Mother’s Day is a celebration of mothers and motherhood. I recognize that Mother’s Day can bring mixed emotions to both children and mothers impacted by social distancing and other challenging circumstances related to trauma, grief and loss.
Join CARE Counseling and My Talk’s Mom Show as we work to connect Minneapolis Mom’s to Mental Health and Counseling Resources. Special guests this week on The Mom Show includes staff members Shannon Henry and Heidi Bausch as they discuss the concepts of grief and loss.
Everyone agrees: Stress is terrible. It’s the thing that keeps you awake at night and unable to enjoy your day. Sometimes stress helps us prioritize the things that need doing now, but more often than not, it’s a terrible feeling that sucks the life out of you. At its worst, stress can increase your chances of heart attack, harm your immune system, decrease sexual function, and wreck your digestive system. Stress can come from your work, your personal life, or your environment, and it can manifest in a multitude of (not great) ways.
Battling stress is a part of caring for yourself and your body. How do you get out from under the crushing weight of stress and get your life back on track?
The Art of Self-Care
The best way to combat stress is to practice the art of self-care. Self-care can be hard for a lot of people, especially those with busy lives who are used to putting work and the needs of others ahead of their own needs. Moms are especially prone to struggling with putting themselves first. Self-care is as much a part of thriving as eating and sleeping. It’s caring for yourself mentally, replenishing that spring of mental wellness and energy so that you’re able to do the things you need to do. When you’re busy, schedule time for self-care the way you would a doctor’s appointment.
So what counts as self-care? Anything that leaves you happy, satisfied, and rejuvenated: massages, time spent with a friend or romantic partner, watching a movie you enjoy, or anything that makes you laugh. Examine the things that make you genuinely happy and fulfilled, and when you find yourself lagging, indulge.
Practice Changing the Way You Think
Getting out of a funk is hard to do. When you’re super stressed, it’s easy to fall into a black hole of negative thinking. Practice changing the way you think. If you’re plagued by negative thoughts, flip them around into something positive. It’s hard to do, especially when you feel buried by worry. The more you practice, the more you’ll lean towards positive thinking naturally. You’ll be happier in the long run.
Kick Social Media
There’s a ton of evidence that social media is bad for us. Deleting Facebook from your phone, or drastically reducing your time on Facebook, can lower your cortisol levels (that’s the hormone associated with stress). Increased cortisol can lower your immune system, encourage obesity, and impair memory. Excessive social media use has been linked with anxiety and depression. That’s a lot to put up with just to see what your cousin had for lunch.
Take a 24-hour break from all the noise and pressure from social media. If your hands are still twitching to use your phone, replace Insta with an app designed to help you reduce stress and anxiety. Some apps walk you through mindfulness or meditation. Others help you breathe, or they play soothing sounds.
Take Care of Your Body
There’s definitely a connection between mind and body — just ask anyone who has experienced being hangry. When you’re stressed, taking care of your body can absolutely help get you back to balanced. If you’re working under a deadline, you might be tempted to forgo eating healthy for something quick, like vending machine food. Sugar bursts and crashes can exacerbate stress. Take some time to eat food that will give you energy without burning out quickly, like protein.
Physical activity can help you work through feelings of stress. It’s as simple as taking a quick walk to clear your head. A walk can help you calm down, catch your breath, and head back into a stressful job or project with a much clearer head.
Sleep is a powerful tool to relax and unwind. Follow practices that lead to a good night’s rest:
- Don’t eat before bed
- Give yourself time to settle
- Prime your bed for comfortable sleep
- Keep distractions or stimulating objects (like your cell phone) far away from your bed.
Like a lot of the other suggestions in this article, they’re small changes. Those small changes can lead to a big difference in your life — one that will leave you more relaxed, fulfilled, and able to take on your goals with increased gusto.
Do You Dread Having to Wake Up in the Mornings and Face the Day? 3 Ways to Beat Morning Depression
Do you experience feelings of fatigue, extreme sadness or hopelessness first thing every morning? Perhaps these feelings fade as the day goes on, but they’re back again next morning.
You could be experiencing a symptom of depression known as diurnal variation of mood, commonly referred to as morning depression. People experiencing diurnal mood variation feel worse in the morning but gradually improve as the day goes on. Hence the name morning depression.
