I once had a therapist who kept asking me the question, “What are you going to do to support yourself?” I hated that question, but she had a point.
More recently, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of taking proactive steps to support myself, not least because this can prevent a full-blown crisis from taking hold.
Depending on the situation, here are a list of “quick fixes” which I’ve found helpful when I start to feel my mental health deteriorating.
If I’m close to the edge and can feel myself beginning to spiral, the most effective thing for me to do is cocoon on the sofa with a blanket and a hot water bottle. I think this works because it has a whole-body effect and convinces the less conscious parts of my brain that I’m safe and being looked after.
This is not the time to watch a new Netfix documentary about serial killers. This is time for Stargate: SG1, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Poirot and Murder She Wrote. Stories, basically. I don’t think it matters what the media is, as long as it’s something that makes you feel safe and reassured.
Restricting/managing social media
Unfortunately, when you’re feeling fragile, I think that looking at social media can quickly trigger a downward spiral. This can be hard to avoid because we often want to go to social media sites to distract ourselves from lurking difficult emotions. If I don’t feel able to log off entirely, I do restrict myself to only looking at my “safe” lists on twitter. I also avoid the most problematic sites, which in my case is Facebook.
My partner is into yoga and is a big fan of stretching in general. I resisted this for years, but I have had to admit that it really helps to do a simple stretching routine, especially if I have lingering anxiety.
Yeah, I know, and I was resistant to this too. I’ve conceded defeat because a hot shower with a few drops of lavender is honestly one of the most effective things I can do to improve my mood. This is very good for those times when I get in from work and find myself having a dip.
Tidy up and put clean sheets on the bed
If I’m feeling active and have some energy to burn, I often find that tidying up can be really helpful. It makes me feel like I’ve achieved something and having a pleasant environment lifts my mood.
Listen to Music
It does have to be the right music though. I have found that the wrong kind of music can make things worse if it stirs up negative emotions.
Do something creative
If I have some mental energy, I find writing creatively or drawing is good.
Get out in nature
This isn’t always possible of course (we live in a city and don’t have a car), but if I can do it, then it is usually very effective. We do have a local cemetery nearby which is good for birds, butterflies and flowers.
Do something positive
Ugh, this sounds annoying! I’m not a massive fan of positive psychology because I think it masks the reality of oppressive structures in society. BUT, again, I have found that when I’m feeling a bit shitty, just going and doing a couple of positive things, (e.g., something nice for someone) does make me feel better. I suppose it challenges the negative bias in our brains. I’ve even started trying to list three positive things that have happened every day.
Reading this list over again, it strikes me how many of the actions work at the level of the body. It took me a very long time to accept that starting with the body is a useful response to emotional distress and anxiety – how can stretching help when I’m freaking out??? Well, it does, because by calming my body down I take myself out of fight or flight mode and can start to address the real problems. Working at the level of the body probably also helps me to bypass my intellectual defence mechanisms which are actually making things worse by encouraging me to ruminate.
This post is a follow-up to Managing Emotional Distress