Attending to Your Body

Emotions are physical sensations. Your brain and your body are not entirely separate things, and attending to the feelings in your body will have an effect on the feelings in your mind. These skills are all body-focused, and have been shown to reduce anxiety, distress, and depression. [1-11]

Changing Your Body Chemistry

Emotions and feelings are a cycle. Your brain interprets how you feel physically, and that becomes your emotions. Your body then reflects those emotions as physical feelings. We can "hack" our brains by changing the physical feelings in our bodies. These exercises are perfect for when you're having a panic attack. [2-3]

Pretend Diving

  1. Hold your breath and put your face in a bowl of cold water.
    • Or, hold an icepack, freezer bag of cold water, or damp rag on your eyes and cheeks.
    • Fifty degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal temperature here. You don't want it to be freezing.
  2. While holding your breath, keep your face in the bowl of water, or keep the cold object on your face, and do this for 30 seconds.
    • It's okay to briefly come up for a breath and resume the exercise.

This exercise tricks your body into thinking you're diving underwater. It then regulates your body appropriately, such as by lowering your blood pressure. Your brain then interprets these feelings as being relaxed and safe, and so the cycle of body and brain shifts and the panic attack ends. The next three exercises all work on the same principle.

Vigorous Exercise

  1. Engage in really intense exercise for as short or long as you feel like
  2. Expend the energy of your anxieties on stretching and moving any parts of your body that you can move in ways that feel good for you.

Paced Breathing

  1. Breathe deeply into your belly
  2. Breathe out slowly
  3. Count how long it takes you to breathe in, and how long it takes you to breath out.
  4. Try to make each breath out last a second or two longer than the last breath in
  5. Try to make each breath in last as long as the last breath out.

Breathing and Flexing

  1. While breathing into your belly, tighten up all the muscles in your body
  2. Focus on that tension and what it feels like
  3. Breathe out while letting go of all the tension in your muscles
  4. Focus on how your body feels now, repeat as necessary

Keeping Your Body Happy

There's lots of little things that pile up and make us generally feel crumby. When something else makes us feel bad, like experiencing a microaggression, all these other little things dog pile on that feeling and make it even worse than it already feels. These are things like being, hungry, tired, or sick.

Keeping track of if you're taking care of your body in these little ways can make it easier to deal with stress from microaggressions. Because then you're just feeling bad about what happened and not also feeling bad from being hungry and tired and sick etc. This is not to say that the pain from a microaggression is just because you're hungry. That pain is real and it's not minor. Being hungry makes that already strong pain just that much worse.

PLEASE Your Body

One thing I've found helpful for being proactive about my body is the acronym PLEASE. [2-3]

PLEASE stands for:

  • Treating tooltip available Physical ILlness
  • Eating balanced tooltip available meals
  • Avoiding mind-altering drugs
    • I'm not here to judge how you interact with alcohol or any other drugs. I didn't come up with this acronym. Personally, I do find this part useful, but to others it may not be. If you want an alternative A for the acronym, you can try Avoid Allergies. For instance, avoiding dairy when you're lactose intolerant.
  • Sleeping enough
  • Exercising, moving your body, or getting fresh air

It's a bit of a silly acronym, but it can be good to run through in your head to quickly check in with your health. None of these are prescriptive. You aren't a bad person for not doing these, and nobody does all of these all the time. Personally, I very rarely exercise for the sake of it.

Things to Check While You're Feeling Awful

If you're just lying around your home feeling awful, before you start drawing conclusions about why, here are some things to ask yourself. [12]

  • Are you hydrated enough?
    • If not, drink some water.
  • Have you eaten recently?
    • If it's been more than 3 hours since you last ate, try eating a snack or a good meal.
  • Have you cleaned yourself recently?
    • If not, Try taking a bath or shower, or doing whatever cleaning ritual works for you.
  • Are you dressed?
    • During the day, changing into clean non-sleeping clothes can make you feel better.
    • During the night, changing into comfortable pajamas or sleeping outfits can make you feel better.
  • Are you tired?
    • It's okay to take a break or go to sleep for the night earlier than you normally would.

Once again, this is just about doing what you can about the things you know you can fix.

Taking Time For Yourself

Finally, it's so important to remember to take the time to do things for yourself that you enjoy. No matter what anyone tells you, whether it's your boss or the media, you are a valuable person and you deserve to do things that make you happy. You don't have to be productive all the time.

If you need ideas for things you can do, here is a list of suggestions. [9-11]

  • List things that you like about yourself
  • Work on a hobby
  • Drink a cup of herbal tea
  • Write in a journal
  • Take a bubble bath
  • Step outside for some fresh air
  • Listen to music
  • Hug someone
  • Have a tasty snack
  • Read something funny
  • Tell someone how much you appreciate them
  • Spend time with your loved ones
  • Watch a movie
  • Do something pleasant with each sense you may have [2]
    • Smell something nice
    • Touch something soft
    • Eat something tasty
    • Look at something pretty
    • Listen to something nice

And, of course, anything else you enjoy! You deserve it.

[1] Ledoux, J. (1996). The Emotional Brain (First edition). Touchstone.

[2] Linehan, M. (2015a). DBT skills training handouts and worksheets (Second edition). New York: The Guilford Press.

[3] Linehan, M. (2015b). DBT skills training manual (Second edition). New York: The Guilford Press.

[4] Bohus, M., Haaf, B., Simms, T., Limberger, M. F., Schmahl, C., Unckel, C., … Linehan, M. M. (2004). Effectiveness of inpatient dialectical behavioral therapy for borderline personality disorder: a controlled trial. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 42(5), 487–499.

[5] Harned, M. S., Chapman, A. L., Dexter-Mazza, E. T., Murray, A., Comtois, K. A., & Linehan, M. M. (2008). Treating co-occurring Axis I disorders in recurrently suicidal women with borderline personality disorder: A 2-year randomized trial of dialectical behavior therapy versus community treatment by experts. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 76(6), 1068–1075.

[6] Kelly Koerner, & Linda Dimeff. (2000). Further Data on Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 7(1).

[7] Miller, A. L., et al. (1996). A pilot study: dialectical behavior therapy adapted for suicidal adolescents. Poster presented at the 1st Annual Meeting of the International Society for the Improvement and Teaching of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, New York, NY.

[8] Neacsiu, A. D., Eberle, J. W., Kramer, R., Wiesmann, T., & Linehan, M. M. (2014). Dialectical behavior therapy skills for transdiagnostic emotion dysregulation: A pilot randomized controlled trial. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 59, 40–51.

[9] Flannery Rollins. (2015, April). Take time to Self Care [zine]. Hampshire College Wellness Center.

[10] Hannah Melville-Weatherbee. (2014, Spring). Tips and Tricks for Reducing Anxiety [pamphlet]. Hampshire College Wellness Center.

[11] Jordan Perry. (2015, November). Mindfulness and calming activities. Hampshire College Wellness Center.

[12] Sinope. (2015). Everything Is Awful and I’m Not Okay: questions to ask before giving up [pamphlet]. Retrieved from