One of the hardest things about parenting is remembering to take care of yourself. It can often feel like you're putting all your time and energy towards your family and there's just nothing left for yourself at the end of a long day. However, taking care of yourself is vital to taking care of your kids. You won't be able to respond well to their meltdowns, hurt feelings, or bursts of frustration and anger if you're burnt out, hungry, or generally exhausted. Your children will learn how to deal with their feelings by watching how you deal with yours. If your response to their anger is to get angry and yell at them, they will learn to yell at you. If your response to their anger is understanding and helps them solve their problem or accept difficult feelings, they will learn that their feelings are okay, how to express them appropriately, and how to focus on solutions. Sounds simple, right? It is... until your two year old is having a full on meltdown in the middle of grocery store and all you need is to finish your shopping at get home. Or until your teenager is learning to assert their independence in ways that step all over you as a parent.
So, what do you do? You start with the basics - taking care of yourself. In DBT, we refer to the Emotion Regulation skill "ABC PLEASE." DBT has a lot of acronyms. They don't always make sense (as you'll see below), and that can make them hard to remember. For this one, though, the important part is knowing how to take care of yourself and remembering to plan for things that might not go the way you'd want. Here are the basics:
A = Accumulate Positive Emotions
B = Build Mastery
C = Cope Ahead for Difficult Situations
PL = Treat PhysicaL Illness
E = Eat a balanced diet
A = Avoid mood-altering substances
S = Get an appropriate amount of Sleep
E = Exercise appropriately
All right. What does all that mean? We'll take it from the top and work our way down.
Accumulating positive emotions means doing things that make you feel good and enjoy your life, but it also means having regular positive experiences with the important people in your life - especially your child(ren). Taking time every day (or as many days per week as you can manage) to have fun and spend quality time with your child is so important for you both. These times help you understand each other and create positive memories together, in addition to creating a stress-free time for you both each day you practice this.
Building mastery means doing things that makes you feel competent. We all have challenges in our days that can make us feel like we aren't getting it right. Doing the things we know we're good at can help offset the negative impact of the things that don't go our way, especially when we're already having a rough day. Building mastery also involves attempting new, but possible, things to develop skills and build a sense of accomplishment. For example, you might try a new recipe for your lunch one day - something that feels possible to you, and is also an opportunity to try something new.
Coping ahead for difficult situations might mean developing a game plan to manage a situation with your child that you know typically challenges you. Many parents I work with struggle with bedtime for their young children. Creating structure to bedtime that makes sense is extremely important, in addition to having a plan for how you will respond if your child rebels against that structure. One parent I work with chooses a silly children's song before bedtime that she can sing to herself to help her stay calm when her child reacts. Over time, she started singing the song out loud, and then her child joined in. It became a fun part of their bedtime routine to sing together while brushing their teeth, which allowed her child to have some fun during an activity she didn't like, and also greatly decreased the resistance to bedtime.
PLEASE basically means taking care of your physical health. Getting adequate sleep (7-9 hours per night), eating a balanced diet, getting exercise, and tending to any medical needs are the foundations for a good day. Think about your child when they are hungry or tired - they aren't exactly at their best, right? Well, adults aren't always a joy when their physical needs aren't met either. It can be easy to think that missing a meal or skimping on sleep is a standard part of being a parent, but it shouldn't be. You can't be your child's best parent when your needs aren't being met. It can be difficult to figure out how to make things work, but with some planning and creativity, you can do it. For example, pack your own lunch when you're making your child's, or create a bedtime routine for yourself, set a reasonable bedtime, and stick to it.
Okay, so we've talked about the importance of all these things. Now what? How do you actually do them? Well, making a plan to improve one area at a time is a great way to start. I usually recommend improving nutrition and/or sleep to start with, then going from there. If you find yourself at a loss for how to do any of these things, it might be a good idea to see someone to help you figure it out. Just click on the contact link above to learn how to reach me. If you're not in my area, I recommend starting with a website like Psychology Today to find a therapist near you who meets your needs.
