Emotional regulation skills are incredibly important for maintaining our overall health and well-being. These skills not only help us to work through difficult emotions, but they also facilitate positive and enriching emotional experiences. While there are various techniques that can be utilized to navigate challenging emotions, this article will focus on strategies that aim to reduce emotional vulnerabilities to overwhelming emotions. The specific skills that will be featured in this article act like a buffer against emotional dysregulation and help to strengthen resilience. The ABC PLEASE skills are intended to bolster our emotional reserves and essentially operate on the premise that the best offense is a good defense.
ABC PLEASE is an acronym that stands for:
Accumulate positive emotions
Treat Physical illness
Avoid mood-altering substances
Accumulate Positive Emotions
Accumulating positive emotions should be emphasized for increasing both current and future mood states. In order to do this, intentional efforts should be made to increase experience of and engagement in enjoyable events in the immediate future as well as in the long-term. Deliberate efforts to cultivate positive experiences are important and require purposeful attempts to move towards pleasant experiences. Utilizing mindfulness helps to achor us to these events so that they may be savored and experienced to the fullest. Thus, we want to eliminate or strictly minimize multi-tasking so that attention can be focused on the positive experiences we are trying to cultivate. To do so may require mental redirection so that external factors (outside noise) or internal factors (self-criticism) are curtailed and thereby prevented from impeding upon the desired present moment experience. It is important to choose targets that correspond to our goals and align with our values so that the action steps we undertake act as a vehicle for goal attainment.
Building mastery is a great way to increase feelings of self-confidence and improve your overall self-image. Increasing one’s sense of mastery is an excellent protective factor against feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. It is therefore important that we do at least one thing each day to help increase feelings of accomplishment. The sense of accomplishment that we can obtain from succeeding or mastering something can enhance our motivation to continue pursuing goals and increase our desire to continue working on self-improvement. It is important to be selective about the targets we are trying to master. They should be challenging, but still within the scope of our reach. Often, it can be helpful to break down tasks into smaller component pieces and work towards accomplishing the overall goal in a sequential manner. Be patient with yourself – it is not typical to achieve mastery on your very first try. It may take some time and require you to reorganize your approach (perhaps more than once), but it is most definitely worth the effort!
Cope ahead skills are used to help us feel better prepared to work through a situation that we anticipate will feel challenging. Instead of dreading and/or avoiding the situation, using a cope ahead plan will be beneficial in helping us map out a plan regarding how we will support ourselves until we are on the other side of the event. Prior to the event, we will select coping and problem-solving skills that will help us to navigate through a difficult time. We can also rehearse the self-talk that we will use to encourage, support, and coach ourselves through the situation. Engaging in mental rehearsal, whereby we visualize ourselves using coping skills effectively, can help us to begin utilizing emotional regulation skills before the event even occurs.
The connection between our psychological and physical experiences is undeniable. They are inextricably intertwined to such a degree that it can sometimes be difficult to discern the source of a symptom. Thus, in order to take care of our mental health, we absolutely cannot neglect our physical health. When we do not attend to physical symptoms, pain, and illnesses, our psychological health will be negatively impacted. In fact, when we are physically sick, our defenses against emotional challenges are often compromised. It is important to see a doctor for an annual physical exam as well as when we are struggling with symptoms that need a physician’s intervention. Prescribed medications need to be taken consistently and as directed by a physician. We also need to be intentional about maintaining our physical health through our eating, activity, and sleep routines. Taking care of our physical body will reduce our susceptibility to overwhelming emotions, thereby increasing our levels of emotional resilience.
Food is one of the primary sources of fuel that powers our body to not only complete our daily tasks, but also to do a whole lot of behind-the-scenes work to regulate our system. Additionally, since the brain requires 20% of our daily energy intake, it is important that we eat foods that provide a healthy source of energy. Quantity and timing are both very important aspects of our eating habits that need to be managed. Food can also have a significant impact on our cognitive functioning and our moods, so it is important to take note of which foods make us feel focused, comfortable, and content as well as those that create brain fog and feelings of agitation, anxiety, and dysregulation.
