learn about the DBT distress tolerance skills - mini vacation

Do you need a break? DBT Distress Tolerance skills can help you

Feeling overwhelmed?

Dialectical Behavior Therapy’s (DBT) distress tolerance skills teach you different ways to ride out emotional overwhelm.

One of DBT’s distress tolerance skills is called “taking a vacation from adulthood,” which means intentionally stepping back from life’s obligations to allow yourself to recharge.

There’s a trick to taking this type of mini-vacation effectively. You have to do it intentionally and mindfully, instead of unintentionally and mindlessly – which won’t recharge you and may create additional problems.

Taking a break will allow you to calm and comfort yourself enough so you can feel ready to face what you need to when you’re back from your mini-vacation.

How do you know when you need to take a break?

Warning signs that you need a mini-vacation:


You’re snapping at your partner, kids, or co-workers. You feel critical, impatient, and annoyed.

Spacing out with technology

You’re spending a lot of time on social media, watching videos or constantly checking your email. You feel like you can’t unplug or you’ll miss something.

Urges to engage in compulsive or addictive behavior

You feel like drinking or using drugs, overeating, overspending, self-harming or engaging in other behaviors that give you immediate relief but create problems down the road.

Feeling like you’re about to cry (or scream)

Your emotions are raw and you feel like you might crack. You fear you’ll burst into tears or start yelling when the next minor frustration occurs.


What is a mini-vacation in DBT (a distress tolerance skill)?

A mini-vacation using DBT’s distress tolerance skills can last from a few minutes to a day. You step back from your life on purpose and allow yourself a break. However, this is different than avoiding or procrastinating.

Taking this kind of purposeful break includes acknowledging that you are overwhelmed and then setting aside some discrete time to back away from life’s responsibilities.

How to take a mini-vacation

There’s no right way to take a mini-vacation.

Simply allow yourself space to be free of obligations. Here are some suggestions on how you can do that:


Turn off your phone. Step away from the computer or TV. Let people know in advance that you won’t be available for the period of time you’ve dedicated for your break.

Just this small act of powering down may bring up a lot of feelings. You may be worried about missing out. Or you might not know how to be with yourself without the distraction of technology. Be gentle with yourself and be curious about what comes up.

Get out in nature

Go on a hike or take a walk by the water if you have time.

In San Francisco and the Bay Area in general, there is a bounty of natural resources.

If your mini vacation is less than an hour or two, you don’t need to travel far. Just go for a walk and notice the trees, the plants, and the sky above.

How often do you go outside and not notice nature because you’re busy or distracted?  Connecting with nature intentionally creates feelings of well-being and can lower stress levels.

Get creative

Do anything you enjoy that is creative – draw, doodle, or knead Play Dough into little people.

It doesn’t matter what you do, just choose something you like (not something you think you should like). And let yourself become fully immersed in that activity.

Get in bed

Pull the covers over your head if you want. Give yourself permission to do this, knowing that you are not weak or lazy but you are taking proactive and courageous steps to listen to your needs.

Common obstacles to taking a mini-vacation

I don’t deserve it

You may think you don’t deserve to take a break, or that you have to work really hard before you’ve earned the right to take a break.

The problem with this line of thinking is that the target often moves.  When is enough enough?  Where is that magical line that you have to cross before you feel like you really deserve a break?

I can’t afford to take any time off

Fear of what will happen when you take time off is another common barrier. It’s hard to trust that it’s ok not to be productive for a while. It’s hard to trust that you’ll get done what you need to when you come back from your mini-vacation.

What’s interesting, though, is by allowing yourself to take a break, you’ll return to your life calmer, more focused and rejuvenated. Like you filled up an empty gas tank and can now go on for miles.


Feeling overwhelmed? Curious about how DBT can help you?

Call (415) 310-5142 to schedule your phone consultation.