Distress Tolerance Pt 1–Distraction

Yesterday someone with BPD asked me what distress tolerance is, so I decided to write a post about it. I assumed everyone with borderline personality disorder knew what distress tolerance knew what distress tolerance is. That was kind of a ridiculous assumption on my part, since a lot of people don’t have access to therapy and other resources that would provide them with info on distress tolerance.

There is sooo much to say about distress tolerance, so I’m breaking it up a little into multiple posts. This post will be about distraction techniques.

First a little bit about distress tolerance skills. They are basically anything that helps a person get through physical or emotional pain. However, in DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) it gets a little more specific. People with borderline personality disorder often experience overwhelming emotions. A lot of the time when people are dealing with overwhelming emotions they use self-destructive coping skills like self-injury, drugs, alcohol, overeating, taking things out on other people, etc. DBT teaches people to use distress tolerance skills to deal with intense emotions in ways that are not destructive and therefore will not increase suffering.

Distraction is the first part of distress tolerance. Distraction is great because it gets you to think about something besides the pain, and it gives you some time to think of another coping skill.

My favorite form of distraction is to engage in pleasurable activities. That just means doing anything you enjoy. It’s helped me to make a list of things and put it on the wall above my desk so that when I’m extremely upset, I don’t even have to think of something. I can just go to the list.

Some other ways of distracting yourself are to exercise, do housework or chores, pay attention to someone else, thinking about happier things, or focusing on your breathing. Sometimes when I feel bad it really does make me feel better to listen to someone else talk. Other times it makes me feel worse. Some people can distract themselves by focusing on breathing evenly and counting their breaths.

You might immediately know what is going to work for you or it might take some trial and error to figure out what will be helpful to you. I will post a list of suggestions in the very near future.

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