ABC Skill: Cope Ahead of Stressful Situations in 5 Steps

Cope Ahead: The Power of Planning How to Cope in Advance - Bay Area DBT &  Couples Counseling Center

Now that we have completed A: Accumulated Positive Emotions & B: Built Mastery, it’s time to C: Cope Ahead!

Are you anticipating that there could be an issue in the foreseeable future that is causing you anxiety before it has even happened? Do you want to feel more prepared and ready to tackle this challenge?

Learn how to cope ahead of your problems in 5 easy steps!

  1. Describe the situation that may become problematic. What are the facts of the situation? Stay objective in this thinking. What emotions and actions are going to get in the way of using coping skills? Identify those emotions and actions. For example, if you get angry and overwhelmed, you may not be able to use deep breathing techniques.
  2. Decide what coping skills you want to use and the details of these skills. For example, the specific deep breathing technique of “box breathing” will be used for 2 minutes. This is where you can breathe in 4 seconds, hold 4 seconds, breathe out 4 seconds, hold 4 seconds.
  3. Imagine what the situation will be that you need to cope with. Paint a detailed picture in your mind of what you could be dealing with. Use your 5 senses to imagine what it could be like. Pretend and visualize that you are experiencing this situation in the present moment.
  4. Rehearse how you will use your coping skills in your mind in detail. How will you act, think, and say? What can you do to cope if new problems arise in the situation. What is the worst case scenario and how can you cope with that?
  5. Relax after rehearsing. What do you do for self-care? Check out my self-care post for some ideas. Can you practice mindfulness techniques and distraction from distressing emotions? My previous grounding techniques post offers some suggestions on how to focus on the present moment to bring relaxation.

Now you are ready to face any difficult situation face on. You’ve imagined the worst case scenario and how you would cope with it. Now the foreseeable event doesn’t seem so daunting!

What are some situations that you would like to cope ahead with? Comment below!

ABC Skill: Build Mastery

Build Mastery — Nina Barlevy, Psy.D.

Building Mastery is our “B” in the ABC Skill. This step happens after we have accumulated our positive emotions and before we cope ahead. Once we have worked on some projects and figured out what we like to do, we can start to become more skilled in it to build confidence and increase our self-esteem.

  1. Pick one thing to do everyday that will help you to feel accomplished. This could be cooking one meal, doing a hobby for 30 minutes, cleaning for 10 minutes, walking for 15 minutes, etc. Set a small but achievable goal that you can definitely fit into your schedule.

2. Do not set yourself up for not accomplishing your goal. Do something that is reasonable. You aren’t going to be the master of your hobbies in one day! I love to knit and I know that my projects are never going to come out perfect. I usually drop at least 3 stitches on the way to finishing a scarf but I know that it is made with a lot of love!

3. Starting with an easy task, increase the difficulty slowly until you feel like you are beginning to master the task. Add some challenge to feel that sense of accomplishment.

For more information on how to set small and achievable goals, check out my SMART Goals post!

The Surprise of Building Mastery. And actually recognizing it when it… | by  Ashley L. Peterson | Ascent Publication

ABC Skill: Accumulate Positive Emotions

Positive Emotions Heal!" by Peter Hampton, Ph.D.

In a past post, we learned about the difference between the emotional, rational, and wise minds. The emotional mind can overwhelm our thoughts and decision making. This can make it more difficult to align our actions with our values. Our rational minds can lead us to become more robotic with our thinking and lead to us stuffing down our emotions. To create a wise mind, the intersection between emotions and rationality, we can use the ABC skill! Let’s start with the “A”!

A – Accumulate Positive Emotions

This skill is about engaging in healthy activities that make you feel happy. Personally, I love to knit. The clacking of the needles and repetition of knitting make me feel calm and in the present moment. I try not to focus on the finished product and rather the calming feeling I have while just knitting and relaxing on my couch.

Knitting is therapeutic!

Now, give it a try and give your full attention to these pleasant activities to build positive emotions in the present moment. Do not focus on when the activity could end and if you are doing it perfectly. Create the possibility that positive events will happen in the future. Practice the Opposite to Emotion Action skill to work against what is holding you back like anxious thoughts while you are engaging in these enjoyable activities. For example, you may feel anxious that your project isn’t coming out perfectly so practicing the opposite of anxiety would be to distract yourself from those thoughts by putting your full focus on the project.

