Do you know what makes you more emotionally vulnerable? Did you know you can build up your own emotional resilience?
When we are feeling depressed, overwhelmed, and/or are emotionally suffering, we may need specific skills to help us feel better. Building mastery, accumulating positive events, and PLEASE skills come from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). The goal of these skills is to help strengthen our emotional health by increasing our resilience while reducing our emotional vulnerability (Linehan, 2015).
At times, we can make choices that cause us to be more emotionally sensitive and reactive. We are more inclined to act from our emotion mind (read more by clicking here), which can worsen rather than reduce our suffering. For instance, when we are so hungry that we can become angry, also known as "hangry," we may become impatient and irritable. To remedy this, we can make sure to not skip meals. This may seem simple, and it is! We can make many small and important choices to support our overall health, which can result in a huge difference in our own wellness.
The skill of building mastery is about engaging in activities that give us a sense of accomplishment and belief in ourselves (Linehan, 2015). As children, we build our confidence all the time through learning new tasks and gaining competence in activities we do repeatedly. As adults, we have already mastered many tasks, so we may no longer feel a sense of accomplishment. Additionally, we may compare ourselves to others; this can eat away at our self-confidence. When we are experiencing heavy emotions like depression and grief, it is important to remember everyday tasks like getting out of bed, getting dressed, and taking a shower can be extremely difficult to accomplish in those moments.
Building mastery is about completing challenging but achievable goals daily until the task becomes doable, then gradually adding on tasks a bit more challenging. You get to decide what attainable goal you want to set that gives you a sense of meaning and joy. Once you feel competent in one task, you can try another. Take time to consider, what task(s) do you want to try? What will help you feel better about yourself?
If you value relationships, you can start by initiating or responding to a text message. You can continue to text if this feels appropriately challenging to do. If/when this becomes manageable, you can decide if you want to have a phone or video chat conversation. It can be a few minutes long or longer, again you get to decide what feels doable yet moderately challenging. You can build up to the goal of meeting someone face-to-face and/or having an in-person conversation.
Other mastery activities can include: exercising (can start with walking then work towards jogging/running), drawing, cooking, setting boundaries (read more here), learn a new language, cleaning, etc.
During our time of emotional suffering, we may lack feelings of hope, joy, and/or excitement. If we tap into our inner wise mind, we typically know what we need to do to feel better. Accumulating positive events is purposefully planning and engaging in pleasant events, so we can create a life that feels worth living (Linehan, 2015). By adding activities each day we enjoy, we can give ourselves opportunities to experience new situations, environments, and emotions. If you are unsure where to start, you can begin by examining your values (read more here) and what changes you can make to live closer to what is important to you.
If you value relaxation, you can schedule time in your day to rest and unwind. During this time, you can go on a walk, stretch, read, listen to soothing music, etc. You get to plan how long this break is and what you want to do during this time to restore your energy. If you are able to have a longer period of relaxation, you may want to plan a vacation. Relaxing activities and positive events are different for each person, so take some time to figure out what yours are.
Other pleasant events can include: playing with animals, going on an outing, watching a show/movie, dressing up, doing your hair and makeup, playing games, eating at your favorite restaurant, arts and crafts, being in nature, volunteering, etc.
PLEASE is a helpful acronym of various coping skills that help us with regulating our emotions (Linehan, 2015). When we are not taking care of our basic needs, we function from a more physically and emotionally vulnerable place. To give ourselves the best chance at supporting our well-being, consider how you can incorporate these skills in your daily life:
PL: Treat physical illness - Our physical health is directly related to our emotional health. When we are sick, we can be more sensitive, and difficult emotions can be more pronounced. We may need to take medications or visit the doctor when feeling unwell.
E: Eat a balanced diet - Practice eating mindfully by not overeating or undereating. We may need to plan ahead like scheduling a lunch break or cooking beforehand to ensure we are eating regularly.
A: Avoid mood altering substances - Be aware of which substances can impact your mood negatively. For instance, some people can experience an increase of depression/anger when consuming excess alcohol. If you are noticing you are self-medicating with certain substances, it may be helpful to reduce or avoid use and make space to practice healthier forms of coping instead.
S: Sufficient sleep - Having adequate sleep is an important part of maintaining health and having the energy to practice the skills reviewed in today’s blog. Most people benefit from 7-9 hours of sleep depending on what your body’s needs are. You can review sleep hygiene practices to improve your sleep quality by clicking here.
E: Exercise daily - Engaging in 20 minutes of movement a day can help to improve our mood. Exercise can help you feel stronger, more at home in your body, and can relieve stress.
When we are dealing with mental health symptoms, chronic stress, and/or burnout, we need ways to fill our emotional battery. The more we add to our battery, the more of a buffer we have as we deal with life’s challenges and difficult emotions.
The skills reviewed today can be practiced alone or combined. For example, engaging in exercise is part of the PLEASE skill of taking care of a basic need, but it can also be an activity we build mastery in and bring us positive feelings. During times when it is most difficult to practice these skills, it is when we need them the most. Start small and simple, and slowly implement daily goals that contribute to your life.
If you are interested in learning more about how to build your emotional resilience and reduce your emotional vulnerability, you can reach out to us here.
Linehan, M. (2015). DBT Skills Training Manual. The Guilford Press.
Written by Susanna La, Ph.D.
Edited by Elena Duong, Psy.D.