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How to Use Distress Tolerance Skills to Cope in a Crisis

It’s happening again—you’re in crisis mode. No matter the situation, it seems that anxiety is the common theme in any crisis.

And your paramount concern is undoubtedly your spiking anxiety. It’s almost as if you can feel yourself just holding on by your fingertips.

What are you going to do? How can you calm down?

Anxiety treatment can certainly help with processing and understanding your anxiety. However, at the moment when your anxiety strikes, you need tools to cope with the crisis.

That’s why learning and mastering distress tolerance skills can help. Consider these ideas to help manage the overwhelm a crisis can cause.

Distract Yourself From the Anxiety

The first of the distress tolerance skills to understand is distraction. Typically, we think of distraction as being a negative thing.

For example, did you ever get in trouble in school for being distracted and not paying attention in class?

However, when it comes to anxiety, distraction can actually be a useful tool. It allows you to shift your focus away from what’s triggering the anxiety to something else. It actually works to help cope with anxiety.

One idea is to have a simple game that you like to play on your phone. Another is shifting your thinking to what your plans are for the weekend or the project at work.

Find Ways to Calm Down

The next skill for distress tolerance is finding ways to calm yourself down. Also known as self-soothing techniques, these are useful because they bring your stress levels down back to a calm state of mind.

These incorporate your five senses—hearing, seeing, taste, smell, and touch.

Examples of self-soothing include:

  • Listening to calming sounds, such as your favorite music or sounds from nature like birds chirping or a flowing stream.
  • Eating something that you enjoy and brings you joy, such as your favorite meal.
  • Spending time cuddling with your pet.
  • Lighting a scented candle or applying soothing oils to your skin (like lavender).
  • Surrounding yourself with pictures or art that you enjoy, or spending time in a room that has soothing colors.

Gain Control of the Here and Now

With distress tolerance skills, there is an emphasis on how you can improve your current situation in the here and now, per se. This is important because anxiety tends to create stress and worry about things you can’t control.

In the worst-case scenario, anxiety makes you feel as if you have absolutely no control at all. This may leave you with a sense of fear and powerlessness.

Improving your present situation may include saying a calming and reassuring phrase or prayer, relaxing your muscles, smiling to yourself, or thinking of something that will help calm you down.

You can’t control the world to ensure that you never experience anxiety. However, there are many things that are in your control that you can do when anxiety strikes.

This sense of control can actually be very reassuring and empowering for those who struggle with anxiety.

Weigh the Pros and Cons of a Stressful Situation

In moments of heightened anxiety, it’s helpful to weigh the pros and cons of your options on what to do.

For example, you may think that if you respond to the situation by practicing deep breathing and self-soothing, you’ll feel better. On the other hand, you may think that allowing the anxiety to take over will only make you feel worse.

Every day you weigh the pros and cons of your decisions—what to wear to work, your driving route, what to eat for lunch, etc. In reality, you are already practicing this technique in your daily life.

Why not purposefully apply it to your anxiety, too?

Distress tolerance skills are not something you instantly develop. It takes time and practice.

However, if you want to get better at managing your anxiety, consider getting professional help with anxiety treatment using dialectical behavioral therapy.

A therapist trained in this technique will be able to help you to develop your distress tolerance skills. That way you can better cope with anxiety. Please, visit here or contact us today to learn more about how we can help you live your best life.

Suffolk DBT proudly provides quality dialectical behavior therapy, a form of cognitive behavioral therapy, at their offices in Manhattan and Long Island, New York and online. Their experienced NYC therapists specialize in serving teens, children, adults, and college students struggling with depression, borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, and self-harm. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills and treatment can help you or your kids to manage emotions and work through life’s challenges.

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