Here are some examples of Pleasant Activities to try daily (10 out of 225 examples from the DBT Skills Training book):

  1. Listening to Music
  2. Laughing
  3. Reading magazines
  4. Having a quiet evening
  5. Painting
  6. Practicing religion
  7. Going on a walk
  8. Being spontaneous
  9. Doing a craft
  10. Playing a sport

Now let’s consider the long-term and stop avoiding what we can do to create a fulfilling life. Discover what values are most important to you and find one value that you would like to improve now.

What are some goals that you can set to improve that value and pick one goal to work on?

3 Steps to Finding Your Org's Core Values - The Association

What are some small action steps to use to work towards that goal and pick one to take now?

For more ideas on how to set goals, check out this blog post on SMART goals.

Fair Fighting Rules for Couples

Fair Fighting Rules for Couples to Save Relationship | Fair fighting rules, Fighting  fair, Save relationship

Disagreements are always going to happen within couples. Sometimes if feels like we really need a referee to get us through some conflicts! It’s important to work through these situations in a healthy way to make sure each person is heard and understood. Here are some Fair Fighting guidelines you can use to make sure that the next argument ends up in resolutions.

  1. Identify why you are feeling upset and what emotions you are having.
  2. Pick one topic to discuss instead of bringing up different ones at the same time.
  3. Focus more on the present moment instead of bringing things up from the past.
  4. Do not call each other names or be degrading. Also, keeping your voices at a calm and low tone. No yelling!
  5. Use words to express yourself and focus on “I-statements” where you are taking responsibility for your own feelings and actions.
  6. Don’t overgeneralize such as “You ALWAYS do this”, “You NEVER do this”.
  7. Take turns speaking. If this is difficult, use a timer or pass an object to take turns. This has been something that has worked in couples sessions for me!
  8. Don’t refuse to speak which is called “stonewalling”. Essentially putting up a wall between you and your partner.
  9. Take a time-out BUT have a time limit when you can come back and continue the discussion.
  10. Come to an agreement or compromise in the end or at least see the other person’s perspective.

What rules do you make to get through arguments with your partner in a healthy way? Comment below!

Check out my post on the THINK skill for more tips on maintaining a healthy relationship!

Using your Body to Accept Reality

The body and mind are connected and influence each other which can effect your feelings and emotions. Think of a time when you are stressed at work and start to get a headache or muscle aches. This may make you feel more stressed and out of control because it interferes with your work performance or even completing tasks. In turn, there is a cycle of mental and physical symptoms that are effecting each other and could lead to worse health outcomes. Use your body to signal to your mind that all is well. Take back control of your body and mind by trying 2 new skills this week.


Half-smile Benefits to Reduce Emotional Distress - North Memorial Health

You are going to signal to your mind that all is well by relaxing every muscle in your face and letting the corners of your mouth slightly rise in a peaceful expression. It will be so subtle that you will feel it but others may not notice.

Willing Hands

Sensory Body Awareness Skills to Reduce Distress Through DBT | Skyland Trail

Relax your hands and arms. Keep them straight out or with elbows bent. Put your palms upwards and thumbs to your sides. If you are sitting, put your hands down on your lap or legs. If you are lying down, you can put your arms to your sides.

How to Practice Half-Smiling & Willing Hands

Try this first thing in the morning with deep breaths.

Listen to music or enjoy nature

Try it when you are angry or irritated

Experiment with this skill either sitting down, standing up, or lying down

Use this skill while thinking about a person you are in a conflict with to practice feeling compassion and letting go of anger and resentment

When can you use half-smiling and willing hands this week? Comment below!

Using Imagery to Find Peace and Reduce Stress

Have you ever been stressed out and imagined yourself relaxing on an empty beach in the warm sun with no cares in the world? Maybe it’s an all-inclusive resort with all food and activities included! Now I’m getting ahead of myself…

Using imagery is an easy way to think of a person, place, or time that brings you peace, happiness, and joy. This can be an imagined future scenario or something in the past. It’s important to use all of your senses to visualize what will help to deescalate difficult emotions in the moment. This is a perfect tool for your coping skills tool kit to use anytime you are feeling stressed be it work, home, or out and about.

Once you think of that peaceful and safe place, situation, or person, really get into the details of it through your 5 senses. What the temperature there? What can you smell or taste? What kind of sounds would you hear? How do you feel in that moment?