A specific cause of morning depression has not been clearly identified but there are thought to be a number of contributing factors. Some research suggests that morning depression may be a consequence of disturbed sleep-cycles or circadian rhythms, an internal body clock that signals, among other things, the sleep-wake cycle. Two hormones, melatonin and cortisol are important for this cycle. Melatonin helps you sleep while cortisol is released upon waking up. If melatonin is released during the day, you tend to feel tired and drained when you wake up. On the other hand, if cortisol is released during the night, you may suffer from disturbed sleep patterns.
Other factors thought to contribute to morning depression include recent changes in life circumstances such as the break-up of a relationship or the death of a loved one, a family history of depression, medical conditions such as chronic pain, anxiety, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and substance addiction.
How to deal with your morning depression
If you are depressed, or think you might be depressed, it is important to consult a mental health professional for expert guidance. However the following coping strategies may help you to begin your day in a more relaxed and calm manner.
#1 Sleep Well
Since poor sleep cycles are thought to be a contributing factor in morning depression, trying to improve your sleep cycle is a good place to start. Try developing a regular routine that you follow before going to sleep. Your routine should suit your lifestyle, preferences and habit but you should focus on being relaxed rather than stimulated. For example
- Try to go to bed at the same time most nights. Wake up at the same time most mornings.
- Caffeine and alcohol are known to disturb sleep. It’s good to avoid these as bedtime approaches. Caffeine may be found in a number of foods including sweets and soft drinks.
- Electronic devices can stimulate rather than relax. If you are using devices, turn on ‘night mode’ at least one hour before sleeping.
- Rather than use your devices, try a relaxing activity before bed. For example, you could have a warm bath, read a book, play a musical instrument or practice mindfulness meditation.
- Create comfortable sleeping conditions: think about your preferred pillows and mattress, sleep wear, room temperature, lighting
- Some of us have difficulty letting go of our thoughts as we sleep. As a result, they linger on in our psyche. Try to empty your mind of any worries and concerns before going to sleep by writing them down
- Include preparations for the next morning in your bedtime routine (see below)
#2 Nourish Your Body: Eat Nutritious Meals
A balanced diet that includes an abundance of fresh food can greatly assist us to get the energy we need to operate at our best. Lack of good quality food in the right quantities can result in reduced blood sugar levels and worsened depressive symptoms. In the mornings, particularly if we are struggling with depression, we often opt for the easiest breakfast we can get our hands on (if we bother to eat at all). Often this will include processed foods or ingredients which may not have the same nutritional value as fresh, whole foods. It is important to eat a nutritious wholefood breakfast to bring our blood sugar levels back up to a level where we can function more efficiently. This helps to reduce tiredness associated with morning depression.
While a nutritious breakfast helps you start the day, there are a number of foods that are thought to help manage depression that could be included into your meals throughout the day. For example:
- Dark leafy greens such as spinach, watercress and kale are rich in folate, a water-soluble B vitamin. Low folate levels have been linked to depressive symptoms.
- Dark Chocolate -yes, dark chocolate (in moderation). Cocoa beans contain antioxidants that can lower the risk of depression.
- Other foods high in antioxidants include fruits and vegetables, nuts and whole-grains.
Overall, research suggests that the more natural and less refined the food is, the more likely it is to help decrease symptoms of depression, while more refined, sugary and caffeine rich foods may have a negative impact on moods.
#3 Wake Up Earlier, Make Time for an Interesting Activity
Experiencing morning depression can make for a slow start to the day. However this can mean getting up just in time to rush off to school/uni, work, the gym, etc. This may intensify feelings of stress and anxiety, and even start to impact other areas such as your closest relationships or job performance. It’s a good idea to allow yourself a little more time to get ready in the mornings. Even ten minutes can make a huge difference. It can also be helpful to develop a morning routine. Again, your routine should suit your lifestyle, preferences and habit, but begin with the easier, smaller tasks that take less energy. For example
- Try a few stretches when you first get out of bed or as part of your showering and dressing routine.
- Waking up to chaos and confusion can intensify morning depression. You can reduce this by incorporating some morning preparations into your pre-bed routine. This can relieve you of some of the decisions you face in the morning as well as saving some time. As suggested above, decide what you’re going to wear, make breakfast preparations, keep your car keys and wallet/handbag in the same place.
