Distress tolerance is an actual psychological technique in which the therapist asks the patient to face whatever it is that causes their negative emotions (fear, anger, anxiety, distrust, shame, etc.) for a short duration in order to learn healthy responses to that stimulus. The process is repeated, possibly with increasing durations or stronger intensities of exposure, until the patient is empowered to face similar situations in real life.
⭐️ Note: This is neither a professional definition, nor a universal approach to the therapy. It is merely a summary based upon my experience. Please research the technique before using it on yourself or others. Ultimately, all therapy will be more effective if you understand how and why things are being done, so that you can adjust the technique to suit your specific situation.
So, in a simple way, I used distress tolerance to teach Kuno, my cat, to trust people. (See an earlier entry called “Facing Her Fears” if you want details.) Tonight, I decided to use distress tolerance with myself, in facing my social anxiety. (Again, there are earlier entries about this topic too: “Loneliness and Loss” and “Indoor Introvert” might be your best bets.)
I live in a region with deciduous trees and four seasons, so every autumn, the leaves fall, and people are expected to clear them from their lawns. Between my husband and I, I am the one with more free time, so it is logical for me to do things like yard work. Of course, between the two of us, I am also the one with more fears, so it is harder for me to do things like yard work. It’s difficult for me, because I want to be useful and more capable than I am now, but overcoming a lifetime of pain doesn’t happen overnight.
So, tonight, I went outside with the rake, just after dark, and I raked maybe a third of our yard. No one could see me, because it was night, which made things feel a bit safer for me. I was probably only out there for 30 minutes, but I wanted to bolt after 5-10. It was difficult, but I recognized that things were actually safe, so I pushed through the distress until I finished a set goal. Once I finished with the area of my yard that I set out to rake, I double checked it, and then came back inside.
I haven’t seen the results of my work yet, since it was dark, but I still feel like I accomplished something because I now have a positive experience to help offset some of my fear. That alone is worth it.