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Distress Tolerance Skill # 2 : Distract yourself with Pleasurable Activities

DBT Skills Series

Distress Tolerance Skill # 2 : Distract yourself with Pleasurable Activities

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

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). 

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. 

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. 

  • 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, …

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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