distress tolerance

Help your teen learn to give themselves a break

When an activity or event is overwhelming for your teen, best practice is to encourage them to take a break to calm down, then return to the activity when they are feeling more equipped and ready to tackle it.

It's important to note that breaks like this should be PLANNED and TEMPORARY and that too long of a break results in straight avoiding a stressful situation and that will only serve to make it more difficult in the end!

Help your teen come up with a list of activities or events that stress them out or overwhelm them. Knowing in advance what is going to be difficult will help you partner together to devise a "Cope Ahead Plan." Maybe you teen has difficulty with math homework, or maybe it's getting to school in the morning. Identify the trigger situations that cause distress so you can put a solid coping plan in place.

Be Mindful

Help your teen identify what thoughts, emotions and body sensations arise when they feel overwhelmed.

You may ask them...

"What goes through your head when this happens?"

"What differences do you notice in your body when you're feeling stressed?" (This could be tension, changes in heart rate or breathing patterns.)

"What emotions come up for you? Do you feel sad? Angry? Anxious?"

When you can identify the warning signs of stress you can head it off before it gets to the point of crisis and it gives your teen a clear indicator of when to actually use coping skills.

Come up with a solid list of ways to cope

Help your teen choose at least 5 activities to engage in when stress hits. This could be ways to distract them from the difficult feelings until they lessen, such as...

+ Journaling
+Listening to music
+Talking to a friend about something else +Taking a walk

It's important to have these activities chosen in advance and for your teen to have a list of them somewhere they can easily access so that when they are upset, they know exactly what to do. It can be difficult to make decisions or come up with a plan when emotions are swirling, so it's important to BE PROACTIVE.


Make a plan to return to the situation

Remember, coping skills are planned and temporary, so you need to decide when your teen feels ready to return to the situation too. This again should be something that is planned in advance when your teen is calm.

Ask them...

"What would let you know you were calm enough to return to the situation again?"

"How would your thoughts/feelings/body sensations be better or different?"

"What are the signs that you would notice that would let you know you were feeling calm enough to try again?"

Find a language for talking about mood intensity

Sometimes using a number system of 0 being completely calm and 10 being the most upset can help you and your teen decide on a good time to return to the activity as well as when it's time to take a break.

Some helpful ways to track moods include using a family journal, having your teen record a number daily on the calendar, or doing a daily text or spoken check in at the same time each day.