DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) is a wonderful place to explore ways to regulate your emotions. It’s a practice that uses mindfulness and sometimes Zen Buddhist-based practices. The idea is to be able to sit with your feelings.

DBT was developed for people who live with Borderline Personality disorder but, it’s now used for anxiety disorders, depression, substance abuse, and eating disorders. It can also be useful for those who have experienced severe trauma. One of the key parts of this treatment is learning to tolerate emotional distress. Here’s what that means and how you can use DBT to help you.

What is emotional distress?

Emotional distress is the feeling you get when you’re upset. You could be angry, sad, frustrated, or anxious. These are all big feelings that can overwhelm us. When we don’t know how to manage our emotions, it results in feeling out of control. That’s when you feel distressed.

Emotional Distress
Emotional Distress

You want to control what’s happening to you, but the more you try, the less it works. That’s because emotions aren’t something that can be stopped. They’re feedback from your mind to your body. One of the goals of DBT is to experience these feelings without judging them and find ways to handle your distress. 

Radical acceptance

Along with mindfulness comes radical acceptance. When you’re angry, it can be an unpleasant feeling. However, if you try to suppress the anger or ignore it, it will come back strong or bother you. You might even explode. That’s where radical acceptance can help. It’s a distress tolerance exercise where you accept your anger and let it be there.

You don’t have to ignore it. Maybe you get physical and go for a run, do martial arts, or scream into a pillow. The most important thing is to accept your anger and know that you can’t change it, but you can work with it.


Sometimes the emotions are so intense that the only thing you feel you can do is to distract yourself. Distraction, used in moderation, is a healthy distress tolerance technique. Let’s say you’re feeling extremely sad. You can’t stop ruminating in these feelings.

You can distract yourself by calling a friend, watching a funny movie, or going for a walk. It’s good to get out of your head for a little bit. Obsessing over the emotion or troubling situation could make you feel worse. It’s okay to distract yourself if you feel overwhelmed by feelings!


Self-soothing exercises are crucial to learning in DBT. Once you can reassure yourself and self-soothe, your distress tolerance increases, you realize that you can give yourself what you need. Part of self-soothing starts with asking yourself, “what do I need?” Maybe you need to take a deep breath, close your eyes, meditate, breathe, or run around the block.

If you’re feeling anxious, putting a weighted blanket on can help. Some people find that washing their face with cold water helps when they have extreme anxiety. Other individuals find relief in holding an ice cube and letting it melt in their hands. These are all self-soothing and distress tolerance techniques. 

Where can I learn more about DBT?

DBT is a type of therapy you can explore online or with a therapist in your area. You can learn more about finding DBT therapy near you here: https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/therapy/how-do-i-find-dbt-therapy-near-me/  If you’re having trouble with regulating your emotions, figuring out interpersonal relationships, maintaining romantic relationships, or processing trauma DBT could be a great fit for you!

Consider talking to a therapist and understand what it means to accept yourself unconditionally. It’s okay to have self-doubt; that is natural. But, when you’re constantly worrying about how to manage your emotions, that’s a different story. When your feelings seem out of control, it’s time to address that. Learning distress tolerance with a skilled mental health professional can help. 

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