- Include an interesting activity in your morning routine. This can help to get you going. For example, you could try listening to music, playing with your pet or reading for a short while. Choose an activity that rejuvenates your mind and helps you feel centred.
Some of us have difficulty letting go of our thoughts as we sleep. As a result, they linger on in our psyche and force us to wake up to an avalanche of tumultuous emotions. Similarly, if you’re not happy with your reality, you may be averse in waking up to it every morning. For example, you may be dissatisfied with your marriage, income or job. You develop an inherent wish to avoid stepping into a stressful reality; essentially, we are in a state of denial and want to avoid facing our problems that seem to come rushing at us every morning.
It can be extremely draining to have to go through these emotions every morning. However morning depression can be managed. Proactively implementing effective coping strategies can help overcome the condition and wake up to exhilaration and vitality.
Happiness is an elusive concept, we all want it but not many of us can define what it actually is and even fewer how to get it.
Unfortunately, a lot of us fall into the trap of the ‘I will be happy when’mentality. It’s an easy fix supported by our own psychology and propagated by the modern world. You end up thinking; ‘I will be happy when I have lost 10kg’s’, ‘I will be happy when I find a partner’, ‘I will be happy when I get that new car’ and so on. The difficulty is that you will be happy briefly, or at least you think you will. But this feeling won’t last long and then you will be onto the next thing that you believe you need to feel happy.
Now, don’t get me wrong, being healthier and finding positive relationships are good goals, but when you anchor your entire life onto the ‘i’ll be happy when’ philosophy you will always be left wanting more and the happiness you seek will likely remain elusive.
I am not promising that trying the following tips will immediately fix everything, but remember that you are the author, editor and viewer of your own life. You choose what you do from day to day. You filter experiences based on what you expect to see and you choose what you focus on and remember. So maybe just try some of these and see how you feel, who knows it could really make a difference, they have to me over the years.
- Try something new.
Now this doesn’t have to be big, in fact it can be tiny and in any aspect of your life. Try a new route from work and see what different sights there are, or people you meet. Maybe it will simply turn out to be quicker. Try a new restaurant, try a new activity. Go big and visit a country you have never been to before, go brave and ask that person out, or end a toxic relationship. Novelty can help reinvigorate you, it can give you new perspectives, new experiences. You may meet new people, who in turn give you new ideas. It can give you new things to consider and talk about. Maybe just try one new thing a month and see what changes.
- Start Small
This is really important, people often make the mistake of trying to change everything at once. You set yourself giant targets and when you don’t achieve them in a month you start giving up and feel like you have failed. Instead focus on the tiny wins. If you want to lose weight, don’t think “I want to lose 2 stone”, start some exercise and if you feel a bit better then thats your target. Maybe your clothes feel a bit looser or you have little bit more energy. There is nothing wrong with big bold targets, but don’t measure your progress by it. Instead, break it into smaller goals and celebrate when you achieve them (perhaps not with a cheesecake though).
- Count the Good Things
Try this experiment with a friend, when you are somewhere you haven’t been before, ask them to look around and memorize everything that is red. Once they have done that, ask them to close their eyes and list all the things around them that are blue. A lot of people will struggle because they simply haven’t paid attention or focussed on the blue things around them. This is how our minds work. Very simply, we see what we expect to see and remember based on our preconceptions, your mind filters to make it more efficient. Now this is great from a survival perspective however it can cause problems. If we expect to have a bad day we will unconsciously only look for the things that confirm this. If we think we are unlucky we will look for things that prove our bad luck streak. Instead try something very simple, everyday before you go to sleep, think through your day and focus on five good things that have happened. They could be anything from ‘a nice walk in the sunshine’ to ‘meeting someone new’. There are always at least five events you can find that haven’t been awful or disastrous. Try this for a while and you may be surprised how it starts to change your mindset. You will start to look for more and more of the good and likely feel more positive.