A skill I like to use with imagery or visualization is imagining all of your stressors and stressful thoughts being put into a box, taped up, and put on the shelf. This isn’t ignoring your problems, but giving yourself a break until you feel calm enough to attend to those issues. I’ll go more into how to use visualization for difficult thoughts in future blog posts!

Improve your Relationships with THINK

Interpersonal skills are part of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and a great way to work on improving relationships, developing healthy communication, and ending conflicts and arguments. The THINK skill breaks this down and can be used during difficult situations in relationships with co-workers, friends, family, and acquaintances.

T – Think: Take a step back from the situation that you are in. Visualize the situation on a television screen and take an objective stance on it. Don’t bring emotions into this step!

H – Have Empathy: Think about the other person and put yourselves in their shoes. What are they thinking, feelings, need, or want? What is their perspective on the situation?

2 Steps to Tap into the Power of Empathy | SEI

I – Interpretation: What are the reasons for the person’s behavior? Start with unrealistic interpretations and move to more realistic ones. Even be silly with it until you can get to the more realistic reason. Maybe they aren’t answering your calls because they were abducted by aliens! Or maybe a more realistic reason is because they are in a business meeting.

N – Notice: Keep an eye on body language, facial expressions, and whether the person is trying to stop or continue the conflict. Is the person showing that they care and are trying to make things better?

K – Kindness: Be kind and direct. It is okay to take a break from the conversation and continue later when everyone is calmer.

Try this skill on the following scenario: Your friend does not text you back for days. Your reaction may be anger or disappointment. Take a step back from the situation and put yourself in your friend’s shoes. Are they struggling with something lately? What is a realistic reason that they are not returning your texts? Notice how they have been acting recently and interpret this in a kind way when confronting the situation. Using this skill on a scenario like this will help you to improve your relationship with your friend and increase your use of empathy and understanding.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a great tool for reducing tension in your body and mind. By tensing and relaxing muscles, you are signaling to your brain feelings of relaxation. You can focus on the present moment and work on body awareness. This can be done by following a script or watching a video to start and then it can come more naturally. This is a skill that can be done at home or even at work if you are feeling tension.

Warning: Do not overextend yourself or do anything that could cause pain. Do this skill with caution if you have preexisting physical health conditions. Consult your doctor if you have concerns.

Here is a visual to help you get started:

Here is a PMR script to follow:

  • hands (make fists)
  • arms (make fists and tense your forearms, biceps and triceps)
  • shoulders (raise shoulders up as high as possible)
  • forehead (wrinkle your forehead, lowering eyebrows)
  • eyelids (shut them tightly)
  • face (scrunch up nose and raise lips and cheeks)
  • tongue and mouth (distort muscles around mouth, push tongue against roof of mouth)
  • neck (push chin down toward chest)
  • chest (take deep breath and hold it)
  • back (arch your back)
  • stomach (tense abdominal muscles)
  • buttocks/glutes (squeeze together)
  • thighs (tense quads and hamstrings)
  • calves (point toes downward)
  • ankles and feet (curl toes, heels out)

Here is one of my favorite and go-to PMR videos!

Finding Meaning in Suffering

Life can be hard and have difficult moments. Our perspective on a situation can change the way we feel about it and ourselves. Do we want to have shorter pain or longer suffering? This depends partly on how we view and react to a situation. Can we use the lemons life gave us to make lemonade? This is an interesting concept that can help you change your perspective to change your emotional state.

We are not denying that things are hard. We validate our experiences as challenging. We are simply trying to make it easier on ourselves. Tell yourself that you are doing your best and look for what hope you can grab onto.

Here is an exercise we worked on in my group:

It’s Opposite Day!

When we feel emotions like anger, anxiety, and sadness, our instincts will tell us to act a certain way. For example, when you are feeling depressed you may want to isolate yourself and be alone (different than me-time which is enjoying healthy time alone). It may be tempting to stay in bed and sleep the day away. Opposite to Emotion Action is a skill used to fight against those initial responses that are actually damaging.

First, recognize the emotion that you are feeling. Try using this emotion wheel to identify specifically how you are feeling in the moment.

Next, identify the action urge or your initial idea for how you want to react to the emotion. For example, if you are angry you may want to yell or punch something at first. Your instinct could be “fight or flight”.

Reflect on if the action urge matches the FACTS of the situation. Will the action actually help the situation or make it worse?

If the action urge does NOT fit the fact, do the opposite action until your emotions change.

Here are some examples of Opposite to Emotion Action that we completed in group:

How do you “act the opposite” when faced with difficult emotions? Comment below!