Managing Stress in Workplace using Distress Tolerance Skills

Welcome to Part 2 of a blog series where we apply core DBT tools to managing stress in the workplace. 

DBT integrates techniques and skills that center around mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance. 

Ok, so we all heard Beyoncé’s new song Break My Soul, and found it empowering, but we don’t have the luxury of quitting our jobs, do we? While I don’t advocate for staying in situations that are unpleasant or overly stressful, we sometimes don’t have a choice and that is something we need to accept. 

DBT provides distress tolerance skills that help manage moment to moment. This would be classified as the distress tolerance skills. DBT emphasizes learning to manage pain skillfully because distress is part of life and cannot always be avoided. We need to be tolerant and to simply perceive the environment as it is, without demanding it be different.

Having to do unpleasant tasks that you deem to be a waste of time, not getting promoted or having to present in front of large group are common situations that might cause stress at work. What you will notice about these is that they are all moments in time. So how do you get through it?

There are a few different tools, and from my experience in using distress tolerance, each situation may require a different skill. Also, it is important to have a good understanding of what you value. People are unique and may not respond the same way to a situation.

Let’s take being passed up for a promotion as an example. While this causes distress, there is typically not much you can do about it in the moment, however I would employ the problem-solving skill. Problem Solving can be very useful once we have determined that a problem has come up, and it directly impacts us. Sometimes we experience unpleasant emotions about the actions of others or situations that we cannot change. This skill specifically helps us to collect the facts and take steps to solve a problem for which we can change. I would use this to determine the gaps in my experience, what I needed to get promoted, view the alternatives and actions that need to be taken.

Another person, who may have been passed on a few promotions may use the Pro/Cons skills, to assess if staying at this organization is the right decision for them.