Distress Tolerance Techniques from DBT

Sometimes we find ourselves with a problem or situation we can’t immediately solve. Perhaps our emotions are running high and we need some space to compose ourselves or perhaps it is an issue that just can’t be solved in the immediate future but still gives us an element of worry or distress. In either case, we can begin to feel consumed by our feelings. Distress tolerance techniques are a part of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) and can be quite helpful when feeling upset about something. Today’s post will focus on immediate, or short term distress.

Someone upsets you at work with an insensitive comment, you get wind that a friend has gossiped about you to someone else, the school calls and your teenager has skipped class – these are all examples of situations that can create an immediate reaction in us; of anger, hurt, frustration, disappointment. Perhaps dealing with it immediately might not work – time does not allow for it or we fear that we may say or do something that isn’t measured.

One way to deal with short term or immediate distress is to use our senses to self-soothe; it can be helpful in grounding yourself. After taking a couple of deep breaths, try and use your senses to center yourself:

  • Stand by a window or go outside. Focus on the trees, water, people walking by.
  • Scroll through pictures on your phone that bring you good feelings.
  • Put on some music that is soothing or uplifting.
  • Listen to a guided meditation or podcast that you enjoy.
  • Light a candle; cook something flavourful, buy yourself a Pumpkin Spice Latte at lunch.
  • Put on a cozy sweater or wrap. Cozy up to your pet, take a shower or a bath.

These types of distraction techniques are meant not to help us avoid dealing with the situation, but rather give us the time to focus on how we want to handle the issue that has brought us emotional upset. As they are also self-soothing activities, they help to feed our comfort system, which allows our rational brain to inform us as to how we want to move forward in finding a solution.

Tomorrow we will look at the types of distraction techniques needed for long term emotional upset.

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@coltonsturgeon


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