During their recovery, your loved one may be learning a specific set of skills called “distress tolerance” skills to manage the emotions and feelings that arise during their journey. Distress tolerance skills are often used to tolerate negative emotions, sit through difficult sensations that may arise in the body, and distract from certain eating disorder urges until they pass. Distress tolerance, however, is not just a set of skills for your loved one to use. It’s not even just for anyone going through a mental health crisis. Ultimately, distress tolerance is a helpful skill to learn for all of us, especially for those dealing with a loved one in recovery.
It can be hard to see your loved one in pain. It can be hard to see them struggling. Often, you may be tempted to let things go — just once. To give your loved one a break from the difficult process of recovery for a few days. After all, it’s so hard for all of you.
In other words, recovery can be distressing for everyone involved. This is where you need to use your own distress tolerance skills — to realize that you need to sit through the discomfort and stress and anxiety of seeing your loved one in pain. Allowing them to deal with their stress is what leads them to realize how competent they really are. It is only by going through their own discomfort that they will learn they can do hard things — like pushing back against their ED and survive.
Practicing distress tolerance skills can help you come to the understanding that you and your loved ones can sit through the darkness of pain together and emerge into the light. You cannot save your loved one from that experience and you don’t want to do that, either — allowing them to traverse their own path is an essential part of recovery.
Equip’s interdisciplinary care team includes a family mentor specifically to emotionally support family members as they increase their distress tolerance, and to help parents and caregivers develop specific skills to manage frustration and emotionally regulate as a means to decrease distress for everyone involved in the recovery journey.
This article by Julie O’Toole on tolerating your child’s distress is a great explanation of this topic.
Distress tolerance is a vital piece of the recovery journey, and it’s one that you can’t escape — it can only be conquered by moving forward together.