What are the DBT “ABC PLEASE” Skills?

The DBT ABC PLEASE skills are skills you can use to help you manage your emotions. These skills work by decreasing your vulnerability to intense emotions and building your emotional fortitude. ABC stands for accumulating positive experiences, both short term and long term, building mastery as a way to improve your self-esteem and confidence, and coping ahead for future challenges. The PLEASE skills focus on taking care of your body, which in turn makes managing your emotions easier.

The ABC PLEASE skills are skills that are part of DBT, or Dialectical Behavior Therapy, which was developed by Marsha Linehan. DBT was originally developed to help treat individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and those experiencing suicidal thoughts or engaging in self-harm. Research on DBT over time has shown that DBT is helpful in treating a wide range of mental health concerns, including depression, trauma, problematic eating, anxiety, and difficulties regulating thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

When to Use ABC PLEASE

ABC PLEASE skills are used preemptively, as a way to decrease the intensity of future emotions. Think of these skills like stretches and warm-ups you’d do before going on a run or working out. While you might not see the benefit of stretching right away, you feel less sore after you run and your overall chance of getting injured while working out decreases. Plus, cooling down and stretching again after you run helps your body recover quicker, preparing you for the next time you workout. 

You can think of ABC PLEASE skills the same way. You’ll use these skills before you feel strong emotions, as a way to mitigate how much they impact you. You’ll also use these skills after you feel strong emotions, as a way to help your mind recover quicker, preparing you for the next stressful situation that comes your way.


ABC PLEASE is an acronym that helps you focus on incorporating more enjoyable experiences into your day to day, learn something new and form new skills, prepare for future situations that you’re worried about, and take care of your physical health.

1. (A)ccumulate Positives

When you participate in things you enjoy, your mood improves. However, the constant tasks and responsibilities you face day to day can often get in the way, slowly taking up more and more space. When you’re stressed or overwhelmed, it can make a lot of sense to put your time and energy into problem-solving or checking things off your to do list. But sometimes the things you feel you have to do crowd out the things you enjoy doing, and that increases the likelihood of experiencing strong and painful feelings. 

The goal is to find balance between your responsibilities and having fun. Accumulating positives is a reminder to include things into each and every day that bring you joy. These activities can range from full day events like taking a day off of work or school and going to the beach, to several hour breaks to see a movie, to picking up your favorite coffee or drink on your way out the door for the day. These activities don’t need to take a lot of time or money - the point is just to ensure you’re doing something that brings you happiness, contentment, or joy each day. 

Examples might include:

  • Vacations: Plan a day trip, weekend getaway, or longer vacation when you can. Because these activities take more time and money, you might only be able to do them once or a few times a year and that’s ok! They give you something in the future to look forward to and get excited about.
  • Activities or Events: Think about activities you like to do that range from one hour to a few hours. This might include going for  a walk, seeing a movie, planning a picnic lunch, driving to a new place, or seeing loved ones. Going to a show or sporting event, exploring the local aquarium or zoo, or trying a new restaurant can be other activities you throw in the mix every so often.
  • Hobbies: What are things you like doing that you might want to make more time for in your day or even your week? Working out, doing a craft project, tending to your garden, reading a book, or doing puzzles can be fun ideas to increase positive emotions.
  • Daily Doses of Joy: What are things you can do that you don’t have to plan much for, don’t require a lot of time or money, or you don’t need to leave your house for? Watching an episode of your favorite tv show, reading a book, taking a long bath, or listening to new music might be part of this list.

Adding more positive experiences takes effort and planning. At the start of each week, plan what you’re going to do each day to experience more positive emotions. Schedule time specifically in the day, whether it’s 5 minutes or 5 hours. Think about what could get in the way and make a plan for your schedule changing or have a backup activity ready.  Every little bit counts!

2. (B)uild Mastery

Building mastery refers to doing something every day or throughout the week that brings you a sense of accomplishment and helps you feel in control when there are other, uncontrollable stressors in your life. Building mastery is often a part of work and school, but because it’s required, it doesn’t always lead to an increase in self-esteem. 

Below are the steps to building mastery. 

  • Focus on a goal you have outside of school or work. This could be spending more time on an activity you enjoy and want to get better at, or trying something new. This could include setting an exercise goal, learning to cook a dish, starting a craft project, or reading a book series just to name a few.
  • After you’ve picked your project, begin at a place that is challenging, but not too difficult. For example, if you want to start walking after work but that hasn’t been part of your routine, trying to get yourself to walk 6 days a week for 30 minutes is likely an unrealistic place to start. Maybe walking 3 days a week for 10 minutes is a more realistic but still challenging starting place.
  • Gradually increase the difficulty over time. As you become more confident and complete the goals you’ve set for yourself, slowly increase the difficulty level. Maybe after you’ve successfully walked 3 days a week for 10 minutes for 2 weeks, you increase the difficulty over the next 2 weeks by walking for 15 minutes each time. If you find you’re very bored, that might be an indicator it’s time to increase the difficulty. However, if you find you’re very frustrated and overwhelmed, that might be a cue to decrease the difficulty level for a bit.

3. (C)ope Ahead

The Cope Ahead skill helps you prepare for an upcoming stressful situation or one that you’re worried will bring up strong emotions. 

To make your plan:

  • Write down the situation you’re worried about. For example, taking a test in a week.
  • Create a list of coping skills that will help you when you’re in the stressful situation. For example, creating a study schedule for the week before the test, reminding yourself of the times you have done well on tests before, and practicing deep breathing before you take the test.
  • Imagine yourself successfully handling the situation. For example, imagining yourself following your study plan, walking into the test with confidence, and answering questions correctly.

4. (PLEASE) Take Care of Your Physical Health

PLEASE skills are reminders to pay attention to your physical health. When you’re not feeling your best, it’s harder to manage your emotions. These are things to pay attention to:

  • (P)hysical I(L)ness: Treat physical injury and illness
  • (E)ating: Balance your eating
  • (A)void: Mind altering substances and pay attention to their impact on your emotions
  • (S)leep: Ensure you’re getting enough sleep
  • (E)xercise: Exercise regularly

ABC PLEASE skills are ways to shore up your emotional defenses, making it easier to weather life’s storms.

Treatment Options

It’s really important for anyone struggling with intense emotions to get help. If you’re having difficulty managing your emotions, know that you are not alone, and help is available to you!

The fastest way to find relief is to connect to a licensed professional specializing in evidence-based care for teens and young adults, like the therapists at Joon Care.

If you’d like to explore therapy options and see how Joon Care can support you, you can get matched with a therapist or email us at hello@joon.com

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August 29, 2023
Lauren Hammond, PhD | Clinical Content Manager

Lauren Hammond, PhD | Clinical Content Manager

Lauren Hammond, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist who received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from Seattle Pacific University. Dr. Hammond provides services to adolescents and adults using evidence-based treatments from a cognitive-behavioral framework, including Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Prolonged Exposure. Dr. Hammond has specialized training in treating mood and anxiety disorder, trauma and PTSD, personality disorders, and self-harm and suicidality.

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