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Overcome Anxiety with these 5 helpful Distress Tolerance Tools

Overcome Anxiety with these 5 helpful Distress Tolerance Tools

Overcome Anxiety? Is that even possible?

I thought it was something you have to live with and just learn to manage.

Well the truth is that stress and and being anxious will for sure always be a part of life, but succumbing to the immobilizing effects of anxiety does not always have to be a part of life. The difference can be found in some tried and true distress tolerance tools.

Some of these tools are intuitive and may not be news to you, the problem is that in today’s society we simply don’t practice them regularly enough. We used to. It used to be a part of daily life, but culture and technology have eliminated natural times to practice these distress tolerance tools.

Here is a lot of great information about the important research of Distress Tolerance in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, but to break it down for you, these 5 tools can help you increase your ability to productively respond to stressful situations.

1. Box Breathing

Breath in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, breath out for four seconds, hold for four seconds. Then repeat. This tool has proven so effective in lowering stress levels that the military teaches it to special ops teams. With practice you can increase the time of each interval to increase your resilience to stressful situations. Basically you are creating low levels of anxiety over something you can control (breathing) to give yourself internal confidence of your ability to respond to stressful things that are often beyond your control.

2. Self-Soothing Touch

Take a minute and put your hand over your heart, or feel the soothing feeling of putting your hand over one eye resting on your cheek. These are 2 simple self soothing touch techniques that we practice less and less because of social factors. Before the days of smart phones, in our spare moments we would often look inward, day dream a little, and often rest our cheek on our hands, or put our hand comfortably on our chest or between our thighs. Unfortunately now almost every spare moment we have our hands become occupied with a small glowing screen eliminating that time for body and mind to connect through self-soothing touch. Taking that time to intentionally connect helps the mind differentiate between mild stress and more severe stress.

3. Emotion Playlists

Music has such a powerful effect on the body. Creating playlists to deescalate uncomfortable emotion is a great way to proactively address the the inevitable stress in life. Rather than letting the radio, or streaming audio services choose what you listen to, have a couple specific playlists you can turn to. Have one that can help you feel happy when you’re depressed, or motivated when you feel anxious, or loved when you feel like isolating.

4. Self-Soothing Taste

Enjoy a regular meal or a delicious dessert. Culture today has shamed us away from enjoying food and treats, but research shows by focusing on flavors and textures of foods, we can lower our stress levels. Again, allowing body and mind to connect positively over our tastebuds can provide the emotional strength needed to take on other negative stressors in life.

5. Pros and Cons

Evaluate the positives and negatives of tolerating the distress and of not tolerating the stress. For example, if anxiety is making you feel like not going to school, list the pros and cons of not going to school and staying home with anxiety. Then list the pros and cons of going to school with those anxious feelings. By creating mental and written lists, you are engaging the forebrain in logical thought process and diverting power away from the emotional midbrain. While our comfort driven culture would suggest not to do anything that would make you uncomfortable, simply agreeing to make these lists can make it clear what choices are going to help you and what will hurt you.


Today we’ve become so distracted and driven by comfort and ease that we’re experiencing an epidemic of lack of resilience. Resilience is the antidote for anxiety. Resilience is built by mindfulness, connecting mind and body, and sometimes choosing to do things the hard way on purpose. Just like in weight lifting, you won’t grow stronger by letting the machines do all the work. Check out what the professionals at Life Launch Centers have to say about overcoming anxiety.