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Distress Tolerance

Carol Pulido, LMHC
Carol Pulido, LMHC
March 28, 2023
Distress Tolerance

Coping With Overwhelming Feelings of Anxiety

Distress Tolerance

As a mental health therapist, I often see clients struggling with overwhelming feelings of anxiety leading to immense distress. It can be difficult to manage these intense emotions, especially when they seem to come out of nowhere. However, distress tolerance skills can be incredibly helpful in coping with these overwhelming feelings and managing anxiety.

What is Distress Tolerance?

Distress tolerance is the ability to tolerate and cope with emotional distress without engaging in destructive or harmful behaviors. It involves accepting the reality of the situation and learning to manage intense emotions in a healthy way. Distress tolerance skills are important for everyone, but they are especially helpful for those who struggle with overwhelming anxiety.

How Can Distress Tolerance Help with Anxiety?

Anxiety can cause a wide range of physical and emotional symptoms, including rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling, and feelings of fear or dread. These symptoms can be incredibly overwhelming and make it difficult to focus on anything else. Distress tolerance skills can help you manage these symptoms and cope with the underlying feelings of anxiety.

Here are some distress tolerance skills that can be helpful in managing anxiety:

  1. Mindfulness: Mindfulness involves focusing on the present moment and accepting your thoughts and feelings without judgment. This can help you stay grounded  and calm when you're feeling anxious.
  2. Progressive muscle relaxation: This technique involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups to reduce physical tension and promote relaxation.
  3. Self-soothing: Engage in activities that are soothing and comforting, such as taking a warm bath or drinking a cup of tea.
  4. Coping statements: Repeat positive coping statements to yourself, such as "I can handle this" or "This feeling will pass."
  5. Visualization: Imagine a calming and peaceful scene, such as a beach or a forest, and focus on the details to distract yourself from anxious thoughts.

The 5-4-3-2-1 senses method is highly effective in helping a person avoid an oncoming panic attack or stop a panic attack that is already happening.

You’ll want to engage all of your 5 senses.

 ·       Name 5 things you can see (or pick a color and find 5 of that color)

·        Name 4 things you can touch

·        Name 3 things you can hear

·        Name 2 things you can smell

·        Name 1 thing you can taste

One thing I’ve helped clients with is to create a “five senses first aid bag.”

In the bag you would put one thing that would help you engage that sense.  

Those are just some ideas of what I've helped clients use in the past.

Remember, it's important to use distress tolerance skills regularly, not just when you're feeling overwhelmed.

Make a plan to practice these skills every day to build your distress tolerance and better manage anxiety over time.

Final Thoughts

If you're struggling with overwhelming feelings of anxiety, distress tolerance and coping skills can help. With practice and patience, you can develop the ability to tolerate discomfort and manage your anxiety in healthy, effective ways. If you're finding it difficult to cope on your own, consider seeking the help of a mental health therapist who can provide support and guidance.

If you'd like more practical tips for dealing with feeling you can follow me on Instagram.