in DBT?

  • Recognize distress. 
  • Deal with the intense emotions
  • Be present in the moment. Breathe in and out and focus on your tasks. 
  • Detach from the emotion and try to describe it through imagery. 

5. Cope With Distress

There are many ways to cope with distress, and they may include some of the most simple and mundane activities. Find out what works best for you because each person copes differently. 

Here are some of the simple coping mechanisms you can try when in distress:

  • Talk to your friends
  • Get out of the house and be around nature (park, beach, forest, or mountain)
  • Grab coffee or tea
  • Clean your immediate surroundings
  • Tend your garden
  • Make a nice dinner
  • Watch a movie
  • Read a book
  • Sing your favorite songs
  • Prepare an elaborate meal 

Final Thoughts

Everybody feels distressing emotions once in a while. The important thing is developing the ability to cope with distress through healthy and efficient means. Identifying triggers and warning signs will lead to healthier ways to manage reactions to distress.

Distress tolerance allows you to be productive and get through life’s most challenging moments. 

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