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Distress Tolerance Skill: Distract yourself

By Mary Laughlin

DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) skills can help guide a person towards the confidence and joy that they long for in their relationships. The theory includes four sets of skills- Distress Tolerance, Mindfulness, Emotion Regulation, and Interpersonal Effectiveness. Today we will be focusing on Distress Tolerance.

Distress Tolerance skills are skills that can be used when you face overwhelming emotions in the moment. Overwhelming emotions can make a person feel out of control and often react in harmful ways to themselves or others due to the internal pain they are experiencing. Distress Tolerance skills can help a person to see alternative strategies for managing these emotions (McKay et al., 2019). 

The wonderful thing about this skill is that you don’t have to wait for an overwhelming emotion to come your way to engage in a pleasurable activity. Many times, finding ways to incorporate at least one of these into your daily routine can help support your overall mental, emotional, and physical health (2019). 

Check out the list below and check off the activities that might work for you. Some people find it helpful to find activities that would be possible at work, school, home, or with certain individuals. 

Distraction from an overwhelming emotion can be an effective tool, especially when it’s a distraction that brings you joy. This idea is based on a premise often explored in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or the theory that our behaviors can affect our thoughts, which in turn affect our emotions. While there are times when we will need to learn how to sit with hard emotions, distress tolerance skills help us get out of the overwhelming emotion so that we can later “revisit” it and understand possible connections. 

Check out the list below and check off the activities that might work for you. Some people find it helpful to find activities that would be possible at work, school, home, or with certain individuals. 

  • Talk to a friend or coworker 
  • Invite a friend over to your home
  • Send a funny text to a friend
  • Organize a party
  • Exercise
  • Lift weights
  • Practice yoga, or find a class and learn
  • Stretch
  • Take a walk and notice sights, sounds, and smells around you
  • Do something new and exciting like surfing, rock climbing, etc
  • Get out of your house or office for a few minutes
  • Play with your pet 
  • Watch a funny movie
  • Do a puzzle with lots of pieces
  • Go to a bookstore and read
  • Pray or meditate
  • Join a faith community or group
  • Take a bubble bath or shower
  • Write in a journal
  • Make a list of 10 things you are grateful for
  • Make a list of 10 things you like about yourself and read them when you are feeling upset
  • Recite or write a personal mantra 
  • Create your own list or collage of pleasurable activities

Which ones might work for you? 

At The Pursuit, a group of experienced therapists have come together to offer best-in-class counseling services. We prioritize clinical theory, non-judgmental approaches, and effective interventions, treatment plans, and coping skills. We have therapists who specialize in different areas and we strive to find the best match for your unique needs. Our services cater to individuals, families, and organizations, including adolescents in high school. We aim to connect you with the specialist who can best address your concerns. Our specialized counseling services aim to address the underlying emotional wounds that contribute to behaviors. We offer evidence-based counseling that is effective in working with many presenting problems. We provide a holistic approach to recovery, focusing on healing the past to create a healthier future. Are you ready to take the first step in your Pursuit towards a happier, healthier you? We invite you to book your free 20-minute consultation with one of our skilled therapists. Don’t wait; it’s time to invest in your well-being. Simply Book Now to start your Pursuit toward personal growth and positive change today.

McKay, M., Wood, J., and Brantley, J. (2019). The dialectical behavior therapy skills workbook: Practical DBT exercises for learning mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation, and distress tolerance. (2nd ed). New Harbinger Publications.

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