- Say no….and yes more
This might sound like contradictory advice, but a lot of us spend a significant amount of time trying to second guess what other people want us to do. We try and make decisions on their wants and needs. We might do this for lots of reasons; we care for them, love them, live with them, dislike them and so on. Instead I want you to make decisions about how you feel and what you want. Have the confidence to say no to things you don’t want to do and yes to things that you do want to do. You may have avoided things in the past as you are worried that friends and family might judge you or it might change their view of you, but it’s not their life! It’s not about being selfish, just recognising that to be a good friend to others you need to first look after yourself and that you are entitled to do what makes you happy.
- Read a Book
In a world of social media and access to non-stop entertainment, books have sometimes fallen out of favour. Books give you a window into a different world or another persons life, a glimpse into history, they stimulate your imagination and mind. The focus required to read without distractions is sometimes considered a form of meditation; you can’t half read like you do with some TV programmes, it requires all of your attention. Books have the time to be more descriptive and delve deeper, ask questions that mass media are unwilling to, they can put you in the shoes of another world changing your perspective on life. Books have literally changed the course of history so why not give one a go.
- Stop and Meditate
We spend so much time running around thinking about work, family, friends worrying about what we have to do next, dwelling on something we did last week, rarely just stopping and taking in where we are and how we feel right now. Meditation can be practiced in many forms and its worth learning more about it. Essentially though, meditation asks you to focus on the moment you are in now, your place within it and the internal feelings and thoughts going on at that moment. Acknowledge them and then work to find stillness and quietness. Learn to slow down and quieten your mind to stop if from jumping from thought to thought like a over excited animal. Simply give yourself 5 minutes a few times in your day to just stop and look around you, admire the view and really take it in. Ask yourself, where are you now and how do you actually feel?
In anything, anywhere and anytime, just do it. Stop worrying about what to do and stop giving yourself the excuse that you have no time. Everyone has 10 minutes to take a brisk walk even if it’s to pick up the kids, 20 minutes for a run, 15 minutes for some Yoga, weights or just some stretching in your living room before you crash in front of the TV. The physical and psychological benefits of exercise are documented on an almost daily basis and finding information could not be easier online. Just start, today, you will not regret it.
- Think about your Food
Like with little changes you don’t have to stop eating all your favourite foods (pizza) immediately but perhaps just cut down on some of the worst offenders. You know what they are. Fast food, packaged cheap food full of salt and sugar. Reduce your meat intake for the sake of your own gut and the environment, eat…….some…….greens. It really isn’t rocket science, you just have to eat a balanced diet, there is so much information online and healthy food isn’t that expensive anymore. Now I know this is difficult when you don’t have time or money to cook, but a bag of salad is instant and chicken takes 10 mins to cook. Like above, focus on little changes that you can maintain and see how you feel after a few weeks. It should be no surprise that the food you put into your body can dramatically affect your internal state.
“No-one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another” Charles Dickens
Giving money is great and I applaud you for doing it, but also try and give your time. Stop and talk to people and really listen to them. Volunteer for something nearby. Your time is the most precious resource you have, far greater than money, and spending it to help others is an amazing way to improve the world around you and you will be surprised how good it makes you feel. Give to charity, help others, give anything you can and as much or as little as you want to. There are always people more and less fortunate than you, don’t judge or compare just give.
- Spend time with your Friends and Family
There have been numerous surveys over the years conducted with terminally ill patients each one asking them about the meaning of their life, what made them happy and what they wished they could change about how they lived their lives. With each study there are some things that just keep coming up. For a start “I wish I worked more” is never in the list and almost always at the top is wishing they had spent more time with their friends and family. Good relationships are believed to even lengthen your life and none of us can get through this alone.
Remember though people come and go into your life, don’t be afraid to make new friends or say goodbye to toxic relationships. Never worry about calling that friend or relative you haven’t spoken to for years. They are just like you and will be busy with their lives and wondering if they should call you. Always try and make time for a coffee or beer or just a chat with your friends and family, they are literally the anchors of your life. They reflect who you are and how you live your life and are the ones standing with you in your time of need and you in theirs.
One more thing before you go, another common theme from these studies is patients often comment how they wished they had lived true to themselves and had the bravery to live their lives as they wanted to and not how they thought others wanted them to.
So here is a little experiment to leave you with, in Australia, the life expectancy is just over 82 years which is actually only 718,320 hours, this really doesn’t sound like much does it? But it gets more powerful when you divide that by three. A third for sleep and at least a third for work leaving you with less than 240,000 hours of free time…..then subtract how ever many years you have lived.
