The following is a class that two of our ladies is teaching the rest of community.  It is a class written and taught by the Veterans Administration.  They are doing a great job and I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

What is distress tolerance?

It is common for a survivor of trauma to at times feel that their life is filled with pain, or is even out of control. Some people cope with these feelings by:

  • Isolating themselves (withdrawal)
  • Ignoring their feelings (distraction, stay busy, say “it wasn’t that bad” or “you shouldn’t feel that way”)

“Distress tolerance” and the skills associated with it as another way to deal with feeling stressed or distressed.

Distress tolerance is the ability to endure pain or hardship without resorting to actions or behaviors that are damaging to yourself or others.

Why is it important to learn this skill? Because avoiding distress can cause the following:

  • Saps your energy
  • Restricts positive feelings
  • Interferes with achieving desired goals
  • Contributes to PTSD symptoms

Distress can actually be a catalyst for change.

Question: Can you share one time when you felt /experienced distress? How did you cope with it? What did you do to feel better?

What coping skills used showed distress tolerance?  Examples could be beginning a new relationship, earning a degree, going to therapy, 

Let’s look at some ways people try to avoid distress. Some negative coping skills could include:

  • Using alcohol or drugs
  • Self-harm
  • Eating disorder behavior
  • Aggression

Some negative avoidance behaviors are potentially dangerous or can stop you from achieving your personal goals. These can include:

  • Arranging your life to avoid all reminders (thoughts or feelings) of your trauma
  • Sabotaging supportive relationships (including therapy)

One goal is to help you determine if a goal you want to do is worth pursuing – and therefore worthy of tolerating distress. It is natural after trauma for a person to feel a sense of loss of control over their environment. Some people who have experienced trauma start believing that they have little control over what happens in their life, and end up doing what others think they should do and have difficulty determining which goals they want to pursue. One way of healing from this is to decide what goals you would like to pursue, and whether any (or all) of these goals are manageable and worthwhile.

Think about your goals

  • What would be different in your life if you felt better?
  • Describe what you would be doing/who you would be if you felt better
  • What are the positive consequences of pursuing that goal?
  • Which goals would change your life the most? Which could be worked on right away?

Achieving the goal you thought of to work on means learning how to cope with the distress associated with pursuing it.

What keeps you from pursuing your goal?

What coping strategies could you use to help you cope with nervousness or distress as you pursue your goal? (Focused breathing, positive self statements, prayer, scripture meditation).

Is it worth it?

Let’s look at the pros and cons of achieving the goal you identified. Is this a goal that you feel comfortable working towards? What are the pros and cons of the goal?  What are the barriers to achieving your goal?

Pray and ask the LORD to help you identify a goal that you can work towards. As you write it down, list any specific strategies for achieving it that come to mind.

Part of managing emotions is to increase doing the activities that you enjoy (bring you pleasure) and learning to work towards having positive feelings.

What if you have tried this before – and you didn’t get any enjoyment out of things – and you feel there’s just no point in trying?

It could be that you just didn’t give it long enough. Develop a new outlook and new habits takes time. Letting yourself feel joy or enjoyment does NOT mean that “nothing bad happened”; and it is not true that you don’t deserve to experience feeling happy.

Feeling happiness or even joy in spite of trauma means that you are resilient.

What happens if feeling shame or guilt rises up? This could cause you to feel despair instead of joy if positive feelings and pleasant activities occur.

Do you believe that you deserve positive experiences? Or are you “waiting for the other shoe to drop”?

Emotion regulation has two parts:

  • Working on tolerating distress
  • Creating opportunities to experience and practice positive emotions

Take a moment to pray, and ask the LORD to help you look at how you can start creating opportunities to experience and practice positive emotions. What would this look like for you?

You have been through hell, God redeemed you and desires for you to experience love, joy, peace, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness.




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