Distress Tolerance



Distress Tolerance


At some stage in life, we all need to deal with pain and distress – this is unavoidable. Most of us do not like feeling uncomfortable emotions, however it is important that we have coping strategies to help us manage our distress. Distress tolerance skills are useful ways to manage intense emotional states, without engaging in harmful behaviour, as the inability to accept some events can lead to increased pain and suffering. The goal of distress tolerance is not to take away the emotional pain that you may be feeling or to decrease the distress. Instead, the goal is to help you to be more open and accepting of your distress and to engage less in harmful coping strategies.

Sometimes, our distress can feel like an overwhelming tidal wave that we cannot cope with, so we might engage in unhelpful strategies. Open up the expandable box below, by clicking on the title, and have a look through the list to see if you engage in any of the following activities. 

Not so helpful activities...


  • Spend a lot of time thinking about past hurts, mistakes
  • Feeling anxious about possible hurts in the future
  • Numbing yourself through alcohol and drugs
  • Lash out at others
  • Engage in harmful behaviour to yourself such as cutting, hitting, picking skin
  • Eating too much to the point of feeling sick, or making yourself throw up what you have eaten
  • Engage in high risk activities such as reckless driving
  • Resign yourself to the fact that your life is miserable and doomed to fail



Distress Tolerance – Continued


If you find yourself identifying with anything from the list on the previous page, you may be experiencing difficulty with distress tolerance. If so, you may find it helpful to look at some of the strategies that can increase your distress tolerance skills. In this section we will focus on distraction. However other distress tolerance strategies included in the My Digital Health Community Resources are:


Note: You can click on each strategy above to read more about them. Each linked strategy above will open up in a new page, so you won’t lose your place.


Distraction Techniques


Sometimes when you are feeling overwhelmed by your thoughts and emotions, rather than engaging in self-destructive behaviour, it may be safer for you to engage in activities to distract yourself, to give a different focus even if only temporary.

In the expandable box below (click on the title to open it), you will find a is a list of distraction techniques that you may like to try next time you are feeling overwhelmed. 

Some distraction techniques...


  • Do something for someone else
  • Complete some housework
  • Do some gardening
  • De-clutter your wardrobe
  • De-clutter the kitchen cupboards
  • Give your pet a bath
  • Think of someone you care about
  • Remember events from your past that were pleasant or fun
  • Imagine yourself receiving a compliment from someone
  • Keep a copy of your favourite prayer or favourite saying with you
  • Complete a crossword puzzle, or Sudoku
  • Watch television or a movie
  • Call your friends
  • Read a book
  • Take up a new hobby


My Digital Health

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