Life is genuinely very short and you should strive to live your own life and as positively as possible.
“Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present” – Jim Rohn
Like many who have social media accounts, I regularly check my timelines and feeds for intriguing articles, updates and happenings. Two years ago, I was mindlessly scrolling through one of my accounts before going to bed and one post immediately stood out among the rest: It was a suicide note.
Frantically, I read my friend Mark’s post. It detailed his internal suffering over the years, which he no longer wanted to endure. The comment section grew at an alarming rate. People asked questions, both directly to Mark and to each other. Some people were pleading with him to reconsider. Others offered comments of hope.
Over the next few days, I saw something I did not expect. Hundreds of comments on Mark’s post evolved into a community of people coming together to help find Mark, who had gone missing. People used his previous posts on other social media platforms to piece together his possible location. Some contacted the authorities—and thankfully, those authorities located him before he took his life.
Social Media On The Rise
We live in a world driven by technology. We see the media regularly report on new apps for our smartphones and the latest trending celebrity tweets. Whether we’re commuting to work, studying in a coffee shop or spending time with our family and friends, being connected digitally is part of our lives. An entire generation of young people is growing up with devices in their hands, regularly engaging in social media.
According to the Pew Research Center, in 2005 only 5% of American adults used at least one social media platform. That number has since grown significantly: Today, 70% of the public uses social media, with many people using more than one platform.
Some researchers are beginning to identify connections between online social networking and mental health concerns. Among these concerns are varying levels of self-esteem and addiction to social media, as well as the internet. However, it is uncertain whether signs and symptoms of mental health conditions are the causes or effects of using social media. Since each platform is different and new platforms continue to be introduced, future research is needed to assess the true effect of social media on mental health.
Identifying Mental Health Concerns Online
When used responsibly, social media can be used in positive ways. It can be used to promote mental health to a large audience. I’ve seen individuals share their personal stories of recovery, like those on NAMI.org at You Are Not Alone and OK2Talk. I’ve seen mental health writers connect with one another on Twitter. And as with my friend Mark, during times of crisis, social media can even save lives.
On platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, users now have options for getting a friend help. If a user thinks a friend is in danger of self-harm or suicide, they can report their concerns by going to the social media websites’ Help Centers. These online Help Centers have dedicated content about suicide and self-harm prevention, which include online resources and phone numbers for suicide hotlines around the world.
The most helpful feature I’ve seen instituted recently is on Instagram. Users can anonymously flag posts by other users that have content about self-harm and suicide. That user then receives a message encouraging them to speak with a friend, contact a helpline or seek professional help. The same message appears for people who are regularly searching self-harm- or suicide-related content on Instagram.
Recent research by the Department of Defense Suicide Prevention Office notes that personal social media accounts “can provide an important window into a person’s state of mind.” At the Secretary of the Army Symposium on Suicide Prevention in mid-January 2017, military leaders, mental health professionals and companies like Google, Facebook and LinkedIn came together to see how social media can be used to connect those in need to care and resources.
How Can I Help?
With social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat dominating our screen time, it’s wise to assume that social media will continue to be a primary method of communication. Therefore, it’s up to us to look out for mental health warning signs while on social media so we are better prepared to assist a friend in need.
If you see any of the following behavior online, it may be time to step in and contact your friend directly to see how you can help:
- Cyberbullying, which includes:
a. harassing messages or comments
b. fake accounts made to impersonate someone else
c. someone posting unwanted pictures or images of another person
- Negative statements about themselves, even if it sounds like they are joking, such as
a. “I’m a waste of space.”
b. “No one cares about me.”
c. “I seriously hate myself.”
- Negative leading statements with little to no context that prompt others to respond, such as:
a. “You wouldn’t believe what I’ve been through.”
b. “Today was the worst day ever.”
c. “It’s like everyone is against me.”
If someone you know is in immediate danger—for example, they talk about a specific plan for harming themselves—contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. This lifeline can support the individual and their family members, and has the ability to connect with local law enforcement, if necessary. If a person has attempted self-harm or is injured, call 911 immediately.
