ABC PLEASE is an emotion regulation skill. Emotion Regulation is the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy module that teaches how emotions work. It provides skills to help manage emotions instead of being managed by them, reduce vulnerability to negative emotions, and build positive emotional experiences.
There are a number of vulnerability factors that affect our ability to regulate our emotions. Our physical state has a huge influence on how we’re feeling. Have you ever felt incredibly sad or angry only to realize you haven’t eaten since breakfast? Or have you felt totally hopeless only for a cold to come on the next day? Hunger and illness are both vulnerability factors that can make us more emotional. That’s why it’s so crucial to take care of our bodies.
ABC PLEASE is an Emotion Regulation skill you can use to reduce your vulnerability and make it less likely you’ll end up in Emotion Mind, where emotions control your thoughts and actions instead of Wise Mind.
Accumulate Positive Emotions
Accumulating positive emotions is like opening a savings account. You deposit as much money as you can to help you out later when you’re in need. This skill does the same with positive emotions. Build as many positive experiences into your life as you can, be Mindful as they happen, and file them away for later.
Not only can you call on those memories to cheer you up, but the process of compiling them improves your mood and makes you more resilient against distress. Try to regularly incorporate more and more positive experiences into your day over time.
Build Mastery is about doing something every day that makes you feel competent, confident, that you are good at something, or are making progress. It can be anything from practicing guitar to doing laundry. Build Mastery is supposed to give you that good feeling you get when you cross something off your to-do list. It’s why cleaning your room makes you feel so much better.
Try to do at least one thing that builds mastery every day. The more you do, the better you’ll feel as you build the confidence in your capabilities. This puts money in the bank for the next time you’re in distress, meaning that you’ll both prevent future distress and help you recover faster from it.
When you’re in distress, it can be really hard to remember your skills. That’s what makes it so easy to fall back on familiar, less-healthy methods of coping. Just as you would pack for a trip or write yourself a reminder to turn in that homework, you need to prepare for times of distress.
Coping Ahead is preparing a skillful action plan to use when you get emotional. Make a list of skills to use and put it on your fridge. Create a coping box full of distraction techniques or a notebook of instructions and inspiration. Do whatever works for you, whatever will help you skillfully survive the emotional moment.
Treat Physical Illnesses
Being sick can make you feel hopeless or grumpy. When our bodies aren’t at our best, our minds aren’t either. Whether you’re preventing illness or treating it, taking care of yourself is a DBT skill.
Check in with yourself. Do you have a physical illness that needs to be tended to? Do you have medication or treatments prescribed for you that you aren’t taking or doing? What things keep you from treating your physical illness? Take some time to think about this, and see what it would look like for you to take care of your physical needs.
How is your eating? Do you eat too little? Too much? What kinds of food do you eat? The amount and types of food you eat can affect how you feel emotionally. Have you ever been “hangry”? Hunger can make you behave unlike yourself, so make sure to feed your body despite what diet culture says.
What foods make you feel calm? Energized? What foods make you feel bad? The key here is to eat foods that make you feel good. Maybe too many carbohydrates make you sleepy or too much caffeine makes you jumpy. Get in touch with your body and give it what it needs. Try to avoid judgment about what you eat, simply fuel your body.
Avoid Mood-Altering Drugs
Alcohol and drugs can lower resistance to certain negative emotions. Alcohol is a depressant. Other drugs can make your anxiety spike. Substances can make you behave in ways that are incongruent with your values. If you use drugs or alcohol, notice how they make you feel. If they are a problem in your life, can you get some help?
Sleep is crucial for your mental health. Lack of it can leave you grumpy, sad, or unprepared for the day. How much sleep makes you feel good? Many people need 8 or more hours, some people do fine on less. Some people need to nap during the day. Learn to plan your schedule so that you get the sleep you need. If you have difficulty sleeping, address the issue with your doctor.
Get Balanced Exercise
Regular exercise, besides being good for your heart, lungs, muscles, and bones, stimulates chemicals in your brain called endorphins, which are natural antidepressants. Even a short exercise regime can make you feel better about yourself and your life.
Do you get regular exercise? If not, is there something you can do for exercise, starting out with just a little? Maybe start by taking a daily walk around the neighborhood if possible.
Create your exercise plan based on your ability level. No one’s body is the same. Do your physical therapy exercises. Use a chair for assistance. Flex your muscles in bed. Not everything will get those endorphins pumping hard but it’s good for your mental health all the same.
If you are someone who has not yet incorporated some of these things into your life, make a plan for doing so, perhaps trying just one thing at a time.
If you want to keep track of how you are doing at sleep, for instance, you might keep a little chart of what time you go to bed and how much sleep you get each night. Sometimes we are not really aware of how much sleep we get or what exactly we eat. You could use your diary card as a checkoff chart.
Practicing ABC PLEASE gets you to take a look at these parts of your life. Notice what you do and how you feel. Once you are aware of which areas are working well and which you would like to improve, you can choose something to work on.
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Mental Health Resources
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