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  • Writer's pictureKristin Smart

What is Distress Tolerance and Why is it so Important?

Distress tolerance is a concept within mental health that refers to an individual's ability to withstand or tolerate distressing emotions, situations, or experiences without resorting to harmful or ineffective coping mechanisms. It involves developing skills and strategies to manage and endure distressing moments, which can be particularly helpful during times of crisis, emotional pain, or challenging situations. Practicing distress tolerance can be beneficial for individuals who struggle with emotional regulation, impulsivity, self-destructive behaviors, or difficulty coping with distressing situations. Here are some techniques that can help develop and enhance distress tolerance skills:


  1. Mindfulness: Mindfulness involves bringing your attention to the present moment without judgment. By practicing mindfulness, you can observe your distressing emotions and thoughts without getting caught up in them. This awareness allows you to create a space between yourself and your distress, reducing the urge to react impulsively.

  2. Grounding techniques: Grounding techniques help anchor you to the present and provide a sense of stability during distressing moments. Examples include focusing on your senses by noticing and describing specific details about your environment, engaging in deep breathing exercises, or using tactile objects like holding a comforting item or using a stress ball.

  3. Self-soothing activities: Engaging in self-soothing activities can help calm your nervous system during distressing times. This can include activities like taking a warm bath, listening to calming music, engaging in gentle exercise, practicing deep breathing, or using aromatherapy.

  4. Distraction techniques: Distraction techniques involve diverting your attention away from distressing thoughts or emotions. Engage in activities that captivate your attention, such as reading a book, watching a movie, solving puzzles, or engaging in hobbies or creative outlets.

  5. Positive self-talk: Challenge negative or distressing thoughts by practicing positive self-talk. Remind yourself of your strengths, affirm your ability to cope, and offer yourself words of encouragement and support. This can help shift your mindset and build resilience during difficult moments.

  6. Acceptance: Acceptance is an essential component of distress tolerance. Recognize that distressing emotions are a natural part of life and that it is okay to experience them. Acknowledge that you cannot always control external events or immediately change how you feel. By accepting your emotions and circumstances, you can focus on managing your response to them.

  7. Seeking support: Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or mental health professionals when you're struggling. Talking about your distressing emotions and seeking support from others can provide validation, guidance, and a sense of connection during difficult times.


Remember that building distress tolerance skills takes time and practice. It is essential to be patient and kind to yourself throughout the process. If you find that distressing emotions are persistently overwhelming or significantly impacting your daily life, it is advisable to seek professional help from a mental health provider.


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