Mental Health

DBT Distress Tolerance Skills for Improved Mental Wellness

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Distress tolerance skills, one of four core modules in DBT, provide tools to handle and endure emotional pain in a healthy and adaptive manner. Instead of struggling against distressing situations or emotions, these skills teach you to accept and tolerate them as a part of life. With these skills, you’ll be better equipped to deal with crises and distressing emotions without resorting to harmful behaviors.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) offers a toolbox filled with skills that can help you navigate through life more comfortably and effectively. One integral component of DBT is Distress Tolerance Skills, a set of coping techniques to help manage emotional pain and navigate through life’s challenges. 

These skills, which include self-soothing techniques and crisis survival strategies, have proven highly beneficial in reducing the intensity of emotional distress and fostering healthier responses to stressful situations. 

This article aims to delve into the nuances of DBT distress tolerance skills, equipping you with the knowledge and understanding to harness these tools in your journey towards emotional well-being.

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Understanding the Importance of DBT Distress Tolerance Skills

Distress tolerance skills equip you with the ability to withstand the emotional pain that is a part of the human experience. Life is full of highs and lows, and it’s not always feasible or healthy to eliminate distressing emotions or situations. Sometimes, the most viable option is to endure them, and distress tolerance skills can help you do that in a constructive way.

These skills can prevent or reduce the likelihood of engaging in harmful behaviors. Many people resort to destructive coping mechanisms such as substance abuse, self-harm, or aggression when experiencing emotional pain. DBT distress tolerance skills provide healthier alternatives to manage distress, thereby reducing the risk of harm.

Learning DBT skills can improve your overall mental wellness. DBT fosters resilience, emotional intelligence, and mindfulness. It may also reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. 

What are the Four Core DBT Distress Tolerance Skills?

DBT distress tolerance skills are divided into four main categories: Distracting, Self-Soothing, Improving the Moment, and Pros and Cons.


Distracting involves diverting your attention away from distressing emotions or situations. You can do this by engaging in activities that you enjoy, spending time with loved ones, or immersing yourself in work or a hobby.

The goal is not to avoid or deny the distress, but to give yourself a break from it.


Self-soothing is about calming and comforting yourself through your five senses: sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste.

This could include listening to calming music, taking a warm bath, savoring a piece of chocolate, or inhaling a pleasant aroma. It’s about treating yourself with kindness and compassion when you’re in distress.

Improving the Moment

Improving the Moment involves finding ways to make a distressing situation more bearable. This could involve using imagery, finding meaning in the situation, or using relaxation techniques. The aim is to create a sense of peace and calm in the midst of distress.

Pros and Cons

Thinking of Pros and Cons means considering the benefits and drawbacks of tolerating distress versus not tolerating it. This can help you make informed decisions about how to deal with distressing situations or emotions.

How do DBT Distress Tolerance Skills Improve Mental Wellness?

DBT distress tolerance skills contribute to mental wellness in various ways. They enable you to handle distressing situations and emotions more effectively, reducing their impact on your life. They can also prevent or decrease the use of harmful coping mechanisms, protecting your physical and mental health.

Moreover, DBT skills foster resilience – the ability to bounce back from adversity. Resilience is a crucial aspect of mental wellness. It’s not about avoiding difficulties, but about learning to navigate through them with strength and grace. 

Another way in which DBT distress tolerance skills improve mental wellness is by promoting mindfulness. Many of the skills involve being fully present and engaged in the moment. This can help you become more in tune with your emotions, thoughts, and body sensations.

Where to Learn DBT Distress Tolerance Skills

The best way to learn DBT distress tolerance skills is through a certified DBT therapist. They can guide you through each skill, provide personalized feedback, and help you apply the skills to your specific life situations. Therapy can be done individually or in a group setting. Zinnia Health offers DBT at our facilities across the United States.

You can also search online to find a list of therapists trained in DBT to help you get started.

Another avenue is through DBT skills training classes. These are educational classes that focus on teaching DBT skills and are often led by mental health professionals.

Finally, there are numerous books and online resources on DBT and distress tolerance skills. These can provide you with a wealth of information and practical exercises to practice the skills. But they should not replace professional help, especially if you’re dealing with a mental health disorder.


DBT distress tolerance skills are a powerful tool for improving mental wellness. They equip you with the ability to handle distressing situations and emotions in a healthy and adaptive manner. 

DBT can help you foster resilience, mindfulness, and emotional intelligence. Whether you’re experiencing a mental health disorder or just the regular ups and downs of life, DBT can help you chart the right course through it.

Author: Emily Borders, PT, DPT. Emily is a seasoned geriatric physical therapist and content creator passionate about helping older adults live their lives to the fullest. 5 years of experience in clinical writing, documentation, and patient education. Interests include health education, writing, health promotion, wellness, and mentoring.


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