The holidays are tough, even in the best of circumstances. The weather has changed. The days are shorter. Stores become madhouses. Traffic gets worse. While many people look forward to a few extra days off work and good food, others dread the social gatherings and feelings of isolation the holidays can bring. There’s something about the holidays that brings up difficult emotions for so many people: anxiety, sadness, grief, or anger. In addition to these emotions, some people are placed in circumstances where they are expected to attend social or family gatherings they may not feel prepared to face. Or perhaps they wish they had gatherings to attend, but have isolated themselves in such a way that those invitations don’t come. They might wish they could enjoy themselves more this time of year; that they could get into decorating or enjoy the things their peers seem to enjoy so much.
What if you had the opportunity to learn new ways to handle the holidays this year? What if you could get practical skills to apply in your day to day life to make this time of year more manageable and even enjoyable? This year, I am offering a group focused towards developing the skills needed to make it through the holidays in the best way possible. Group members will learn DBT skills specific to the circumstances one might face during the holiday season. The goal is to provide practical skills you can use to handle situations that may come your way this season, as well as an opportunity to practice these in a safe setting without fear of handling something in a way that makes it worse. This group provides a great introduction to DBT Skills Training for those who think it may be useful to them. It is geared towards those new to DBT, those in early substance abuse recovery, and those who need additional support through this season. This group begins November 15 at 7:00. It will run 7-8 weeks (the group will determine if it meets the Wednesday before Thanksgiving). For those who are interested in more in depth DBT Skills Training, a 16 week cycle will begin in January, and is a great way to expand on what you've learned in the Holiday Survival Skills Training Group.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy. I remember the first time I heard about DBT. I was entering my second internship in grad school in a program that had a heavy basis in DBT. At the time, this was highly unusual in substance abuse treatment in Nashville. I had done a bit of research prior to starting, but I was still a bit clueless about the theory and process behind it. I sat in on my first group and walked out wondering what on Earth they had been talking about. I talked with my supervisor the next day, who confessed she’d experienced her own blocks with DBT, which made me feel a little better. At the time, it all just felt like Greek to me. It took a while (and truthfully, probably six months of facilitating a DBT group), but I really came to love DBT and the very practical ways it provides skills for improving day to day living for every single person who uses it. Whether you have had struggles with substance abuse, relationships, emotional regulation, anger management, or even if you feel like you’re fairly well-adjusted, DBT has something for you.
I had the privilege of watching the life-changing impact of DBT on the women in the recovery program I worked in for several years. These women learned to apply DBT skills in a way that allowed them to strengthen their recovery and avoid relapse. I have watched individuals who were previously unable to regulate their emotions learn to access their wise mind, problem solve, and find real and productive solutions in their lives. They were happier, more confident, had better relationships, and became the best mothers they could be. It was among the most amazing things I’ve been able to observe.
So, how does DBT do all these wonderful things? Well, it breaks down the exceptionally complex responses we can have to different stressors and teaches us how to respond in more productive ways. For example, one might typically respond to a stressful situation with frustration and anger. Rather than seeing a way to improve the circumstance or respond appropriately, they might react in ways that makes the situation worse and damages relationships. DBT provides practical ways to avoid this outcome. For someone with this type of anger response, learning to walk away and utilize our own physiology to bring our reaction back into a manageable state is key. What’s my favorite way to do this? Well, it depends a bit on the individual and the setting, but splashing cold water on your face, holding onto ice, or dunking your face in ice water can tame the adrenaline rush. This provides an opportunity to problem solve or choose a different reaction, which can lead to a far better outcome.
It can be hard to want to let go of the reactions that we’ve been working with most, if not all, of our lives. We know how to have them. We’re comfortable with them. We generally have an idea what the outcome will be, even if we don’t necessarily like it. It feels predictable and routine, and as any young child can tell you, a routine with negative outcomes is better than no routine at all. There comes a point, though, when we realize that the negative impact of this routine outweighs the comfort of having it. Perhaps you lose a relationship you really valued. Perhaps you lose a job. Maybe it’s even bigger. Maybe you lose your housing or your family or your child. It takes so much courage to try to change things we feel are ingrained within us, but we can change. It takes hard work and commitment and willingness. It takes knowing that you won’t always get it right, and being willing to keep trying anyway.
Does DBT sound like a good choice for you? Do you want to know more? There are a variety of ways you can engage with DBT. I am always happy to speak with those interested and discuss options. Feel free to send me an email or give me a call for more information.