Why we work on distress tolerance

Why we work on distress tolerance

Now that we’ve covered some tools and exercises for managing our stress, let’s review why any of this matters. We intuitively know that reducing our stress must be helpful for alcohol-free living, but when we better understand the mechanisms at play, it provides us with more motivation to make stress management an active part of our AF toolbox.


3 Reasons it’s important to properly manage stress:


Distress tolerance builds resilience

The first time we successfully manage a stressful situation without having to step outside of ourselves with the use of alcohol or other numbing mechanisms, we build just a little more strength for next time. This is the idea of resilience; we can cultivate resilience in many areas of our lives by building resilience to stress, and it translates well to other pieces of our wellness. When we know that we’ve done something once, we know we can do it again.


Distress tolerance is realistic

Notice that none of the things we’ve covered so far have said “remove all stress from your life,” because that is simply not realistic. Instead, we focus on stress reduction and distress tolerance - learning how to minimize stress where we can, and building tools to tolerate the stress that we cannot eliminate completely. The goal isn’t a perfect, idyllic life, because that doesn’t exist for anyone. But when we learn how to manage our stress, we build an adaptive skill into our toolbox.

Distress tolerance helps us cope before we’re too fried to think rationally

Since we know that we can’t expect to just have a shiny, perfect life with zero complications or challenges, we must build coping mechanisms into our life that help us get through those challenges. And we do this so that we don’t drain our energy so much that we are no longer able to make decisions through our prefrontal cortex and higher functioning. When we manage our energy well through stress reduction, we allow our higher functioning to maintain control, which in turn helps us cope without the use of alcohol.


The goal is not a total reinvention of your entire life overnight; doing so would only add more stress to your life as you make massive changes and adjustments in a short amount of time. Instead, focus on one thing you can change each day, and let those little changes add up over time.