How to Learn Distress Tolerance Skills

High school comes with a lot of stress and many emotional highs and lows. The level of stress during the teen years fluctuates from day to day. It can produce a variety of emotions.

Teens can certainly feel anxious about upcoming events or social situations, but that anxiety shouldn’t be overwhelming. If anything, the level of teen anxiety should balance out with the level of positive emotions.

If you are worried that your teen’s anxiety is becoming difficult to bear, reach out for help. Teens need to learn how to manage their stress levels to tolerate distress and face hard situations.

Teenage boys who experience an unhealthy level of distress and anxiety at their traditional school often benefit from attending a therapeutic boarding school where they can learn new distress tolerance skills.

What is distress?

Sometimes, stress can be a positive thing. Being stressed out about an upcoming test might cause you to study more so you’ll be prepared. Or you might be worried about making a good impression on your first date, so you shower and wear clean clothes. Having stress in our lives causes us to feel and act differently than we otherwise would.

We experience distress when the stress causes negative feelings or actions. Distress is not good, but it is inevitable. You might get a pop quiz in class. You might be anxious about making a sports team and have to wait for the results. Everybody experiences distress from time to time, especially in high school.

Social situations can also cause distress for teens. When teens get bullied or are left out of social situations, distress can cause real problems. With so much going on, teens need to learn how to deal with stress appropriately. If they don’t build distress tolerance skills, teens can develop unhealthy coping mechanisms or suffer from anxiety.

Learning distress tolerance skills

Distress tolerance skills help us manage our physical and emotional responses to stressful situations so that we can move through them easier. As teens learn more strategies to reduce their level of distress, they can utilize the options that work best for their situation.

When overwhelmed with stress, it’s easy to get caught up in negative emotions and start feeling tense. We might breathe faster or feel restless. It can be hard to focus and stay on track. By calming ourselves down in these moments, we can ease physical tension and calm our minds.

Engage the senses

Use each of the five senses (taste, touch, sight, smell, and hearing) to focus on the present. When you focus on immediate sensations, it brings your mind back to the present. Once you are engaged with your present surroundings, you can start moving through the stressful situation with full consciousness.

Change your temperature

When we experience stress, the body tenses up and prepares for action. Unfortunately, most stress these days doesn’t require immediate action. So we’re ready to fight off trouble even though the stress is mostly emotional. By changing your temperature, you can alter your blood flow and get your body back to its normal state of being.

Most often, it’s easier to use cold than heat. Walk to the bathroom and splash some cold water on your face or hold your hands under the stream of water. Suck on ice cubes. Hold a cool rag to your face or neck. Find something cool to change your body temperature a little bit.

Change your thoughts

Rather than focusing on the stressful things that are going on, purposefully choose to think about something else. You won’t always leave a stressful situation, but you can change what you tell yourself in your mind. Distress tolerance skills rarely change the distressful situation. They change the way we feel and think about the situation.

Be active

If you can’t change the things stressing you out, you can change your actions. Working out can supply more oxygen to your bloodstream, reduce tension in your muscles, and reduce restlessness.

It doesn’t have to be a big workout either. Short bursts of aerobic exercise can change how your body feels and change your emotions. Going for a quick run, doing pushups, or even taking the stairs instead of the elevator can all boost your heart rate. Do something to get your heart rate going and engage your mind.

Distract yourself

Sometimes, you just have to get your mind off things for a while. This method won’t work forever, but it can help you in the moment.

If there’s something stressful going on that’s completely out of your control, try to get your mind off of it. Read a book. Watch a movie. Play a game. Hang out with your friends. Just do something fun and engaging that will help you think about something else for a bit.

At Sundance Canyon Academy, we have worked with countless teen boys to help them develop positive distress tolerance skills. Many teens today are overwhelmed with anxiety and don’t know how to manage their stress properly. Some turn to drugs or alcohol to help them get through the day. Others withdraw or silently suffer through distressing situations.

Contact us today to find out if our school can help your son learn to manage stress in a positive way.

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