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Everyone manages perceived or actual emotional stress differently and our ability to navigate our way through certain incidents without feeling overwhelmed is what is known as distress tolerance.

We are able to return to a more balanced state in the face of new stressors if we can cope with difficult emotions and feelings, but it can be very challenging to do this when faced with adversity, particularly if we’ve got some kind of trauma history behind us.

However, it is possible to improve distress tolerance skills and start to build up resilience in face of immediate emotional crises so that we’re better able to accept the realities that we’re presented with, even when we feel out of control and unable to change what’s happening.

Extreme emotional distress

When experiencing extreme levels of emotional distress, it is not uncommon for people to engage in unhelpful coping strategies as a way of blocking out and avoiding feeling their pain. This behaviour could include using drugs or alcohol, denial or avoidance of the situation.

However, it is important to recognise that avoiding this emotional pain could have more serious consequences in the long run.

During crises, either perceived or actual, people may find themselves in a state of high alert, which can make it harder to implement coping techniques. Using distress tolerance skills can potentially help reduce the intensity of the emotions, however, giving you more space and time to bring in other coping skills to help you even further.


A recent study published back in February in the BMC Psychiatry journal found that distress tolerance skills can actually have a mediating effect on the relationship between emotional crises and stressful life events, and suicide risk in people with major depressive disorder (MDD).

There is also a strong link between suicide risk in those with MDD and stressful life events, an association that has been demonstrated consistently and which indicates a quantity-response relationship with suicide risk.

However, although it is widely acknowledged that stressful life events does have an impact on suicide risk, there is still little information regarding the underlying mechanisms that could explain the effects of these vents on suicide risk. 

As such, research exploring the psychopathological mechanism of the link between emotional crises and suicide risk will have an important role to play in reducing suicide risks in those with MDD.

The cross-sectional study concluded that suicide prevention and intervention strategies in the future should perhaps concentrate more on increasing the levels of distress tolerance in patients who do have MDD.


To find out about suicide prevention training, get in touch with Suicide Bereavement UK.


For further information, contact:

Paul Higham

Suicide Bereavement UK

Tel: 01706 827359

Mobile: 07850 710555