If the threat of physical danger is not immediate, here are some things you can do to help:
- Report the content on the social media website’s Help Center;
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255; or
- Reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting the word “NAMI” to 741741 (standard data rates may apply).
As you scroll through your social media feeds, be mindful of what others post. Being educated about available resources is important for those of us who promote mental health, but knowing when to reach out to a friend who may be experiencing a mental health crisis is even more important: You just might save a life.
Ryann Tanap is manager of social media and digital assets at NAMI.
To create the roadways of a city, it takes years of planning, developing and building. It’s a never-ending process as new ideas are constantly suggested on how to make everything more efficient and in tune with changing needs.
Peace of mind is developed the same way.
In the 1900’s, scientists believed that our brain was fully developed by age six. We could learn more, sure, but “who we were” was set. Additionally, it was believed that after our teenage years and early years of adulthood, our brain and bodies declined through aging, injury, disease and illness.
“And then,” stated Dr. Lara Boyd, a brain researcher from the University of British Columbia, “studies began to show remarkable amounts of reorganization in the adult brain. And the research has shown us that all of our behaviors change our brain. That these changes are not limited by age…in fact they’re taking place all the time.” Meaning we can reorganize, change and restructure the physical makeup of our brain no matter what age we are.
So, imagine your brain is a city composed of many roadways that have all been under construction since before you were even born. And just like cities, we can create new roadways that enable us to be happier.
I’m sure you’ve heard about the many ways to be happier and healthier, but true change relies on deciding on a new habit or practice and dedicating yourself to it. That’s when your roadways will begin to evolve for good. Here are some important things to keep in mind when you’re working on yourself.
Whatever we decide to think or do, it has to be different than our norm. For example, if we decide to move towards having more peace of mind by going on walks three times a week, and we’re already walking three times a week, we are not going to change. But if we decide to also practice mindfulness while walking, this is different.
Whether it’s exercise, nutrition, meditation, yoga, tai chi, therapy, medication, religion, spirituality or any other strategies we might use to become happier, we need to believe in what we’re doing and believe we can succeed. Rather than going through the motions, we need to embrace the belief that we are changing our thoughts or behaviors to become happier.
“The harder we try, the more we are motivated, the more alert we are, and the better (worse) the outcome, the bigger the brain change,” wrote Dr. Michael Merzenich in Soft Wired. To make a change, it takes commitment and effort. There are times when we just don’t want to get out of bed to do yoga or go for a brisk walk. That’s true for anyone. Occasionally missing an opportunity to practice what we’ve decided to do is okay. But if we allow ourselves to continually take breaks, then we are pausing our progress.
Our intention should be all-in. I once had a client who listened to guided meditation while he was driving and then later in the day when he was focusing on a project at work. He said he didn’t have time for anything more intensive, and he couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t feeling any better. It takes focus to make change for the better. It helps to set aside specific time so you can focus solely on one thing at that time.
Practice And Repeat
Most of us quit doing what we’re doing once we experience “success.” That’s pretty common. But when we practice beyond “success,” we convert short-term changes into long-term memory and that’s what sticks. It has been found that repetition is effective in helping children learn how to read (imagine if they just stopped after completing their first book?). The same is true when establishing an ever-growing peace of mind.
It’s best to look at creating happiness and peace of mind as an evolving process rather than an end goal. It’s important to keep in mind that we’ll always be moving towards happiness. The roadways to peace are never finished—we’re always under construction.
And we can either let our old pathways determine who we are or keep working on becoming who we want to be. Each step we take enables us to become happier with ourselves, our relationships and with the world. And we can achieve a greater sense of peace and calm as we continue to grow.
Larry Shushansky has seen thousands of individuals, couples and families over 35 years as a counselor. Through this and the process he used to get clean from his alcohol and drug addiction, Larry has developed the concept of Independent Enough. Follow him on Facebook here. You can also access his blog through his website at Independentenough.com
Living with mental illness is not easy. It’s a consistent problem without a clear solution. While treatments like medication and psychotherapy are incredibly helpful, sometimes people experiencing mental health conditions need to do more day-in and day-out to feel good or even just okay.
Some common self-help suggestions people receive are to exercise, meditate and be more present, which are helpful and work for many people. However, other proven methods aren’t mentioned as often. Many of them are quick and simple techniques that can easily be added to daily routines.
