The end of the academic year is rife with a variety of stressors. Students are often studying furiously for finals, wrapping up coursework, setting up internships for summer (and fall), trying to figure out their living situations for the next year, or even confronting life after college. Beyond the stress that is specific to college, students are also coping with national and global events while trying to maintain healthy relationships. During times of stress, with so many plates spinning, it is easy to get burned out or feel overwhelmed by emotions.
Although it is tempting to reach for quick fixes such as drugs and alcohol or to slide down a YouTube rabbit hole to block out feelings for a while, these attempts at coping, especially when we are crunched for time, often end up making us feel worse and add to our list of challenges. Whether it be a hangover, behavior we regret, or several hours lost to TikTok that could have been spent finishing that final paper, there is often a hidden cost to “quick fix” coping that leaves us feeling even more stressed.
This article aims to offer a few simple, evidence-based, and effective ways to manage stress that will truly make you feel better. These strategies can be remembered using the acronym, ABC PLEASE.
Accumulating Positive Experiences
If we are intentional, we can infuse small moments of enjoyment or pleasure into even the most demanding day. Have a homework assignment to finish? Why not grab a friend or find a nice spot outdoors. Have a load of laundry to do? Pop on an audiobook or album while you work. It is true that all work and no play makes for a very dull life indeed, and adding in small positive moments throughout your day can really add up. These experiences don’t have to be grandiose, it could be as simple as putting on a pair of cozy socks while you study or having a cup of your favorite tea. The key is to add in enjoyment and to experience it mindfully. Think about the sum of your experiences as an emotional battery. If you aren’t accumulating enough positive experiences, your emotional battery will get low or you could experience burn out. Seeking out positive experiences with purposeful awareness, although seemingly simple, will increase your resilience during challenging times by ensuring that you have enough charge in your emotional battery.
When we are new at something or learning novel skills, it can be easy to focus on our deficits. For this reason, it can be helpful to engage in activities that help us feel a sense of competence or mastery. For example, if you played basketball in high school, scheduling a pick-up game with your friends could help you tap into that skill set. If you’re crafty, taking breaks to knit or draw could help you feel a tangible sense of accomplishment. Experiences that are characterized by self-efficacy and self-control can help you feel more confident and competent in the face of other challenges.
Are you dreading an upcoming difficult situation? Maybe you have a final that you’re worried about, or a job interview that has you waking up in the middle of the night. Rather than avoiding thoughts or feelings about these events, try preparing for them instead with imagined rehearsal. Imagine what it will feel like in the situation. How could you soothe yourself? What might you need to remember in that moment to do your best? Coping ahead is like having a practice round in our minds. It can help us feel better prepared and less anxious when the real-life situation occurs.
PLEASE skills are aimed at building a resilient biology. In other words, these skills help you take care of your body so it can manage stress more effectively and make you less vulnerable to extreme emotions. The skills are:
- Take care of PhysicaL Illness
- Balance Eating
- Avoid Mood-Altering Substances
- Balance Sleep
- Get Exercise
Everybody is different, so the specifics of these skills will look different for each person. The main point is that an out-of-balance body contributes to an out-of-balance mind, and taking care of our bodies is one of the best things we can do to fortify our mental wellness.
In sum, ABC PLEASE skills are useful both in times of high stress and in times of low stress by helping us become more resilient over time. And remember, if you find you need more support, Counseling Services is here to help you.
Reference: Linehan, M.M. (2014). DBT Skills Training Manual, Second Edition. Guilford Publications.