Avoid Mood-Altering Substances
Substances impair our ability to effectively cope with stressful situations and difficult emotions. They can make already difficult situations even worse. While some may seek out substances when they feel overwhelmed, this strategy often backfires because the original problem does not get properly addressed and the person ends up feeling more dysregulated and out of control. Chronic substance use can create a number of challenges that impede one’s ability to maintain relationships, jobs, health, and other important values that create meaning in one’s life.
On average, we should be striving to obtain between seven and nine hours of sleep every night. It is important to keep sleep schedules consistent, especially if sleep disturbances are present. Obtaining adequate sleep is helpful to balance thoughts and emotions. It will help to reduce physical tensions and discomforts. It also enhances your ability to think clearly and reduces the chances of jumping to conclusions. Sleep improves your judgment and problem-solving abilities. Thus, sleep not only helps us to think more clearly and feel better, but it is also instrumental in helping us to exercise good decision-making skills and implement effective actions.
Most people think of exercise as a method of improving our physical health. In addition, exercise has countless benefits for our mental health, such as balancing mood, reducing stress, improving concentration, enhancing sleep, increasing self-confidence, etc. Exercise is also the best method of prevention against age-related cognitive declines. Therefore, it is important that exercise is a regular part of one’s routine. There are no specific requirements regarding the type of exercise that is best. In actuality, the best type of exercise is the type of exercise that you enjoy and can commit to doing on a regular basis. In other words, the best type of exercise is exercise that you will continue doing over time. The more you enjoy your workouts, whether they are cardio-based, strength training, or yoga, the greater the likelihood that you will reap the benefits that come from maintaining a consistent exercise routine.
The ABC PLEASE skills not only reduce emotional vulnerabilities to overwhelming emotions and situations, but they also emphasize the importance of taking care of the body (as one way of taking care of the mind). In many respects, this set of skills can be thought of as the foundational skills for all other emotional regulation skills. ABC PLEASE skills lay the groundwork for people to be more effective in the ways that they accept and respond to their emotions. Since we cannot heal what we do not allow ourselves to feel, using the ABC PLEASE skills helps people to be better prepared to recognize and create the space for examining their emotions before determining how to respond. Individuals who are emotionally well-regulated are in a better position to enact thoughtful and effective behavioral responses while also mindfully prioritizing their self-care and values. The beauty of the ABC PLEASE skills is that they are bidirectional: Taking better care of yourself enhances emotional well-being, and when your emotions are attended to and nurtured, you will be more successful in managing challenging situations and creating opportunities to foster positive emotional experiences.
Need Help or Support?
If you or a loved one are struggling with an anxiety disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or any other mental health concerns, know that you are not alone. If you are a parent or a caregiver and are seeking additional information about how you can best support your child, our office provides parent training with the SPACE program. Please see our November 2021 Newsletter for more information on SPACE.
For these or any other mental health concerns, please contact The OCD & Anxiety Center at (630) 686-7886 or email@example.com. We have offices located in Oak Brook and Orland Park, Illinois and in Marietta, Georgia. Our clinicians specialize in helping individuals overcome anxiety disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders, and other co-occurring mental health conditions. We provide telehealth services that are available in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Florida, and Georgia.
At The OCD & Anxiety Center, we can provide treatment both in the office and at off-site locations (your home, mall, school, work etc.). We will work closely with you to create an individualized treatment plan and discuss the appropriate frequency of appointments (once a week or more, if needed). We look forward to working with you and facilitating your therapeutic journey!
Dr. Ashley Butterfield is a licensed clinical psychologist at The OCD & Anxiety Center in Oak Brook, Illinois. She specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy for anxiety, OCD, and anxiety-related disorders. She is comfortable working with children, adolescents, and adults and is able to provide treatment both in the office and outside of the office, wherever anxiety happens.