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In DBT, there are four categories of Distress Tolerance strategies. These are:

  • Distracting
  • Self-Soothing
  • Improving the Moment
  • Focusing on the Pros and Cons

  • These are strategies that short circuit or help you to cope with overwhelming negative emotions or intolerable situations. They take a lot of practice, but as you get the hang of using some of these techniques, you will see your relationship to the negative emotions and intolerable feelings change. (This was the most amazing thing about DBT for me, that things I though could never change or that I could never learn to deal with did become better.)

    It takes time and practice, and so I urge you to give the techniques plenty of practice. You will find some things work better than others for you. And you will find that some things don't work at first, but over time and practice you will see some results.

    Self-Soothing Techniques

    Some of us may recognize these techniques as things that we already use. But many of us have never learned how to self-soothe, how to do those often simple things that makes us feel better. These are mostly very physical techniques, that use different body senses. Some of us have never had the feeling that we could do things to make ourselves feel better, calmer, feel relaxation or pleasure. I urge you to experiment with these techniques until you find some that are comfortable and helpful for you. And when you find these, practice them. Use them when you are feeling distressed, when emotions feel overwhelming, 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,

    SELF-SOOTHING 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:

  • Vision
  • Hearing
  • Smell
  • Taste
  • Touch

    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.  When you are listening, be mindful, letting 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 some bread or a cake, 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 silk 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. Do you have these feelings?

    Some of may also expect this soothing to come from other people, or not want
    to do it for ourselves. Have you experienced this feeling?

    You may feel guilty about pleasuring yourself in this 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 fresh-baked bread.

    As you begin to overcome your feelings that perhaps you do not deserve this, or guilt, 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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