Would you deny a child food for a day or feed them whatever they wanted all day long? What about letting them stay up all night watching TV or playing video games? If they had a bad day would you give them alcohol or extra sleeping pills to help them feel better?
Many people struggling with anxiety and depression routinely care for themselves in this exact manner.
Just as a child whose basic needs aren’t met “melts down” emotionally, when adults don’t take care of these same needs, it makes managing their emotions much more difficult.
Dr. Marsha Linehan has done extension research on the skills necessary to effectively manage emotions. She identified five essential tasks that must be completed every day to effectively manage our emotions. These tasks can easily be remembered using Linehan’s acrostic, P.L.E.A.S.E.
PL – Treat Physical ILlness
When we are physically ill, we are more susceptible to negative emotions. It’s important to seek medical treatment when we are ill and to take the medication we are prescribed exactly the way it is prescribed.
People struggling with depression or anxiety tend to feel like they “shouldn’t need medication” and become inconsistent in taking their medication as a result. Medications which treat anxiety and depression only work effectively if taken consistently as prescribed.
When other conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, or thyroid issues are not treated, it also makes depression and anxiety more difficult to manage.
E – Balanced Eating
Anxiety and depression often affect our appetite—some people feel ravenously hungry while others have no appetite at all. Giving in and following these impulses makes it much more difficult to manage emotions.
We feel physically better when we eat a healthy balance of fruits, vegetables, protein, dairy, and grains while limiting excess fat and sugar. Whether you are hungry all the time or never hungry, eating six small meals over the course of a day instead of three larger meals may make eating healthy more manageable. The key is to find what works for you and then to do this regardless of how you feel in the moment. Healthy eating makes emotions more manageable.
A – Avoid Mood-Altering Drugs
An energy drink in the afternoon or a few beers after work may be a tempting way to help you deal with symptoms of anxiety or depression. However, these substances—along with taking over-the counter medications or medications not prescribed for you—will only make it more difficult to manage your emotions.
People routinely resort to caffeine when they are struggling with low energy but forget that caffeine has a seven-hour half-life. This means seven hours after your last cup of coffee, half of the caffeine from it is still in your system. Having a late afternoon energy drink may seem like the perfect way to get through putting the kids to bed but will probably make it much more difficult to get the very sleep you need to have better energy in the long run.
S – Balanced Sleep
The average American is chronically sleep deprived. This can be even worse among those struggling with anxiety and depression as both illnesses radically affect the ability to get to sleep and stay asleep.
The average adult needs 8.25 hours of sleep every night. Being deprived of even one hour of sleep makes our brain behave the same as though legally intoxicated with alcohol.
To get better sleep, set a consistent time to go to bed every night and a consistent time to get up. Make sure you include time to wind down before going to sleep. Establishing these healthy sleep habits, will make you less irritable and prone to emotional outbursts.
E – Exercise Regularly
Researchers at John Hopkins have proven exercise is effective in decreasing the symptoms of both anxiety and depression. Exercise will help you to feel less anxious, have more energy, sleep better, and feel less depressed. The key is to engage in at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise every day. If you haven’t exercised recently, walking, running, swimming or biking for 30 minutes may seem totally unattainable.
Don’t start with the unattainable! Instead, start by checking with your doctor if you have any health concerns. Then, simply get more active. Walk around the block or up and down all the aisles in your favorite grocery store and gradually build up to 30 minutes.
The P.L.E.A.S.E. skills are practical steps you can focus on every day to reduce the volatility of your emotions and make it as easier to manage depression and anxiety!
Jean Holthaus, LMSW, LISW has been providing outpatient therapy services since 1995 when she earned her Masters of Social Work degree from the University of Iowa. She has worked for Pine Rest since 1997. She currently serves as manager of the Telehealth Clinic and the Hastings Clinic and is also a Pine Rest Outpatient Regional Director.