Dealing with intense emotions can be overwhelming, causing us to feel panicked and inconsolable. However, a type of therapy known as Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), offers a set of skills that can help regulate our emotions. One of these skills is distress tolerance.
Distress tolerance in DBT refers to the ability to tolerate painful or difficult emotions without making things worse for ourselves. This skill is particularly important for those who struggle with intense emotions, such as those with borderline personality disorder, anxiety, or depression.
The first step in practicing distress tolerance is identifying the intensity of our non-judgmental emotions. This means we acknowledge and validate the emotions we’re feeling, even if they’re uncomfortable. Next, we practice self-soothing techniques such as deep breathing, practicing mindfulness, or taking a bath. This helps relax the mind and body to alleviate the emotional symptoms we’re facing.
Another important step in distress tolerance is to use positive self-talk and challenging negative comments. This skill helps reframe negative thoughts and transform them into healthier beliefs. We can practice this by saying affirmations such as “I am capable of handling difficult emotions” or “It’s okay to feel afraid, and I will get through it”. Repeating these positive affirmations can help us switch to a positive mindset towards difficult feelings.
Lastly, we can practice coping ahead. This means we plan ahead of time to anticipate our intense emotions. We identify our triggers and plan how we can manage them in advance, instead of reacting to them in the moment. We can have a list of activities that could help, such as calling a friend or taking a walk outside, so we can manage our emotions while keeping our stress levels low.
Ultimately, distress tolerance skills are essential in emotional regulation. Learning these skills can help prevent us from feeling overwhelmed and panicked by intense emotions. By practicing non-judgmental awareness, self-soothing techniques, positive self-talk, and coping ahead, we can improve our mental wellbeing, reduce panic, and handle difficult emotions with greater ease.