Distress Tolerance: Avoiding The Negative Effects Of Stress

Unresolved trauma and unmanaged stress chip away at mental and physical health. Adults often respond to stressful situations in the same way they did as children because these response patterns become ingrained - whether they are healthy or not. But there are healthy ways to cope with stress and shield the body from its negative effects. Specifically, distress tolerance is a strategy taught by many Dialectical Behavioral Therapists (DBT) to help clients overcome stressors.

The following are three distress tolerance skills:

  1. Radical Acceptance

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Even though life is unfair, humans have an innate tendency to desire justice. Seemingly unfair life outcomes can cause quite a bit of stress. For example, let's say you were hired five months before your coworker, but your coworker earned a promotion before you despite all of your hard work, overtime hours, and commitment to the company.

The typical reaction to this situation goes something like this: "My boss can't do this to me! It is so unfair. I did everything right. I need to start looking for a new job." But radical acceptance involves positioning your limited perspective inside a larger picture, considering all angles. While you may experience some initial frustration, a radical acceptance response would be: "I wish I would have gotten the promotion. I worked hard, but I acknowledge that my coworker did to. I accept that my boss felt that she would be a better fit."

Can you see the difference? Whereas the first reaction might stimulate a strong stress response and release a flood of stress hormones into the bloodstream, the second reaction is much more conducive to overall health and wellbeing. With some practice, you can become a master at radical acceptance, staying above the fray of life.

2. Sensory Engagement


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Because we live in a world with infinite stimuli, we become desensitized to nonessential stimuli. That is, we only tune in to the environmental sensory information that we need in order to survive. It takes conscious intention to tune into nonessential sensory information. Unless you tune in regularly, you will not experience the full range of emotions and possibilities that sensory engagement has to offer.

Sensory engagement is a mindfulness-based approach in which you use your five senses to engage with the world around you. Instead of focusing in the past or worrying about the future, you become fully immersed in the sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell of the current moment. It is used as a part of DBT Distress Tolerance because it is a critical self-soothing technique that anyone can do at any time without lengthy training.

3. Distraction


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Sometimes the best thing to do when you are in the midst of stress is to distract yourself. After all, stressful events lose their power over you if you're focus on other things instead of ruminating on them. DBT practitioners have invented the acronym ACCEPTS as a reminder of the distraction technique.

A - Activities: engage in projects that require concentration

C - Contributing: volunteer at your workplace, school, or community

C - Comparison: look at your current situation in relation to something worse

E - Emotions: stir up another competing emotion, such as comfort

P - Pushing away: push negative thoughts out of your mind

T - Thoughts: focus on your thoughts instead of your emotions

S - Sensations: ground yourself in your environment by touching the ground, your chair, your clothing, etc.

See An Online Counselor for Advanced Distress Tolerance

When it comes to distress tolerance, these three techniques are only the beginning. See an online counselor today to learn strategies to use throughout your life as a shield against stress.


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