"I just don't want to feel like this anymore," I remember saying to my therapist. I was anxious and sad and didn't know what to do about it, but knew I didn't want to feel that way anymore. I was fed up.
What I didn't know then was that I was experiencing distress intolerance. We often feel uncomfortable. There are times we're too hot, too cold, have achy or sore muscles. The type of discomfort I'm talking about is emotional discomfort - feeling sad, ashamed, disappointed, etc. Some find they're able to ride out difficult emotions, but for others, they "can't bear," or "must get rid" of these difficult feelings. This desperate need to escape emotional distress has a compounding impact, often interfering with other areas of one's life.
It makes sense to move away from things that feel unpleasant but for emotional distress, it often causes more problems than it solves. Often people intolerant of distress use the following tactics:
Avoidance. Avoiding people, places, or things that trigger an emotional response. Distracting and suppressing the emotion.
Numbing and withdrawing. Using drugs or alcohol to numb the emotional pain. Binge eating or excessive sleep to withdraw from others.
Harmful releases. Taking the distress out on ourselves, including scratching, cutting, and picking.
These tactics can provide short-term relief, but often cause more problems in one's life. From neglecting relationships to drug and alcohol abuse, the effect compounds upon itself. Now, in addition to dealing with upsetting depression or anxiety, you're struggling with an addiction that prevents you from holding down a job. Because you feel so ashamed and cut yourself, you're constantly living in fear that someone will find the scars.
The more we struggle with and fear distress, the worse it gets. In fact, the best solution is to lean in and tackle the distress head on. Since it's impossible to get rid of emotional distress, it's imperative to learn how to live with it. Working with a trusted mental health professional can help you develop a distress tolerance action plan to move through the pain and discomfort.