Sometimes when life gets crazy or overwhelming or downright unmanageable, I use a handy little skill I learned from Emily at It’s part of a whole set of DBT skills – if you’ve never heard of DBT, it’s a type of therapy used mainly for treating those with borderline personality disorder, but what they found though, was that if this type of therapy worked in treating BPD (one of the most difficult disorders to treat) then it could work for ANYBODY. The skills taught in DBT therapy are super useful for regular Joes (or Jills) everywhere.

The skill I’ve been using most recently is the ABC skill. ABC stands for:

Accumulate positive experiences/emotions

Build Mastery

Cope Ahead


What this looks like in real life for me is that sometimes I get a little overwhelmed and stressed out and start to feel down about things, so I’ll aim to be intentional about doing and keeping track of things that fit into the above categories. For instance, if I want to accumulate positive experiences/emotions, I’ll look at my schedule and see if I can fit in something fun into my day (or my lunch hour or my evening after work, etc) that will make me feel better – maybe it’s getting that really good salad at the store, or calling my best friend to talk for a few minutes, or stopping by the park after work for a quick walk. All of those things are positives for me and so doing them makes me feel better. I get intentional about making myself feel better.

Building mastery is doing something on a regular basis that makes me feel capable and better about myself, and that I enjoy. Trying a new recipe, working on my hand-lettering, cleaning that clutter pile that has been driving me crazy, or even just solving a minor problem are all examples of building mastery. Taking an exercise class or even a crafting class counts, as does updating your dream vacation board on Pinterest or planning what you’ll put in your garden next summer. It’s about making yourself feel competent, which in turn boosts your self esteem.

The third step is Coping Ahead – if I know a stressful situation is coming up (this could be good stress, like a vacation, or bad stress, like preparing for surgery) then I will stop and think about some things I can do that will make things easier for me or make me feel better about the situation. We just went on a short camping trip over Labor Day weekend and Emily reminded me to cope ahead by having some of my favorite healthy foods on hand for snacks. I also remembered to pack my ear plugs because I find that I sleep better in places that are not my bed if I have them in (also, sometimes my darling husband snores. Loudly). If this were a bad-stress situation, like having to spend time with relatives you don’t particularly care for (Thanksgiving will be here before you know it), you could make sure you have your favorite wine on hand to help you relax a little, you could make sure that you are in charge of playing games with the little kids, you could offer to make a run for ice when it gets low so that you don’t have to spend so much time with Overbearing Aunt Abigail…the point is to think about things you can do to improve the situation so that you can still be your best self.

What are some ways you make yourself feel better when things just don’t seem to be going well? What are some of your favorite ways to Build Mastery? What is your best Coping Ahead strategy? Tell me in the comments!