Distress Intolerance

Distress intolerance is taking measures to escape or get rid of uncomfortable feelings. Rather than allowing negative emotions to run their natural course, people who are distress intolerant may:

– Avoid situations, scenarios, places, people, or activities that cause distress

– Seek reassurance from others excessively or engage in repetitive checking behaviors

– Distract themselves and suppress their emotions

– Numb their feelings or withdraw by using alcohol or drugs, binge eating, or excessive sleep

– Use physical methods of releasing or venting distress that can injure or harm themselves.

Using these – and other – methods to protect yourself from uncomfortable emotions may generate potentially greater repercussions. Consider the following scenarios:

1.Tom put off paying bills because it always made him anxious. His avoidance behavior resulted in past due bills and a lowered credit score.

2.When Sandra prepared to go to a job interview, she checked her clothing and make-up multiple times and repeatedly asked her husband if she looked OK. This made her late to her interview and caused her to be turned down for the job.

3.Brittany began drinking excessively when her boyfriend cheated on her. A year later she was fired from her job because of her drinking.

4.Patrick made an error when he paid bills and overdrew the bank account. Embarrassed, he put off telling his wife about it, and she found out when her debit card was declined at the grocery store. She felt angry and betrayed, and they fought about it.

Distress intolerance can include a wide scope of behaviors employed to avoid or hide from distressing feelings rather than accepting the discomfort until the problem is worked out.

Do you use maladaptive responses to distress to make yourself feel better? Do these responses cause their own problems over and above the anxiety? Learning some healthy ways to live with situational distress could go a long way toward improving your health, life, and relationships.

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