The MHS Journals

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How to Become Emotionally Stable with Distress Tolerance

May 9, 2024


Updated: May 9, 2024

Whether you’re facing a major life crisis or struggling with day-to-day stressors and challenges, good self-regulation skills can make dealing with difficult times easier. Learning to balance your emotions is one way to feel more control over the things happening in your life.

Try these 5 tips for improved emotional regulation and distress tolerance skills.

1. Mind Your Body’s Signals

Every person’s body reacts differently to stress, but there are some common physical signs to watch for and manage.

• During times of high stress, people may describe feeling feverish or sweaty. Pay attention to your body temperature and take steps to counter it by splashing your face with cool water. If you’re driving, crank up the air conditioner and aim it toward your face. Lowering your temperature makes you more comfortable and better able to focus on emotional control.

• In periods of high emotion, try exercising to match that level of intensity, if your physical condition allows. You don’t have to spend hours at the gym to accomplish this goal. Do a few sprints in your driveway or swim a few laps. High-intensity exercise releases energy and increases oxygen, both of which bring down your stress levels.

• Just like your yoga instructor said, focus on your breathing to help regulate what’s happening throughout your body. Find a favorite breathing exercise and use it anytime the emotions become overwhelming. For a simple way to get started, try breathing in and out in four-second intervals. This pattern interrupts your body’s fight or flight response.

• Try paired muscle relaxation to release tension. The technique is simple; tighten a voluntary muscle for at least five seconds and then relax it. This process leaves the muscles more relaxed than when you started. Breathing and heart rate slow as you perform these exercises.

• Use all your senses to reduce your feelings of distress. Listening to relaxing music, watching something funny on television, or eating a favorite snack stimulates your brain and takes your focus away from your emotions. These distress tolerance skills don’t require much in the way of advance preparation, so they don’t add to the stress you’re already feeling.

2. Find Something Healthy That You Love to Do

A hobby that you love helps you redirect your energy away from your feelings. Reading a great story lets you forget about reality for a while and immerse yourself in the plot. Cooking occupies your mind with the steps that you’re following.

Even small chores like doing laundry or washing dishes can help you take your mind off your emotions. If you finish what you’re working on, move onto another task.

3. Focus On Others

When it feels like your world is falling apart, focusing on someone else is one of the most powerful emotion regulation skills. Acts of service for someone else who can’t possibly repay you help you maintain perspective.

Also, serving others raises your self-esteem and distracts you from your circumstances.

4. Maintain Perspective

It’s easy to feel as if the situation you’re in is hopeless. A reality check can help you maintain perspective. As yourself, “What is the worst possible outcome of this situation?” Then think about how you can avoid that.

Rarely do things go as badly as we fear, so if you plan for the worst while hoping for the best, you can take back control of your emotions and keep things in perspective.

5. Find Balance

Difficult times in life can leave you feeling off-balance and out of control. Finding ways to take back your power over your feelings can help you find your way through the hard times. If you need help with learning how to use mindfulness and emotional regulation tools, contact MHS.

The friendly and professional team at MHS specializes in DBT emotion regulation, chemical health services, and behavioral health interventions to help you find balance.


Image Credit: Getty Images / torwai