Distress Tolerance Series #5 Improving the Moment

Distress Tolerance Series #5 Improving the Moment

Improving the Moment involves intentionally focusing on positive events or experiences in order to overcome difficult times in life. This skill is useful when you are in a long-lasting stressful situation and you have tried distraction skills and self-soothing and they are not working.




Improving the moment with imagery allows you to create a better space no matter where you are or what situation you are in. You can also guarantee that by creating your own imaginary space that this will always be a safe place for you to go to when you need it. As usual, make sure to practice this many times when you are calm so that you have the skill down well when you are in a difficult situation.




  • Imagine relaxing scenes
  • Go on a mental vacation
  • Imagine what it would be like if the situation turned out well
  • Make up a calming fantasy world (think something like Avatar, etc.)
  • Imagine painful emotions draining out of you like water out of a pipe
  • Remember a happy memory and imagine yourself in that time again, play it in your mind
  • Bring to mind a favorite comforting person, pet, or memory




Many extremely difficult situations can be tolerated better when we are able to find meaning or purpose in a difficult situation. It can be difficult to see this when you are in the situation, but I am sure you are familiar with finding meaning in a situation after the fact.

For example, as a child I was distraught about my parent’s divorce and saw no way that there could be meaning in such a terrible thing. Years later, it is clear to me that my suffering as a young child is what lead me to decide to become a psychologist and allows me to help other people.

After practicing this skill of finding meaning for many years, it comes to me much more easily in difficult situations and even when I am not sure of the purpose, I know each challenging situation only makes me stronger and more knowledgeable so that I can help others through similar situations.




  • Find purpose or meaning in a painful situation
  • Focus on whatever positive aspects of a painful situation that you can find
  • Remember and get back in touch with your own values
  • Think about the ways in which you might grow or become stronger from this situation
  • Get in touch with how this situation might one day make you a better partner, parent, teacher, helper, leader, etc.
  • Imagine that one day this situation is a funny or interesting story you will tell people about (this one is always a favorite of mine and puts the situation in perspective). Imagine one day telling your grandchildren about how you survived the COVID-19 crisis by staying at home.




The concept of prayer may be in a spiritual sense if that fits with your beliefs but can also be thought of us a complete opening of oneself to the moment. You do not have to believe in a particular God, religion, or higher power in order to use this skill. You can think of sending positive energy or vibes to a difficult situation.




  • Open your heart to a supreme being or your own wise mind
  • Ask for strength from a supreme being or the universe to bear the pain
  • Turn things over to God, a higher being, or the universe
  • Prayers can sound like, “Give me the power to accept this situation”




Improving the moment by relaxing involves engaging in calming activities to regulate yourself so that you are better able to make decisions once calm and are less likely to act impulsively. Many activities can be relaxing and differ from person to person. Make a list of your own favorite relaxing activities, ideas for activities can be found below.




  • Take a hot bath or shower
  • Drink a comforting beverage such as hot chocolate, tea, etc.
  • Massage your neck and scalp
  • Practice yoga or stretch
  • Deep breathing
  • Change your facial expression, work to unclench facial muscles
  • Take a nap
  • Listen to a relaxation or mindfulness recording or video
  • Light a scented candle
  • Snuggle with a pet or look at pictures or videos of animals
  • Gardening, taking care of plants


One thing in the moment


Much of the time our mind hangs out in the past or the future, ruminating about negative things from the past or worrying about negative things happening in the future. When our mind does this, it increases our suffering and we experience suffering from something that is not happening currently. If we can help our minds to focus on the present moment we only have to endure the current pain without all of the added pain of the past and feared future.




  • Focus all of your attention onto one thing
  • Focus in detail on a task that you are doing (such as washing the dishes or taking a shower)
  • Notice if your mind drifts off and return attention to the present
  • Focus your attention on physical sensations (notice tense muscles, the cadence of your breathing, the feeling of things around you, etc.)
  • Focus on your breathing
  • Complete a mindfulness exercise or body scan meditation
  • Eat something while doing nothing else and fully enjoy the experience of eating it
  • Go on a walk and pay attention to each step you take




We all need a little vacation from the real world and from adulting sometimes. It is important to give yourself mental breaks from responsibilities and stress, the catch is that this also has to be balanced with being responsible and productive.

We all know someone who seems to be on vacation all of the time; they sleep in, watch tv all day, skip work, etc. and know that in the long run this is not healthy or productive. We also all probably know someone who never gives themselves a break; they work constantly, they are always doing something, they never take time to rest, which is also not healthy and does not lead to good results in the long run because they will burn out.

Finding a balance between being a functioning, responsible, adult, while also taking time for yourself. The vacation does not have to be long to work, even a few moments, one hour, up to one day is enough to take a break and then re-focus when you return to what you need to do.

Just remember, the goal is not to be on vacation all of the time, but to use it to re-fuel and return to what needs to be done.




  • Allow yourself to take a brief vacation from life
  • Get in bed and pull the covers over your head
  • Go somewhere that you love (the beach, the mountains, etc.)
  • Get a fun magazine and enjoy reading it
  • Eat chocolates
  • Turn your phone off for a period of time
  • Take a blanket or chair to the park and hang out for the day
  • Take a 1 hour break from hard work and enjoy something you love
  • Take a brief vacation from responsibility
  • Take a mental vacation to your favorite place
  • Watch a travel tv show and imagine you are there


Encouragement and rethinking the situation


In negative situations we tend to be our own worst enemies. We catastrophize and think the worst, we put ourselves down, and beat ourselves up. As you can imagine, this does not help with our ability to tolerate the situation or solve the problem, and further worsens our suffering.

While there is no button to turn off the negative thoughts, we can intentionally add in some positive ones to offset the balance. Cheerleading for yourself is like talking to yourself the way you would talk to someone else who is in your situation. When we talk to ourselves we say terrible things that we would never say to other people (aka: “I’m so stupid), so think about how you might talk to a loved one instead (aka: “I know you can do this, you are strong, this is a crappy situation” etc.) and turn that same advice towards yourself.




  • Be your own cheerleader, “You got this!”
  • Remind yourself, “I will make it out of this,” or “this too shall pass”
  • Repeat a meaningful quote
  • Think, “I will be ok,” “I can stand this”


Tune in for the next post on Willingness vs. Willfulness.


Thank you so much for tuning in for the Distress Tolerance Series! I hope these skills are helpful to you right now and for a long time to come. Skills practice is not a replacement for professional help. If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns I encourage you to seek out professional help. ACTivation Psychology offers individual therapy for adolescents and adults struggling with anxiety, depression, transitions, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and other mental health concerns. Telehealth services are available during this time for individuals in the state of Colorado. Please remember that you do not have to struggle alone!


*The above is adapted from Linehan, M., M., (2014). DBT Training Manual. New York, NY: The Guilford Press. Please see the full text for more resources*

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