Tolerating Distress After Trauma: Differential Associations Between Distress Tolerance and Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms

  • Mathew G. Fetzner
  • Daniel L. Peluso
  • Gordon J. G. Asmundson


Distress tolerance has been implicated in disorders of emotional regulation, such as eating disorders and borderline personality disorder; however, much less attention has been given to distress tolerance in the context of posttraumatic stress (PTS). Several conceptual linkages between distress tolerance and PTS exist. Low distress tolerance may increase negative appraisals, reducing an individual’s propensity to deal with distressing mental symptoms immediately after a trauma. Relatedly, a perceived inability to cope with the distress brought on by trauma-related memories and cues may engender maladaptive coping strategies. The few published studies examining the relationship between distress tolerance and PTS have demonstrated that lower distress tolerance was associated with increased PTS symptomatology, including increased avoidance, hyperarousal, and re-experiencing. The current study sought to replicate and extend the emerging empirical base by examining the relationship between distress tolerance and the four distinct PTS symptom clusters, while controlling for time since the index trauma and depressive symptoms. Results indicated that distress tolerance accounted for significant unique variance in re-experiencing and avoidance but not negative emotionality and hyperarousal symptoms. There was also a strong positive association between the number of traumas endorsed by participants, depression, and PTS symptoms. Findings suggest that distress tolerance is associated with PTS, lending further support to the putative relationship between PTS and distress tolerance. Accordingly, developing treatment protocols designed to increase distress tolerance in individuals affected by PTS may reduce symptom severity and increase coping abilities.


Posttraumatic stress Distress tolerance Trauma Neuroticism Worry 


Conflict of Interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Experiment Participants

The protocol for the current study was approved by the local university research ethics board.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mathew G. Fetzner
    • 1
    • 2
  • Daniel L. Peluso
    • 1
  • Gordon J. G. Asmundson
    • 1
  1. 1.University of ReginaReginaCanada
  2. 2.Anxiety and Illness Behaviours Laboratory, Department of PsychologyUniversity of ReginaReginaCanada

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