DBT Distress Tolerance: Exercises, Videos and Worksheets

Distress Tolerance is an extension of mindfulness in DBT. These 10 exercises are aimed at teaching you to accept distressing situations without judgment. Adding another building block to aid with emotion regulation and interpersonal effectiveness.
 Hero Image
T1: Cost Benefit Analysis
See what problematic behaviors are costing you and whether it is worth making a change.
T2: Recognize Emotional Crisis
Learn to detect when an emotional crisis is starting.
T3: Distracting Activities
Make a list of distracting activities to use when you start to approach emotional crisis.
T4: RESISTT Technique
A set of 7 techniques to help you deal with unhealthy urges during emotional crisis.
T5: Grounding
Reconnect with the present moment when thoughts about the past or future are becoming unproductive.
T6: Willingness vs. Willfulness
See how to approach situations flexibly to become more effective.
T7: Radical Acceptance
Learn how to become accepting of realities without unproductive emotions.
T8: Self Soothing
Use your five senses to help reduce out of control emotions.
T9: Actions Based on Values
Become aware of automatic and unproductive negative judgments.
Calm emotions with Temperature, Intense exercise, Paced breathing and Progressive muscle relaxation.

What is Distress Tolerance?

Imagine this scenario. You wake up feeling very well rested, enjoy the most delicious breakfast you’ve had, and find the train ride to work a breeze. But when you arrive at work, you are called by your manager and are informed that you are being laid off.

Even if you are in full control of yourself, there are things that are beyond your control. These painful events, which will be called “crises'' in this article, are a normal part of life. Everyone will experience extreme emotional distress like depression, anger, or fear.

This is where distress tolerance skills come into play.

Distress tolerance is your ability to manage actual or perceived emotional distress. Whether the crisis is big or small, your tolerance determines how you decide to manage the situation. Distress tolerance skills help you build those tolerance muscles so you are more well-equipped whenever these crises come.

Distress Tolerance as a DBT Module

One of the modules of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) focuses on developing distress tolerance skills. This is crucial because emotional crises can continue to occur even while you actively work on other aspects of your psyche.

With the skills listed in this module, you can learn how to cope with these crises and accept them without making them worse.

This page currently lists 10 skills to master in DBT Distress Tolerance.

List Of Distress Tolerance Skills And Techniques In DBT

The Distress Tolerance skills are divided into three sub-skills: “Crisis Survival Strategies”, 
“Reality Acceptance Skills”, and “Tolerance Building”.

Crisis survival strategies:
These skills are intended to help you get through immediate and intense emotional pain without making the situation worse. Note that these are not designed to solve the crisis, but to survive it.
  1. 1

    T1: Cost Benefit Analysis
    Helps you assess what problematic behaviors are costing you and whether it is worth making a change.

  2. 2

    T3: Distracting Activities
    Create a list of distracting activities to use when you start to approach an emotional crisis.

  3. 3

    T4: RESISTT Technique
    Techniques to help you deal with unhealthy urges during emotional crises.

  4. 4

    T5: Grounding
    Reconnect with the present moment when thoughts about the past or future are becoming unproductive.

  5. 5

    T8: Self Soothing
    Use your five senses to help reduce out-of-control emotions.

  6. 6

    T10: TIPP
    Calm emotions with Temperature, Intense exercise, Paced breathing, and Progressive muscle relaxation.

Crisis survival strategies: Image
Reality Acceptance skills: Image
Reality Acceptance skills:
These skills focus on accepting reality as it is, not as you want it to be, which is crucial in reducing the suffering caused by non-acceptance.
  1. 7

    T6: Willingness vs. Willfulness
    See how to approach situations flexibly to become more effective.

  2. 8

    T7: Radical Acceptance
    Learn how to become accepting of realities without unproductive emotions.

  3. 9

    T9: Actions Based on Values
    Aligning your actions with values helps you deal with difficult situations.

Tolerance Building:
This involves developing your tolerance for distress.
  1. 10

    T2: Recognizing Emotional Crisis
    Learn to detect when an emotional crisis is starting.

How Do These Distress Tolerance Skills Help?

In practicing the distress tolerance skills found on this page, you gain tools to calm yourself in challenging situations, reducing the likelihood of impulsive actions driven by intense feelings.

These skill building exercises include practicing techniques like distraction (focusing your mind on something other than the distress), self-soothing (engaging in activities that are comforting), and radical acceptance (accepting the reality).

