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Using PLEASE Skills to Support Your Sobriety

One of the toughest parts of sobriety is navigating the emotions that come with it. You may find that you are all over the place emotionally, ready to snap over the smallest things.

Between the insatiable cravings, trying to avoid alcohol while everyone carries on drinking, and all those feelings you’d rather not feel – it’s a lot.

Sometimes, it’s too much. And that’s when people give up or get caught in the quit, drink, relapse cycle.

I don’t have a magic pill or skill that can remove those obstacles from your sobriety journey. What I can offer you are tips to beat the odds and ensure you’re set up for success.

One such skill is often taught in therapy. It’s called PLEASE.

A woman faces a serene landscape with her back facing the camera
PLEASE DBT skills for sobriety

Understanding Emotional Volatility in Sobriety

When you decide to quit drinking, there are emotional highs and lows that will test you along the way. One of the biggest challenges you will face is emotional regulation—the ability to manage and respond to your feelings in a healthy manner.

In the past, you might have used alcohol to shield yourself from uncomfortable emotions, like stress, sadness, or anxiety. 

But in sobriety, we can’t do that. 

Unfortunately, early sobriety is often a time when we feel emotions even more intensely. That’s partly because we no longer have alcohol there to dampen them. 

But the other part has to do with what drinking does to our brains

Alcohol affects the brain’s neurotransmitters, which regulate mood, leading to altered chemical balances. Once you stop drinking, your brain takes time to adjust back to its normal state, making you temporarily more sensitive to emotional stimuli.

Without the buffer of alcohol, you might find it harder to cope with these feelings, leading to moments where the urge to drink feels like the only relief. 

It’s important to recognize this because emotional vulnerability can significantly increase the risk of relapse. 

Maybe you’ve already been on the merry-go-round of quitting alcohol, getting overwhelmed, caving to the drink, feeling disappointed, starting again, repeat. 

This is where coping skills become essential to breaking that cycle. 

Related: Urge Surfing: How To Deal With Urges To Drink In Sobriety

Using PLEASE Skills to Tackle Emotional Vulnerability

PLEASE is an acronym used in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). It’s a skill you can utilize to reduce emotional vulnerability and mood swings, which is particularly helpful when you’re trying to quit drinking. 

Nothing on this list is going to shock you. They are all the things doctors and counselors will tell you to do to manage pretty much anything. 

But they’re worth calling out. 

If you can focus on these aspects of your life, you will set yourself up for the greatest chance of sustained sobriety and healing. 

Here’s a breakdown of each component:

Physical ILlness (Treat): 

Staying on top of your physical health is so important in sobriety. If you’re sick or feeling off, get it checked out and treated.

Ignoring physical health can increase stress and discomfort, which can, in turn, trigger emotional distress or a relapse.

Make regular check-ups a priority and address even minor ailments promptly. When you feel good, you can make better choices. 

(And yes, the acronym is goofy, but let’s just roll with it.)

Eating (Balanced eating): 

In the early parts of sobriety, it’s normal to substitute alcohol with sugar and junk food. But at some point, you’ll want to place some of your focus back on eating well. 

That’s because nutrition plays a significant role in your emotional and physical health. We do what we must to get through those first few weeks when we’re on a knife’s edge, but long-term, eating a bunch of junk will make sustained sobriety harder. 

close up of two women eating ramen
PLEASE and Balancing Eating

Eating balanced meals at regular intervals helps stabilize your mood and energy levels. Here’s how it works:

  • Blood Sugar Levels: Foods affect your blood sugar, which is the amount of glucose in your blood. Eating regular, balanced meals helps keep your blood sugar stable. When it’s stable, your energy levels and mood are more even. If you eat lots of sugary foods or skip meals, your blood sugar can spike and then crash, making you feel irritable, tired, and moody.
  • Brain Chemistry: Certain nutrients from food, like omega-3 fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, play direct roles in brain health. For example, omega-3s (found in fish like salmon) can help regulate your mood. Amino acids (found in protein sources like chicken or beans) are used by your brain to produce neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that can influence how happy or anxious you feel.
  • Gut Health: There’s a lot of talk about the gut-brain connection these days. Your gut is filled with bacteria that help digest food, but they also produce substances that can affect your brain and mood. Eating a diet rich in fiber, fruits, and vegetables supports a healthy gut, which can help you feel emotionally balanced. Alcohol is harmful to our gut, so chances are yours is in need of some TLC. 

