What is Distress Tolerance?

Distress Tolerance

Some mental health providers offer a type of treatment known as dialectical behavior therapy that teaches patients important skills for coping with symptoms. Of the four main components that make up DBT, one of the most important is distress tolerance. This is a lesson in learning how to handle stress, anxiety, or any overwhelming emotions that could lead to a crisis.

Strategies of Distress Tolerance

Distress tolerance teaches certain strategies that prevent emotions from escalating and helps a person get back into a calm state of mind. Skills like lowering your body temperature, exercising, controlled breathing, and muscle relaxation are often the starting point for distress tolerance. These tactics can help quickly bring a person to a more relaxed state of mind so that their emotions don’t become overwhelming.

Another strategy that is often a part of distress tolerance is learning how to accept a negative emotion until it can be fully addressed. Some situations cannot be resolved right away and in that case, the patient will have to distract themselves through other activities, but their situation is in perspective or soothe themselves through meditation or relaxation. Stress is a natural part of life and these strategies can help people cope with it until a situation is finally resolved.

When painful situations come up, a patient can also use distress tolerance methods to make it through the experience without engaging in unhealthy behaviors. They can try to find meaning in the situation, visualize themselves overcoming it or give themselves encouragement so that they can stay positive. Instead of turning to self-destructive solutions, people can employ the techniques that work the best for them.

Although tolerance and DBT are usually lessons provided for people in treatment centers or therapy sessions, anyone can develop their own list of strategies to overcome anxiety and stress.