By mastering these skills, you're better equipped to handle moments of extreme anxiety, fear, anger, frustration, and discomfort! This leads you to a more balanced emotional state and improved overall mental health.

How Does Printable Distress Tolerance Worksheets Work With Therapy?

Printable distress tolerance worksheets are valuable tools in therapy. Here's how they contribute to the therapeutic process:

  • Structured Learning and Practice: These worksheets provide a structured way for clients to learn and practice distress tolerance skills. The exercises, prompts and guides help you understand how to apply the techniques. They can be used during therapy sessions or practiced on your own at home.
  • Enhancing Self-awareness: As you work through the worksheets, you become more aware of your emotional triggers and responses. The worksheets may ask you to reflect on past experiences of distress, identify your usual reactions, and consider more effective coping strategies.
  • Reinforcing Skills Learned in Therapy: Worksheets are an extension of the skills you have learned so far, like mindfulness, by allowing you to apply what you have learned so far.
  • Personalized Approach: Therapists can select or customize worksheets that best fit your specific needs and challenges to make the process more personalized and effective.
Section 5 Background Image

How to Practice Distress Tolerance Skills 
in Real-Life

DBT emphasizes a variety of practical and effective strategies for diverting your attention away from intense emotions, such as:

  • Engaging in regular physical activity helps you apply the skills found in Distracting Activities and TIPP. You do not have to enroll in a gym – walking or running daily around the neighborhood or just doing some jumping jacks at home will do.
  • Volunteering at a shelter or participating in a drive is a beneficial way to engage in Distracting Activities, a key concept in managing intense emotions. By focusing your efforts on helping others, you shift your attention away from distressing thoughts and feelings.
  • Implementing self-soothing techniques that you have learned is a vital step in calming yourself during times of stress or emotional upheaval. These techniques, including deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, or engaging in a comforting activity, are designed to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation.
  • Make it a point to affirm what you most need to hear each day. Choose affirmations that resonate with you and feel authentic. Examples include, “I possess more bravery than I realize” and “I am capable of tackling difficult challenges.”

How Do You Build Distress Tolerance?

Apart from engaging with the exercises, watching the videos, and completing the worksheets provided in our DBT skills section, there are several other strategies that you can use to build your distress tolerance:

  • Practice Mindfulness: Remember the first module? Regular application of the mindfulness techniques keeps you in the present moment, priming yourself for managing distress emotions, thoughts, and feelings.
  • Develop Healthy Coping Mechanisms: The easiest is to engage with activities like joining a club, or gym or taking up home hobbies. Having a trusted friend or getting a therapist you can talk to is also a great option!
  • Learn and Apply Acceptance Skills: Sometimes, accepting things as they are, rather than fighting them, is crucial. Techniques like radical acceptance can be powerful in helping you manage distress.
  • Set Realistic Goals: Set small goals to start your journey, then gradually build up as you become confident with your newfound skills. For example, you can practice mindful breathing for five minutes but gradually increase it to ten when you are comfortable.
  • Celebrate Small Wins: When you reach a goal or a first, remember to celebrate! This will motivate you to continue and focus on meeting more wins.
Section 7 Background Image

Frequently Asked Questions

What's the difference between distress tolerance and emotion regulation?

Distress tolerance and emotion regulation are both modules of DBT, but they serve distinct functions.

Distress tolerance is all about helping you withstand negative emotions or stressful situations without becoming overwhelmed. It focuses on equipping you with tools to endure emotional pain in situations when a solution isn't possible.

Emotion regulation, on the other hand,  involves helping you understand, accept, and effectively manage emotions. It's about experiencing emotions appropriately and expressing them in a healthy way.

Are there any distress tolerance activities for teens?

The DBT Distress Tolerance skills and exercises found on this site are also suitable for teenagers. We suggest you give them a try!

What Are The Signs Of Low Distress Tolerance?

Numerous indicators can suggest that you have low frustration tolerance. Here are a list of questions that can help you determine whether you have a low distress tolerance:

  • Do you find yourself avoiding challenging emotions, people, or situations?
  • Do you tend to react excessively or inappropriately in certain situations?
  • Do you notice a lack of interest or curiosity in things around you?
  • Do you overlook or disregard the emotions of others?
  • Do you often become angry quickly?
  • Are you prone to showing irritability or moodiness?
  • Do you seek immediate satisfaction and show impatience for the results?
  • Do you adopt a pessimistic outlook or frequently exaggerate negative aspects?
  • Are you often impatient with people and circumstances?
  • Do you hold beliefs that are not supported by scientific or logical reasoning?

