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Navigating Life’s Storms: Mastering Distress Tolerance Skills in DBT

Mastering Distress Tolerance
Mastering Distress Tolerance

Life can throw us into emotionally turbulent waters. Distress Tolerance Skills, derived from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and incorporated into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), are crucial in navigating these moments. These skills help in enduring and surviving emotional crises without resorting to destructive behaviors.

What are Distress Tolerance Skills?

Distress Tolerance Skills focus on helping individuals bear and survive intense emotional pain in a healthy way. These techniques are not about solving the problem but about tolerating and surviving the distressing situation without exacerbating it. The goal is to increase the ability to withstand negative emotions rather than escape from them.

How to Implement Them:

  1. Radical Acceptance: Learn to accept reality as it is, not as you wish it to be. This doesn’t mean you approve of it, but rather acknowledge it to reduce suffering.

  2. Self-Soothing Techniques: Engage in activities that calm and comfort you, like taking a warm bath, listening to soothing music, or practicing deep breathing.

  3. Distraction: Temporarily divert your attention from distressing emotions to more manageable activities or thoughts.

  4. Pros and Cons: Weigh the pros and cons of not tolerating distress versus tolerating it. This helps in making conscious choices rather than acting impulsively.

For example, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, you might use radical acceptance to acknowledge the anxiety without judgment, then use self-soothing techniques like deep breathing to help navigate through the emotion.


Distress Tolerance Skills are essential in preventing impulsive actions that can worsen situations. They help in managing emotional crises more effectively, leading to greater emotional stability. Over time, these skills can enhance resilience and the ability to cope with future stressors.

Tips and Considerations:

Practice these skills regularly, even when you’re not in distress, so they become more accessible during tough times. Remember, the aim is not to eliminate discomfort but to manage it more effectively. It’s also beneficial to learn these skills under the guidance of a trained therapist, especially if you’re dealing with intense or chronic emotional issues.


Distress Tolerance Skills are vital tools in our emotional toolkit. They empower us to withstand life's challenges with resilience, preventing destructive behaviors and fostering a healthier, more balanced approach to life’s inevitable ups and downs.

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