This time of year we are at a precipice of the cold spring air shifting to the warmer tones of summer. In Utah, we live for extremes in terms of weather. Cold in the winters with “the most amazing snow on Earth” and then blistering heat in the summers with the hot, dry, desert air. But while we exist in the throws of the weather around us, there are often storms that rage within each of us. Emotional regulation is a mastery skill that is often difficult for anyone trying to drive down the interstate at 5pm. Keeping cool in an intense situation is a learned skill that is based in intention. In treatment, we use the skills of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy to help us learn how to cope with conflict and stress to gain more awareness of our emotions when they are at their peak. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy was originally developed to help those with Borderline Personality Disorder, but the skills here are very applicable to those with substance abuse problems, addictions and other acute mental health concerns.

Learn how to identify and label the emotion

We discussed the theory of “name it to tame it” in our blog about hitting rock bottom. This skills of learning to correctly identify and label our emotions is tied closely to the “name it to tame it” philosophy. The key with this skill is learning to be honest with yourself and removing other distractions that may confuse emotions. By isolating yourself from outside forces, finding you truth in what you are experiencing can help you properly identify your emotions.

Withheld feelings get manifested through several types of bodily and psychological symptoms. For example, free floating anxiety could be caused by uncertainty or due to anticipation of a negative outcome. Worrier type people are always insecure and worry about bad things happening to them. Their self talk is always, “what If?” type and this gives rise to anxiety. Feelings carry a charge of energy but often times we try to hold in that energy and do not express our feelings. Consequently we feel tension and vague anxiety. Likewise we can hold in enthusiasm and excitement and this can also make you anxious. Sometimes when we hang on to our feelings of sadness for a long time without venting it, we get depressed. When we vent our feelings by crying and talking about it, we feel relieved. It has been found that if we hold on to anger too long without expressing it, it can cause depression. We also feel psychosomatic symptoms when we suppress our feelings for a long time. Symptoms such as headaches, ulcers, blood pressure, asthma, cardiac problems could be due to withheld feelings too. When you learn to identify your feelings, you can reduce the symptoms of psychosomatic illnesses.
Cognitive Healing : Learn how to identify and express your feelings

Learn how to reduce emotional vulnerability

When we are learning how to reduce our vulnerability, there is an acronym that best describes each step that we can take: PLEASE.

The “PL” stands for Physical Illness. This means that we take care of our physical bodies by addressing our needs for medication as prescribed by a medical or psychiatric professional. Often taking this step can be difficult when denial is present. Perhaps taking medication seems not to work or other side effects may present themselves. It is imperative that taking medication be discussed with a professional especially when you are thinking about stopping the medication. Some prescriptions need to be reduced gradually to prevent discomfort.

The second part of the PLEASE acronym is Eating. When we feed our bodies correctly and balance our diet to include healthy meals, we are giving our brain the right nutrition that it needs for energy and efficiency. Neglecting this aspect of our bodies can directly effect our emotions. I’m sure we’ve all seen the “Snickers” commercials of famous actors embodying the inner diva. Each “hangry” person that has gone too long without nourishment and slowly losing their cool is an exaggerated example, the reality is that when our bodies are not being fed with a healthy diet, it does effect our emotions.  The other side of this, over-eating, can also contribute to our mood. It is important to focus on health and balance in our diet.

The “A” in PLEASE stands for avoid. There are specific substances that we need to avoid when treating mental health issues, balancing the chemicals in our body. Elicit drugs, alcohol and other substances that could negatively impact our bodies should be avoided. For those with dependencies or addiction problems, finding professional help with this area can benefit their long term ability to regulate emotions.

Sleep. One of the most glorious things that we can do for our body and mind is sleep. When mental health, emotions, and conflicts arise, it can negatively affect our sleeping habits. When we start to acknowlege these interruptions, correct our eating, take the correctly prescribed medications or follow the directions from treatment, the sleep cycles in our brains have the opportunity to right themselves and get back on track. Sleeping greatly benefits our cognitive function so that our brains can cope with the day to day stress we encounter.

Finally, “E” stands for exercise. Mind and body are one. When we take care of our physical body, our mind follows. All of the body’s systems are connected. Healthy, active stimulation to our muscle groups helps to engage our cardiovascular system, reduce the risk of health problems like heart disease and increase the over all normal functions of our bodies. We can eat right and sleep right but without exercise, the body won’t have everything it needs.

Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function.2 Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal.3 Exercise is especially important in patients with schizophrenia since these patients are already vulnerable to obesity and also because of the additional risk of weight gain associated with antipsychotic treatment, especially with the atypical antipsychotics. Patients suffering from schizophrenia who participated in a 3-month physical conditioning program showed improvements in weight control and reported increased fitness levels, exercise tolerance, reduced blood pressure levels, increased perceived energy levels, and increased upper body and hand grip strength levels.5 Thirty minutes of exercise of moderate intensity, such as brisk walking for 3 days a week, is sufficient for these health benefits. Moreover, these 30 minutes need not to be continuous; three 10-minute walks are believed to be as equally useful as one 30-minute walk.
NCBI National Library of Medicine : Exercise for Mental Health

Not only does exercise benefit those with mental health concerns but it has also been proven to help with sleep, interest in sex, endurance, reduce stress, improve mood, regulate digestion and increase mental alertness.

Positively Opposite

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy also teaches how to decrease motional suffering and increase positive emotions. By being more aware of positive emotions, it can distract from the severity of the situation. Another skill that is taught involves changing the emotion by acting in the opposite manner of what the emotions you are feeling are trying to get you to do. So if you are angry, and you want to express that anger, this skill would encourage enough self awareness to acknowlege that emotion and try to act peacefully.

Self mastery is difficult for everyone in one aspect or another. Having enough consciousness of mind to improve emotional regulation can be the biggest challenge that one may face. By being honest about emotions as you experience them, one can learn these skills and greatly improve negative experiences. Treatment doesn’t just correct negative behaviors, it also gives you the ability to own situations and overcome obstacles. By gaining the personal knowledge of how your brain works in tandem with health; one can begin to know themselves well enough to avoid negative interactions, avoid old habits and improve interpersonal relationships. Helping those that you love in treatment understand how you feel can greatly benefit life after treatment.

Outpatient and aftercare programs help to emphasize and reinforce the skills that are taught in the treatment programs. There are many resources for graduates to help navigate though situations that may be confusing. With the added support of others that have similar experiences and well trained professional staff, each graduate has the opportunity to engage in meaningful learning experiences and figure out new situations safely.