Distress Tolerance Skills


Pain and distress are part of life. They can not be entirely avoided of removed. The inability to accept this fact leads to increased pain and suffering. Distress Tolerance, over the short run, is part and parcel of any attempt to change oneself. Impulsive actions, otherwise, will interfere with efforts to establish desired change. Distress tolerance skills constitute a natural progression from Mindfulness skills. They have to do with:

  1. ) The ability to accept, in a non-evaluative and nonjudgmental way, both oneself and the current situation
  2. ) The ability to perceive one’s environment without putting demands on it to be different.
  3. ) To experience your current emotional state without attempting to change it.
  4. ) To observe your own thought and action patterns without attempting to stop and control them.

Do not confuse nonjudgmental as approval.

Acceptance of reality is not equivalent to approval of reality.


  1. ) To temporarily stop you from thinking about your pain
  2. )To give you time to find an appropriate coping response
  3. To help let go of the pain by helping you think of something else
  4. To buy you time so that your emotions can settle down before you take action to deal with a distressing situation.

Do not confuse distraction with avoidance.

Avoiding a situation means that you choose not to deal with it.

Distracting yourself from a distressful situation means that you choose to deal with it in the future when your emotions have settled down to a tolerable level.


Distress tolerance skills are concerned with tolerating and surviving crises and with accepting life as it is in the present moment. People struggling with overwhelming emotions often deal with their pain in very unhealthy, very unsuccessful ways because they don’t know what else to do. When a person is in emotional pain, it’s hard to be rational and to think of a good solution. Many of the coping strategies used by people with overwhelming emotions only serve to make their problems worse and lead to even deeper emotional pain because they offer temporary relief that will cause more suffering in the future.

Four sets of crisis survival strategies are taught:

  1. Ways to distract yourself from the situations that are causing you emotional pain.
  2. Self Soothing. Skills to bring you some amount of peace and relief from your pain so that you can figure out what you’re going to do next. They help you learn to treat yourself compassionately, lovingly, and kindly. Many people with overwhelming emotions have been abused or neglected as children. As a result, they were taught more about how to hurt than to help themselves.
  3. Improving the moment and thinking of pros and cons.
  4. Radical acceptance to increase your ability to tolerate distress by learning to look at your life in a new way, changing your attitude, and acknowledging your present situation without judging the events or criticizing yourself. It means, seeing the situation as it really is. It means you stop trying to change what’s happened by getting angry and blaming the situation. It means refocusing your attention on what you can do now. This allows you to think more clearly and figure out a better way to cope with your suffering. Choosing to accept reality as it is.

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