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A Simple Skill for Tolerating Distress

Everyone experiences situations when emotions become intense, overwhelming, and difficult to manage. When well worn coping skills like journaling, talking to a friend, or watching a favorite show on Netflix won’t cut it. During these heightened times of distress, a quick and simple skill is needed. In order to chill out the state of your emotions, you literally need to chill out. How? Grab some ice.

Beacon uses Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) which teaches distress-tolerance skills that help people use more adaptive, less harmful strategies when in crisis. It can be very challenging to face situations that make you feel out of control or to sit with difficult emotions. It’s understandable that many may choose to reach for the comfort of food. 

This is where the TIPP skills from DBT come in handy. The “T” in TIPP means: Tip the Temperature! The goal is to help regulate your emotions so you can think more clearly, problem-solve effectively, and utilize other healthy coping skills. 

So how do you do this exactly?

Hold your breath and dip your face in a bowl of cold water, preferably keeping the temperature above 50 degrees fahrenheit. If hanging out in a bowl of water is not appealing to you, put an ice pack on the back of your neck, or on your eyes and cheeks, hold it there for at least 30 seconds, and breathe. Sounds so simple, but it works. If you don’t have an ice pack you can always use a bag of frozen peas, or anything else you can find in your freezer. Work with what you got.

“Will this work? Will I actually feel more relaxed?”

Yes, and here’s why: cooling the skin activates the mammalian diving reflex, a natural reaction in all mammals that is triggered in humans when the face is submerged in cold water. The reflex causes your body chemistry to change, as your heart rate drops and the parasympathetic nervous system is activated to bring about a relaxation response.

Next time you feel overwhelmed or angry, remember “T for temperature”. You can also use this skill by taking a cold shower, running cold water on your forearms, chewing on ice, or holding an ice cube in your hand.  When you briefly change your temperature, you can ground yourself in the present moment and refocus.

It can be easy to forget the simple things when stress is high. Keep ice in the back of your mind for an easy go-to skill.  

Want more support? Check out Molly’s youtube channel and subscribe to the Sunday Love Letter to get support, information, and motivation on your journey to create a loving relationship with food.

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