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What Is Distress Tolerance?

The ability to tolerate and accept distress is an essential mental health goal for two reasons. Firstly, pain and distress are part of life; they cannot be entirely avoided or remove. The inability to accept this fact itself leads to increased pain and suffering. Second, distress tolerance, at least over the short run, is part and parcel of any attempt to change oneself; otherwise, impulsive actions will interfere with efforts to establish desired changes. Distress tolerance skills have to do with the ability to accept, in a non-evaluative and non-judgemental way, both oneself and the current situation. Distress tolerance is the ability to perceive one’s environment without putting demands on it to be different, to experience your current emotional state without attempting to change it, and to observe your own thoughts and emotions without attempting to stop or control them.

Distress tolerance skills help people get through life when they can’t solve their problems immediately. It is not problem solving skill. Instead, it is about learning new ways of coping in terrible situations, without resorting to behaviours that will make a situation worst or prolong suffering. Some examples of distress tolerance skills include distraction, self- soothe, improve the moment and radical acceptance.

Distraction helps us feel better by diverting our attention away from the distressing thoughts. It is more effective if you choose an activity that really grab your attention and keep you absorbed in it. Some examples of distraction skills include: doing a crossword puzzle or Sudoku, going for a walk or run, paint, draw or sculpt, bake or play a musical instrument.

Self- soothe has do with comforting, nurturing, and being kind to yourself. One way to think of this, is to think of ways of soothing each of your five senses – vision, hearing, smell, taste and touch. Some examples include looking at the nature around you, buying a flower and putting it where you can see it, listen to soothing music, listen to the sound of the ocean, smell your favourite perfume or candle, notice the smells around you, cook your favourite meal, and mindfully taste your meal, pet your dog, massage your hands or feet, or take a bubble bath.

Improve the movement is about learning skills to accept the emotional pain, thereby reducing emotional suffering. Some examples include imagery, creating meaning, prayer, relaxation and doing one thing in the moment.

Radical acceptance means being willing to experience a situation as it is, rather than how we want it to be. To be repeatedly turning the mind – to be in the actual situation you are in, rather than the situation you think you are in, or think you should be in.

Much love, healings and blessings

Rebecca Sheehy


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