When to use Distress Tolerance Skills?

Imagine this image is a thermometer that measures the intensity of emotions. At the bottom, you see the blue zone. The blue zone is when we can regulate our emotions and use other skills. At the top, we have our red zone. The red zone is defined by three things:

  1. Emotions are HOT HOT HOT! They are really intense!
  2. In the red zone, because your emotions are so intense, you could actually take a bad situation and make the situation worse. An example would be if you are already extremely angry about something that happened at school, and you then start yelling at your mom when you get home from school. If emotions are already heightened, the goal is just to survive the situation and do our best to not make it any harder or more difficult.
  3. When emotions are in this place, this is not the time for significant problem-solving. Our brains are not functioning at their best in terms of cognitive flexibility and we are not likely to be at our most effective in trying to address problems. Once emotions re-regulate, we can go back to the situation and try to address it skillfully.

You define whether you feel like you are in the red zone at any given time. The threshold for your red zone may differ by emotion, by context, or by time. These skills are not meant to be used every moment of every day – only when you are in the red zone.

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Distress Tolerance

Bad things happen to all of us at some point or another. And sometimes it even feels like a lot of hard things are happening back to back or all at once.

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