Nobody likes distress – we avoid it at all costs! As a society, we are taught to avoid experiencing or causing distress, even if it’s natural – we tend to avoid facing our pain in stressful situations and that does come at the price of our wellness! The thing more important than avoiding distress is tolerating it! Managing distress is the ability to endure the unpleasant without resorting to actions or behaviours that are damaging to our wellbeing. Skillful distress tolerance is especially important when we want to make changes in our lives. Let’s talk about why distress is something we can actually use to make our lives better!

First of all, what do we mean by distress?

Distress is prolonged or overwhelming anxiety, physical or emotional pain, or sorrow.

Why Are We Talking About Distress?

  1. Distress is a catalyst for change

That’s right, it is when we are facing prolonged stress or anxiety that may help us finally take that first step and make a change.

     2. Distress can show us what is important to us

We can learn a lot about ourselves just by seeing what causes us distress.

       3. Avoiding distress interferes with our achievements

Our life can be quite stagnant and monotonous if we only ever stay in our comfort zone.

      4. Avoiding distress contributes to existing symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD, EDs etc. 

Any type of avoiding our situation can make our unhelpful coping mechanisms worse, which may worsen our mental health quite significantly.

What Can You Use Distress Tolerance Skills For?

  1. Short term relief in painful situations
  2. Make your problem-solving easier
  3. Improve your emotional skills
  4. Help accept your current situation
  5. Help you stop resorting to impulsive behaviours 

So What Can You Try When You Are in Distress?

  1. Soothe yourself!

When we were babies, we most likely had a fluffy toy that gave us all the comfort we needed, or we could just suck our thumb and feel calmer… We still need our soothing mechanisms as adults! Here are some tips:

  • Aromatherapy – light an incense or a candle and just take it all in.
  • Make yourself a delicious and nutritious meal, and make it with intention and love!
  • Make use of any items that help you destress – fidget tools, stress balls, or just anything that you like the texture of!

    2. Use cold water to reset your system!

If you are struggling with overwhelming emotions, try splashing cold water on your face or holding ice cubes in your hands! If you have time, go for a nice cold shower. That’s right, cold water can give your system a bit of a shock and help you get back into balance when emotions are high.

    3. Have an intense workout!

This is the time for you to release all the intense energy you are holding and help your body get back into equilibrium. Intense exercise helps you get rid of frustration, release the dopamine (your happy hormone) and feel more energised. If you don’t have time for a HIIT workout, just do some jumping jacks or high-knees to get yourself moving!


   4. Distract yourself!

If you are left with nothing else, distraction can be a helpful tool for distress tolerance. You can create time to remove yourself from the situation and be purposeful about changing how you feel. You can:

  • Watch a video of something that is creating an opposite emotion to what you are feeling
  • Just take a walk or go for a drive

Be careful – if overused, distraction can turn into avoidance and you may not be able to face your problems in a way that is truly the best for you.

   5. Practice radical acceptance

Radical acceptance is about making peace with the parts that you have no control over. It’s about our relationship with the hopeless situation rather than the situation itself! Remember, radical acceptance is NOT about being okay with things as they are (because sometimes they’re just not okay) – it’s about letting yourself feel the feelings appropriate to the situation. When you practice acceptance, you allow yourself to experience life without fighting or avoiding reality!

   6. Create a pros and cons list

Unfortunately, painful and unpleasant feelings are a given! But sometimes those feelings come with the steps that we want to take to achieve our goals. Sometimes, we just know that we will have to face the unpleasant to get where we want to. Here’s a tip – you can create a pros and cons list of taking an uncomfortable step. Chances are, you will see that there may be more pros than cons, therefore some distress may actually be worth it. Planning ahead like this can help you prepare for the distress too, so you can manage it better when the time comes. You got this!

We hope you find these tips helpful in practising your distress tolerance skills – it truly is about practice sometimes! If you are struggling, please head to the support section of our website to find ways to get help, including therapy with myself, Karolina!