Finding the right coping mechanism takes time and patience, but it can enormously impact how you feel. If you haven’t had success with techniques you’ve tried, or you’re looking to add a few more to your toolkit, here are seven coping mechanisms recommended by mental health professionals worth trying out.
Radical acceptance is “completely and totally accepting something from the depths of your soul, with your heart and your mind,” according to Marsha Linehan (creator of dialectal behavior therapy). Included in this definition is the idea that no matter what, you cannot change a situation. For example, imagine a tornado is coming your way. Obviously, you can’t do anything to stop the tornado; that’s not possible. But if you accept the fact that it’s coming, then you can act, prepare and keep yourself safe. If you sit around trying to will the tornado to stop or pretend that there is no tornado, you’re going to be in real trouble when it comes.
The same applies to mental illness. You cannot change the fact that you have a mental illness, so any time you spend trying to “get rid of it” or pretend it doesn’t exist is only draining you of valuable energy. Accept yourself. Accept your condition. Then take the necessary steps to take care of yourself.
Breathing is an annoying cliché at this point, but that’s because the best way to calm anxiety really is to breathe deeply. When battling my own anxiety, I turned to the concept of “5 3 7” breathing:
- Breathe in for 5 seconds
- Hold the breath for 3 seconds
- Breathe out for 7 seconds
This gentle repetition sends a message to the brain that everything is okay (or it will be soon). Before long, your heart will slow its pace and you will begin to relax—sometimes without even realizing it.
Opposite-to-emotion thinking is how it sounds: You act in the opposite way your emotions tell you to act. Say you’re feeling upset and you have the urge to isolate. Opposite-to-emotion tells you to go out and be around people—the opposite action of isolation. When you feel anxious, combat that with something calming like meditation. When you feel manic, turn to something that stabilizes you. This technique is probably one of the hardest to put into play, but if you can manage it, the results are incredible.
The 5 Senses
Another effective way to use your physical space to ground you through a crisis is by employing a technique called “The 5 Senses.” Instead of focusing on a specific object, with “The 5 Senses” you run through what each of your senses is experiencing in that moment. As an example, imagine a PTSD flashback comes on in the middle of class. Stop! Look around you. See the movement of a clock’s hands. Feel the chair beneath you. Listen to your teacher’s voice. Smell the faint aroma of the chalkboard. Chew a piece of gum.
Running through your senses will take only a few seconds and will help keep you present and focused on what is real, on what is happening right now.
Mental reframing involves taking an emotion or stressor and thinking of it in a different way. Take, for example, getting stuck in traffic. Sure, you could think to yourself, “Wow, my life is horrible. I’m going to be late because of this traffic. Why does this always happen to me?”
Or you can reframe that thought, which might look something like, “This traffic is bad, but I’ll still get to where I’m going. There’s nothing I can do about it, so I’ll just listen to music or an audiobook to pass the time.” Perfecting this technique can literally change your perspective in tough situations. But as you might imagine, this skill takes time and practice.
If you live in denial of your emotions, it will take far longer to take care of them, because once we recognize what we’re feeling, we can tackle it or whatever is causing it. So, if you’re feeling anxious, let yourself be anxious for a couple of minutes—then meditate. If you’re feeling angry, let yourself be angry—then listen to some calming music. Be in touch with your emotions. Accept that you are feeling a certain way, let yourself feel that way and then take action to diminish unhealthy feelings.
You can’t control that you have mental illness, but you can control how you respond to your symptoms. This is not simple or easy (like everything else with mental illness), but learning, practicing and perfecting coping techniques can help you feel better emotionally, spiritually and physically. I’ve tried all the above techniques, and they have transformed the way I cope with my mental health struggles.
It takes strength and persistence to recover from mental illness—to keep fighting symptoms in the hopes of feeling better. Even if you feel weak or powerless against the battles you face every day, you are incredibly strong for living through them. Practical and simple methods can help you in your fight. Take these techniques into consideration, and there will be a clear change in the way you feel and live your life.
Emmie Pombo is a student striving to crush mental illness and addiction stigma. She also advocates for the people who haven’t yet spoken honestly about their struggles. Rooted in Florida, Emmie hopes to eventually diminish any lies surrounding the treatable mental disorders that are becoming more and more prevalent throughout the world.
