Stressful situations are sometimes inevitable and unfortunately they cannot be avoided. In these instances it is important to utilize well developed coping skills to successfully navigate through the emotional pain. Although everyone could probably benefit from learning how to better manage their emotions, it is particularly important if you’re easily overwhelmed, even by mild levels of stress. A low stress tolerance means that you have difficulty functioning even under mild pressures. Although other traditional therapies may focus on helping people avoid stressful conditions, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) will teach you how to accept and tolerate emotional discomfort in unavoidable situations.
The efficacy of DBT has been well documented and according to the Linehan Institution, this therapy has been officially recognized as the treatment of choice to address characteristics such as impulsivity, difficulty managing your emotions, and problems with interpersonal interactions. Although this therapy is quite effective in treating more serious behaviors such as self-harm and suicidal behaviors, it is also quite useful for milder behaviors, as well. DBT is a proven evidence-based treatment that can be extremely effective in helping you to manage your stress.
Distress tolerance is a core skill that is taught in DBT. It focuses on a concept called “Radical Acceptance” where you are taught to accept the reality of situations that you are unable to change. This approach allows you to avoid having to experience the intense and prolonged discomfort that would accompany any attempts at fighting against these circumstances.
DBT teaches four distress tolerance skills: Distracting, self-soothing, improving the moment, and focusing on the pros and cons.
- Distracting is when you deliberately turn your attention away from your situation to intentionally focus on other things that feel better.
- Self-soothing is when you intentionally use your five senses to nurture and soothe yourself.
- Improving the moment is the process of using positive imagery to improve your immediate mental experience.
- Focusing on pros and cons is when you consider the pros and cons of allowing yourself to actually experience the distress rather than run from it or try to fight against it.
Wise Mind ACCEPTS
Wise Mind is one of three mindsets that are taught in DBT. This is the ideal state of mind where you are able to combine your rational thoughts with your emotions so that you can take a more balanced and intuitive approach to frustrating situations.
Below is a practical DBT tool that will help you develop the skill of distraction so that you can operate in Wise Mind more frequently. In fact, once mastered, you can make this technique a part of your everyday life. The acronym Wise Mind ACCEPTS helps you to remember how to use more enjoyable activities to shift stressful and upsetting thoughts.
1.) A: Distract with Activities
Distract yourself from stressful thoughts by engaging in specific activities that really grab your attention. Think about things you would be doing if you weren’t so distressed, and then do them. Try going to the gym, completing a crossword puzzle, watching a movie, going through your closet to find things to give to charity, taking a walk, or engaging in a hobby that you love. It doesn’t really matter what you do as long as it is a constructive activity and it gets your mind off of the negative thoughts. Also, keep in mind that if you choose an activity that involves other people, refrain from talking about the situation. The idea is to use distracting activities to get your mind off of the negative thoughts.
2.) C: Distract with Contributing
Distract yourself by contributing to the lives of others. Being in service to other people tends to be even more distracting and helpful then doing activities for yourself. Contributions can include volunteering for an organization, babysitting for a friend, cooking a meal for an elderly person, helping your sister paint her living room, or anything else that is in service to someone else that gets your mind off of your own frustrations.
3.) C: Distract with Comparing
Distract yourself by considering people who are worse off then you. Alternatively, you can think about a time when things were worse in your own life. This can help you experience a greater gratitude for your current reality. The point is not to invalidate how you feel but to help you put your situation into perspective. The process of comparing reminds you that there are situations that are worse than yours.
4.) E: Distract with opposite Emotions
Participate in activities that will elicit feelings that are the direct opposite of what you are currently experiencing. For example, when you’re angry, you could try popping a comedy into the DVD player and spend the next couple of hours laughing. Try singing or dancing when you’re feeling sad. Or maybe go watch someone sky diving or doing something courageous when you’re feeling scared or nervous. The idea is to distract yourself with activities that will encourage you to experience the opposite emotion.
5.) P: Distract with Pushing Away
This strategy allows you to push negative thoughts out of your mind by mentally leaving the situation. You should allow yourself to acknowledge that the problem exists but then intentionally choose to deal with it at a later time. This is NOT avoidance of important issues but it allows you to intentionally disconnect to experience some temporary relief. Some of the ways that you can effectively implement this technique is to visualize an imaginary wall between you and the situation. Visualize that the wall separates you from the circumstances. You could also try visualizing that you are pushing the volume button on the situation so that it is getting lower and lower until you can no longer hear it. You could also see yourself putting the problem in a drawer in another room where it can safely stay until you’re in a better position to deal with it. This technique allows you momentary relief so that you can pass through any immediate crisis or emotional discomfort.
6.) T: Distract with Thoughts
Try diverting your attention with neutral thoughts that are not related to your situation. When you fill your head with other information then there’s no room left for the negative thoughts. You can try counting the tile on the floor, visualizing new furniture for your home, guessing the favorite color of every child that passes by in the park, or doing some math calculations in your head. This will help you keep your thoughts off of painful circumstances.
7.) S: Distract with Sensations
You can also distract yourself using physical and bodily sensations. Some activities you could try include putting an ice pack on your neck, taking a hot bath, drinking a warm beverage, listening to loud music, snapping a rubber band on your wrist, allowing a fan to blow in your face, or swimming in very cold water. Subjecting yourself to different physical sensations allows you to mobilize your body so that your mind and emotions will come with it. In other words, bodily sensations allow you to disconnect from the pain of your current situation. This is one of the best ways to get “unstuck” when in a crisis.
Wise Minds ACCEPTS is a strategy that many people find quite useful during everyday life. It allows you to take a more balanced approach to stressful situations. This approach teaches you how to use distraction when facing situations that are out of your control. Most importantly, however, is that this valuable tool can help you decrease painful feelings while simultaneously resisting unhelpful and potentially destructive behavior. You can learn more about Wise Mind ACCEPTS and other DBT strategies by contacting a Therapist who specializes in Dialectical Behavior Therapy. A quick internet search will provide you with a list of great clinicians in your area. There are also DBT workbooks that are available for order on Amazon or can be purchased at your local bookstore.
Below are links to two workbooks that have great reviews on Amazon that may be very helpful for you:
About this Contributor: Aysha Ives, M.S. has a Master’s Degree in Psychology and has provided services as a Therapist and Success Coach for over a decade. With a love for God and a passion to help as many people as possible, she has expanded her services to include Professional Writing with specializations in Mental Health, Behavioral Health, and Spirituality. Aysha has published three books and has served as a Contributor for HealthyPsych.com, Psych Central, wikiHow, Insight Telepsychiatry, Mind Over Media, LLC, various churches and other private clients. You can learn more about Aysha and purchase her books by visiting Aysha’s Author Page on Amazon. You can also find Aysha on her website at www.