Related: How To Clean Up Your Diet Now That You’re sober

Altering Drugs (Avoid mood-altering drugs): 

While in recovery, it’s important to avoid other substances that alter your mood, which can make maintaining sobriety more difficult. 

This includes not just illegal drugs, but also prescription drugs when used non-medically. Obviously this does not include any type of drugs you are prescribed for mental health and mood stability. Please take those as directed. 

I see a lot of people try to replace alcohol with weed, CBD, or other “calming” drinks and are often left wanting and frustrated which eventually leads them back to their drug of choice – alcohol. 

If you attempt to find a substance that mimics the effects of alcohol without any of the consequences (such products don’t really exist by the way), you are setting yourself up for a relapse

Sleep (Balanced sleep): 

You gotta get enough sleep. Too little sleep can make you irritable and stressed, while too much sleep can enhance depression. 

Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night to help regulate mood, improve cognitive function, and decrease the likelihood of relapse.

This can be tough, too, because insomnia can be common in sobriety. But there are things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep. And of course, you should speak with your doctor if your insomnia persists. 

Related: 10 Tips for Improved Sleep Hygiene in Sobriety

a man sleeps peacefully
PLEASE and Sleep

Exercise (Get adequate exercise): 

I severely underestimated the true power of exercise for a long time. If you regularly read articles from Soberish, you’ll know that I often stress getting out there to move your body. 

It doesn’t mean you have to “go hard” in the gym or sign up for a boot camp class. It can be as simple and low impact as walking or riding a bike for thirty minutes. 

Regular physical activity is a powerful stress reducer. It helps manage anxiety and depression, boosts mood, and enhances overall well-being. 

Remember, you don’t need intense workouts. Moderate activities like walking or yoga can significantly benefit your emotional balance and sobriety.

Move in a way that feels good to you. If it’s pilates, do that. If lifting weights helps you feel good, do that. An evening stroll around the neighborhood after dinner? Great! It’s about what helps you feel better.  

You’re not training for anything (unless you want to). 

Once you make exercise a habit, you’ll notice a stark difference in your energy and mood levels compared to when you’re sedentary. 

A woman does a squat by the sea
PLEASE and Exercise

Why PLEASE Works

I’ve often said that successful, long-term sobriety is rooted in the consistent application of many smaller strategies. 

Read: How I Maintain Sobriety Every Single Day 

If you’re new to sobriety or have been struggling with it, you might look at skills and strategies like PLEASE and be skeptical. 

Surely there’s more to it than this. 

You’re right. There is. 

PLEASE is not what makes sobriety work. But it is how you create the conditions in your life to make it possible. 

When applying PLEASE skills every day, you are ensuring your basic physiological needs are met.

This foundation is critical because physical discomfort and imbalances can exacerbate emotional distress, which makes it harder to cope with stressors or triggers, particularly in recovery from substance use.

If you’re sick, hungry, or sleep deprived, your ability to make good choices in the face of external pressures in triggers is greatly diminished. 

Think of PLEASE as the optimal foundational state you need to be in to utilize all of the other strategies we discuss to stay alcohol-free long-term. 

If you want to dive into more resources, please visit the Sobriety Roadmap and Resource Center. You’ll find everything you need there. 

Getting Help

It’s all good and well to read about strategies and do your research. You have agency, after all. You can take ownership over your sobriety and health. 

But you do not have to cobble together a full recovery plan on your own. It makes things much harder than they need to be and the success rate is low. 

That’s why getting help is also important. 

There are many in-person and online support systems available to you these days. Please reach out to at least one of them. 

Whether you try meetings or one-to-one counseling, working with someone who understands alcohol abuse and dependency can be an absolute game changer. 

And honestly, it’s usually not just about the alcohol, right? 

There’s other stuff going on, too. Things we tried to drink to escape. 

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. 

After years of refusing to go, I finally showed up for counseling and it made a massive difference. By show up, I don’t mean just physically attending my sessions (virtually in my case), but actually hopping online with my counselor ready to talk openly and honestly and do the work. 

That involved giving up control and letting myself be guided by someone whose expertise I had to trust. 

If you’re ready for that step, sign up with a counselor in your area online via a service like BetterHelp (which is who I used). 

If you decide to try BetterHelp, use the code SOBERISH for 10% off your first month. 

If you’re struggling right now, feel stuck, or don’t know what to do next, talk therapy can help. Getting started with BetterHelp is easy!

  • Answer a few questions.
  • Get matched with a licensed therapist.
  • Schedule your sessions.

Get 10% off your first month with code SOBERISH.

Soberish is proudly sponsored by BetterHelp.

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