If you find yourself answering “yes” to most of these, you probably have low distress tolerance.

If you answered “no” to these, you have a high distress tolerance.

Are there any distress tolerance activities for kids?

It is very worthwhile to teach children distress tolerance. Kids who can handle emotional distress well can easily control their emotions and connect well with other people. Here are some ideas to engage kids in when moments of emotional crises occur:

  • Square Breathing: Coach the kid to breathe in, hold, breathe out, hold, each lasting about four minutes. For smaller children, it could be effective to help them imagine they are blowing a bubble.
  • Playing, Running, and Jumping: Running, jumping, and playtime can keep the children off the emotional crisis (intense exercise part of TIPPS). Playing along could also help younger children.
  • Dancing: Time to play that fun nursery rhyme! Dancing can also be a great way to teach children distress tolerance. Movement is a part of self-soothing activities.
  • Read or Make up Stories: This is another distracting activity. Joining them in engaging a story also helps a lot!
  • Drawing or Coloring:  Art can be a great way for kids to express their emotions and calm their minds.


  • NIH National Library of Medicine. "Distress Tolerance and Psychopathological Symptoms and Disorders: A Review of Empirical Literature among Adults"
  • NIH National Library of Medicine. "Mindfulness as taught in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy:
    A scoping review"
  • Linehan, Marsha. "Why Distress Tolerance Skills Are Necessary"
  • Idaho Youth Ranch. "5 DBT Skills to Help Your Kids Manage Stress"

Comments About Distress Tolerance

  1. Hello! Loving all the work you are doing. Should I go through all these distress tolerance exercises in order, one-per-day? Or should I stay on one until I have mastered the skill?

    ADMIN – Hi Dan,

    Go through the skills in order, they often build on each other. You might find some of the exercises more useful and more challenging than others. Spend extra time on those exercises. You may also want to come back to the exercises that you find the most useful and the most challenging as you progress through the material. Glad to hear it has been useful to you!

  2. I just found your website and will start working the topics, etc.
    My primary issue is distress tolerance. Is it ok to start with that and learn those skills? I ask as I find it hard to work on Mindfulness skills when I feel so anxious and have difficulty focusing.
    Thank you. Deborah

    1. Hi Deborah.

      Yes, it is okay to start with distress tolerance if you find those skills are the most important for you now. I like the way you are taking the materials and reshaping them to meet your needs.

  3. I believe as long as we keep going and utilize our new skills on a daily basis- each day, one skill, one MOMENT at a time… we can do this!

  4. A therapist once told me that distress tolerance is NOT about going from a 10 to a Zero. It’s about going from a 10 to a 5. The expectation to get rid of our distress is not practical. The goal is to reduce our distress to a tolerable level so we can then use the tools in the other sections.

  5. I’ve had the book for a few years now but it’s a bit tense to go through the entire book just to find a worksheet, nice it’s all in one place and it’s easy to navigate.

  6. In my opinion my child could benefit from the Distress Tolerance therapy but professionals are saying she is too unwell to start any therapy. I am at a lost as to what they think is going to make her get better before she can do any therapy.

  7. This website is amazing! Currently, I am working on a DBT resource guide for K-12 classrooms, and I would love to hear your feedback about how to teach ‘Turning the Mind.’ Thank you so much for all you do!

  8. I went to a DBT group as a young adult and it helped me more than i could have imagined. I highly recommend it for anyone. Iv struggled with Bipolar but have come a long way. I’m now in my mid 30s and was looking to refresh my knowledge. So grateful for this site. Thank you!

  9. I love this site. I mastered my CBT and wanted to try DBT as I have bipolar disorder. It seems very affective for this as well as personality disorders. Also, thank you as I could not afford DBT.

Scroll Up
Add Your Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

"Going through all the DBT worksheets really helped me rethink the way I was approaching my life. Thank you!"

- Tillie S.

"Life changer! I struggled with depression and anxiety before I did this course. Do it!"

- Suzanne R.

"I started doing your worksheets a month ago. My therapist says they helped us make faster progress in our sessions."

- Eduardo D.

"Stick with it. It really works. Doing these exercises every day helped me get over a really bad spell of depression."

- Juliana D.