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I Keep Having HUGE emotions, PlEASE help!

You ever have big emotions? Like, come out of the blue, hit you like a truck and run you over emotions? Well, the PlEASE skill is here to help. To some people, it sounds really basic, and I suppose it is really basic. It’s also tremendously helpful in reducing our vulnerability to negative emotions. I hesitate to write ‘negative’ because it’s a judgment word, and I also think most of us see things like sadness, guilt, fear, shame, and other vulnerable emotions as ‘negative.’ It’s probably more helpful to call them ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘vulnerable’ emotions. I’ll get into that more as we progress through the Emotion Regulation skills.

So, if you'd like to keep your emotions from blowing up your life (I do!) then read on to find out some simple things to do keep those emotional reactions from making life more difficult.

PlEASE is another acronym (DBT has a lot of acronyms, makes it easier to remember some skills.)

Physical- This one’s a little clunky imho. The P and the l. Take care of physical health.

Eating- Eat enough and not too much

Avoid substances

Sleep enough and not too much

Exercise enough and not too much

All right, I'm going to tell you how I use or don’t use these skills. Some of these I struggle with and others I do all right. Sometimes I use them all and sometimes I fall down on all of them. The biggest thing to be aware of with the PlEASE skills is that if you don’t use them, you will be more likely to have large spikes in emotion.

And if you use them, you will be less likely to have those big emotions and will be more likely to be able to access skills to regulate your emotions. This has been true in my experience, both for me and clients that I’ve had over the years.

Physical health. If I’m in pain, it’s a good idea to take something for the pain. Have a headache, Jeff, take an Advil or Tylenol. Feeling sick? Stay home. In the fall, I got a flu shot and came to work the next day. I did a session and then I did not feel very well sitting in my office afterward. Our Executive Director came in and chatted with me. She asked what I had scheduled and I told her. She said, “Can you do that,” and I replied, “I don’t know.”

Then she said, “If you did not say ‘yes’ right away, then you are staying because you feel guilty about canceling and you don’t really feel well enough to do these sessions.” And because she knows me quite well, and she’s a very skilled clinician, she was absolutely right. So, I canceled my appts and went home and went to bed. It’s exactly what I needed. Had I stayed at work, I would have been less able to handle emotionally charged situations that might have arisen. I would have been less available to the clients I was seeing and to my colleagues. The Wise Mind decision was to take care of my physical health.

Next is eating. I have a couple of foods that I like to eat that I know are not great for my emotional state. I have a sensitivity to dairy and I know if I eat ice cream (which I love) I will be less able to handle my emotions the next day. I just feel sluggish and 'off' the day after indulging. At this point, it’s been several months since I had any. I also know that if I overdo it on sugar I pay the price the next day. So, I try to avoid both of those things because I know the consequences. Sometimes, I get into that place where I just REALLY want it and I eat a large amount of sugar (I have eaten an entire package of Oreos more than once) and then I know the next day it’s going to take more effort for me to be emotionally centered and skillful.

The other thing about eating is making sure to take in calories so that my brain and body are functioning well. If I skip a meal (which I’ve been known to do at times) I become less able to handle emotions, and I get irritable much more quickly. Sometimes I work right through lunch. Sometimes I think it is so important to see clients that I schedule back to back all the way through the day. And that can come back and bite me.

Avoiding substances is easy for me at this point. It’s not always been. I am an alcoholic in recovery. I don’t even think about using substances anymore. Previously, however, I was uneven in dealing with my emotions while I was drinking. Using mood altering substances makes it harder to deal with our emotions. For me, it led to having bigger reactions to small things, it led to having judgments toward myself and others. Many days, I was just surviving and was not very skillful in my interactions with people. And, before I got honest about it all, I thought I was handling things just fine.

I struggle with sleeping enough. There seems to always be one more thing I want to do before I go to bed, almost like I’m going to miss something and then wake up and it will be another day. I mean, you don’t remember sleeping, and it goes by so fast, and I hardly ever remember dreams I have. Once I drift off to sleep, it seems like no time and the alarm is going off and I don't really like mornings. AND I also know that I am MUCH better when I get enough sleep. I got enough sleep last night and I feel great today. Much better able to handle whatever comes my way.

The other side of this is important to pay attention to as well. Getting too much sleep is problematic for managing emotions as well. I’ve never had any difficulty personally with oversleeping. Many people do and if we get too much sleep it’s harder to manage our emotions as well. So, if you are getting more than the recommended amount of sleep and having a hard time with your emotions, sleeping might have something to do with it.

Finally, exercise. I envy all of your out there that enjoy exercise. When I was in junior high and high school, I played basketball several times a week and got plenty of exercise. I enjoyed running track in junior high and high school as well. Exercise has been a struggle for me since heading off to college in 1992 (yep, I’m that old, there’s a 19 in that year). Research shows pretty definitively that exercise helps to regulate emotions. I notice it when I exercise. The past week has been great for exercise for me. Went on several walks with my wife, rode the stationary bike, walked several miles while fishing, and I’ve noticed the difference in my ability to handle life. I am less vulnerable to emotional spikes.

For me, the impact of these skills is not just the emotional centeredness, but also a decrease in the amount of judgment that I notice toward myself and towards others. I don’t know if there’s research behind that, and my experience is that when I pay attention to PlEASE, I not only have more even emotions, I also notice less judgments. The judgments I do have are also easier to let go of and they don’t seem to get stuck in my brain as much.

Hope this was helpful, and if not, come back again and the next thing we post will be.

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