Distress Tolerance - Not Easy, But Powerful!

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Distress. What does that word mean to you? We may feel distressed when we are overwhelmed, sad, angry, or frustrated. This can be caused by external events, but we can also feel distressed from our emotions or thoughts.


When we are distressed, we find it extremely difficult to think clearly, relax, or calm down. Our thoughts may be racing, and our bodies may get tense. But unfortunately, distress is inevitable. We will all have to deal with distress at some time in our lives.

What is important to realize is that we cannot avoid distress. In fact, trying to do so or denying it will just make us feel worse. What we CAN do is try to learn how to cope with it. This is called 'distress tolerance'. 

This link has a lot of good information on how we can learn to handle distress. One very useful strategy is to remember the ACCEPT acronym. When faced with a difficult emotion, thought, or event, some helpful things to do are to try to engage in activities that you like. Although this is hard to do when you feel down, it can help you get your mind off the situation.

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Something else to try is to push away the thoughts and try to talk yourself into understanding WHY you are distressed - and whether or not your response is 'appropriate' and helpful. For example, you may feel frustrated and angry that you scored poorly on an exam, that you argued with your friend, etc. This may make you feel bad about yourself. You may begin to criticize yourself, feel hopeless, or turn to ineffective coping skills (this can be substances, self-harm, spending excessive money, eating too much/too little, yelling, isolating yourself, etc). Instead of doing this, stop and think: how will using these 'coping skills' help or harm you and the situation? If you use the substance, you may feel temporarily better, but this will not last long. And, you will likely feel guilty afterwards as well. Crying and yelling can help release emotions - and can be normal responses; however, after releasing the emotion, you ought to deep breath, and realize that you can handle this. You have done it before, and you WILL survive.

Image result for distress tolerance quotesDealing with distress is, ironically, distressing. It is not fun or easy to sit through negative emotions, thoughts, or temptations - and actively try to resist them or cope with them. Doing so takes a lot of practice. Being mindful that when we are frustrated and emotional, it is difficult to think clearly is helpful. When we feel distressed and try to tolerate it, we will feel highly uncomfortable. Because trying to handle distress is hard work! However, over time, it does become slightly easier. We each find strategies that work for us. 


Image result for weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morningKeep on practicing how to handle distress - it cultivates inner peace, resilience, and strength. It can help you persevere through challenging times, break ineffective coping activities, and learn to be kind to yourself. Remember: every difficult circumstance, emotion or thought you have will not last forever. You WILL get through this. You alone can choose to use strategies to get through these moments. It will be hard, but you CAN.




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