DBT Skills: Adulting!

This week we’re going to go over one of my absolute favorite skills in DBT because it seems so straightforward but is actually amazingly effective. If you’ll recall, last week we finished up our interpersonal effectiveness skills, which are great for building a long term support network that will provide you with the support you need when you’re feeling crappy and that will generally make your life an awesome place that you want to be. This week we’re starting in on emotion regulation, which basically means skills that help you keep your emotions from doing crazy things you don’t expect them to and that you don’t appreciate.

There are a few different elements to regulating your emotions. There are some things that you want to do every day to keep your overall emotional health stable, and then there are things that you can do in the moment to try to calm down emotions that are stronger than you want them to be or inappropriate to the situation. The general model of emotions in DBT suggests that going into any given situation we have a base level of emotional vulnerability: if we’ve already had an incredibly stressful day, or something else is increasing the likelihood we will react, we have heightened emotional vulnerability. If we do, a less serious situation is likely to set us off. So the first skill we’re going to look at is PLEASE, which is what you use to reduce your emotional vulnerability.

Basically, PLEASE means taking care of yourself in the most basic physical ways. Again, it’s an acronym, so let’s break it down:

P+L: physical illness (treat it)
E: Eating
A: Altering drugs (follow prescriptions and don’t take anything else)
S: Sleep
E: Exercise

Overall, the idea is to take care of your body. If you have a regular sleep routine that works for you (as an example I need closer to nine or ten hours to be happy, whereas some people can function quite well on seven), eat a relatively healthy diet (and eat regularly), move your body a little bit each day, and keep yourself healthy, your emotions will stabilize.

Now some of you are probably looking at me and rolling your eyes. “I know I’m supposed to eat and sleep, but seriously how much is that going to do.”

Let me tell you a little story called the Minnesota Starvation Experiment. Once upon a time there were a bunch of perfectly healthy guys who volunteered for a starvation experiment. They weren’t fed enough for about a month and their personalities completely changed. They got depressed, some got violent, they got moody, they got isolated, and the basic conclusion was that not eating fucks you up. Now obviously this is an extreme case, but speaking from personal experience (as well as the evidence that provides the “evidence based treatment” badge for DBT), keeping your body stable deeply affects your mental health. People who are hungry are cranky. People who are tired are cranky. People who have sat on the couch for three days straight are cranky.

These don’t have to be huge changes, and they can be incorporated into your life in whatever ways work for you. If hard exercise is too much, taking a walk once a day is great. If sleep is a challenge, try some of the common tips and tricks for getting to sleep. If a healthy diet is a challenge, try simply making your eating times and amounts more regular.

I can’t sing the praises of this skill enough. When I started listening to what my body wanted and needed, my mood chilled the heck out in a major way. I hope yours can too.


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Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com

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