Distress Tolerance skills are a set of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy skills that are strategies to help you get though difficult feelings and situations, and tolerate (deal with, sit with, accept) the things that you can’t immediately change. Emotions can be extreme and lead to behaviors that are ineffective. You may not be able to change the stressful situation you’re in, but you can change the way you feel. Distress Tolerance skills are aimed to make your response to distress more effective.
Self-Soothe skills are mostly physical techniques that use different body senses. They are meant to be used when you are feeling distressed, when emotions feel overwhelming, or when situations feel like you can’t stand them any more. Instead of doing something that hurts you, try something that gives you pleasure and comfort. Experiment with these techniques until you find some that are comfortable and helpful for you. And when you find these, practice them even when you are not in distress.
Self-soothe has to do with comforting, nurturing and being kind to yourself. One way to think of this is to think of ways of soothing each of your five senses:
Walk in a pretty part of town. Look at the nature around you. Go to a museum with beautiful art. Buy a flower and put it where you can see it. Sit in a garden. Watch the snowflakes decorate the trees during a snowfall. Light a candle and watch the flame. Look at a book with beautiful scenery or beautiful art. Watch a travel movie or video.
Listen to beautiful or soothing music, or to tapes of the ocean or other sounds of nature. Listen to a baby gurgling or a small animal. Sit by a waterfall. Listen to someone chopping wood. Be mindful while you are listening. Let the sounds come and go.
Smell breakfast being cooked at home or in a restaurant. Notice all the different smells around you. Walk in a garden or in the woods, maybe just after a rain, and breathe in the smells of nature. Light a scented candle or incense. Bake something and take in all the smells.
Have a special treat, and eat it slowly, savoring each bite. Cook a favorite meal. Drink a soothing drink like herbal tea or hot chocolate. Let the taste run over your tongue and slowly down your throat. Go to a potluck, and eat a little bit of each dish, mindfully tasting each new thing.
Take a bubble bath. Pet your dog or cat or cuddle a baby. Put on a soft shirt shirt or blouse and feel its softness and smoothness. Sink into a really comfortable bed. Float or swim in a pool and feel the water caress your body.
Many of us may feel like we don’t deserve these comforts, and may find it hard to give pleasure to ourselves in this way. Some of may also expect this soothing to come from other people, or not want to do it for ourselves.
You may feel guilty about treating yourself in this kind way. It may take some practice to allow yourself to experience these pleasures. These are really simple human pleasures that everyone has a right to, and that will give us some good tools to use when we are feeling bad.
Try at least one of these self-soothing exercises this week. You may want to choose a whole group of things, say all the visual things, or you may want to choose a single thing to try. As you do what you have chosen, do it mindfully. Breathe gently and try to be fully in the experience, whether it is walking in the woods or watching a flower or taking a bubble bath or smelling some freshly-baked bread.
As you begin to overcome your feelings that perhaps you do not deserve this and start to enjoy one or more of these activities, you will be learning very useful tools to help you deal with negative feelings and difficult situations.
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Mental Health Resources
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