I left church in a panic. I couldn’t stand being there with all the reminders of my failures as a minister. Driving home, I fought the urge to smash my car into the large elm tree at the end of our block. I called my wife; thank God her phone was on and she picked up. She rushed home, made a few calls, loaded me in the car and drove me to the hospital. A blur at admission, I found myself in the ER banging my head against the wall. A short time later, I heard the click of the lock on the door of the psych unit to which I had been involuntarily admitted. Thirty-two years as a minister, and this is where I ended up.
They gave me a wrist band, some light slippers with friction strips on the bottom and a room without a key. They took my belt, my shoelaces, even my dental floss. That night, the drugs they gave me knocked me out. Still, this drugged sleep was better than all the nights when I had lain awake hour after hour, drenched in sweat, reviewing in my mind the previous day’s failures and humiliations.
The next morning, they gave me a breakfast tray with three strips of bacon, French toast, OJ and coffee. This bacon was perfect—kind of crunchy, but not too dry, the absolute best thing that I had tasted in months. The French toast also made my taste buds sing.
Following the worst day of my life, I had slept—like a zombie, maybe, but slept nonetheless—and then I enjoyed my breakfast. In my growing depression, I had lost the ability to enjoy anything, but that morning, I enjoyed my breakfast. Such a little thing, an institutional breakfast on a tray, but it was the first good thing I had had in a long time.
Breakfast has since become a symbol of hope for me. My depression had taken my hope away—or so I thought. But a breakfast tray proved me wrong. I learned that, at its simplest and most basic level, hope is a lot tougher and more resilient than I had given it credit for. At its core, hope is simply having something to look forward to, and most anything will do. For example: If they served a good breakfast today, maybe they will serve one again tomorrow. I hope so.
Once you start hoping for one thing, it’s a lot easier to hope for other things: Maybe there will be a good breakfast tomorrow. Maybe I won’t hurt as much tomorrow. And on and on.
Releasing My Burden
Besides breakfast, not a lot good happened during my first days on the psych unit. I needed to be there, but I hated being there. Every day, I went to group therapy twice. At first, I just endured it, then I began to really listen to the stories some of my fellow patients were telling. My heart ached for them—so much pain, loss and anger. Not me, though. I kept everything bottled up inside, not telling anyone, not even my wife, how much I was hurting. Nobody knew I was beating myself up inside for my every failure, for every person I thought I’d let down, for all the things I’d left undone.
Something about group, though, and the courage of the other patients who had opened up finally propelled me to tell my story. And once I started, it all came pouring out. Afterward, one group member asked me to have lunch with him. Another member told me that I was just the kind of minister she had been looking for—a real person who would understand her and not make her feel guilty.
As I shared more in later groups, other patients and the group leader helped me talk about my successes and my failures. They helped me realize I didn’t need to be so hard on myself; nobody’s perfect. I began to see my failures as part of what it is to be a human being. I wasn’t alone.
“Forgiveness” is the word for this. And forgiveness, especially self-forgiveness, has been essential to my recovery. In the worst of my depression, my mistakes became self-accusative thoughts with a life of their own, haunting me at night, preoccupying my mind during the day. First in the group, then later in therapy, I learned to forgive myself, to let my go of my mistakes.
When I returned to work about a year after my hospitalization, I returned with a much clearer sense of self and with a willingness to ask for help when I needed it. For me, asking for help is a learned skill. For many years, I had tried to be a minister without asking for help. I took responsibility for everything, making it all my job. As my therapist once said, I tried to carry the church around on my back. No wonder I was exhausted and stressed beyond endurance.
I worked for another eight years after my hospitalization, and partly retired two years ago. I have since hit a few rough patches from time to time, and there have been some nights when sleep did not come easily. But I never felt tempted to run my car into the elm tree at the end of our block or bang my head against the wall. Besides, I know that no matter how badly things are going with me at any given moment, all I need to do is close my eyes and remember my tray with the bacon, French toast, OJ and coffee.
Bob Griggs is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ living in St. Louis Park, Minn. He is the author of A Pelican of the Wilderness: Depression, Psalms, Ministry, and Movies. He is also a regular volunteer at Vail Place, a clubhouse for people living with mental illness.