For those who know me, or visit this site on the regular, you will know that I am fairly open about my own dealings with mental illness and mental wellness.
It’s not something I apologize for or regret – quite possibly making me more of an empathetic person and a better writer as result – but it is something I do struggle with, some days more than others…
So, having survived nearly 3 whole decades now, I thought I’d share my own go-to strategies that help me get by when the world is looking especially bleak.
This post is for all us folk needing help (tips, support, hacks, resources, pep talks, etc.) to maintain our health, for today, like, right now –
Or in other words, this is to help you get through the short-term by trying some new solutions in the next few minutes.
I have no formal education in mental health (medical, psychiatric, or otherwise), so am only speaking here from my own experiences of spiralling into acute episodes, and what things have helped me survive to tell the tale.
Most of this draws from the area of CBT – cognitive behavioural therapy – and my intent is to offer up some handy resources because it is not easily available elsewhere.
The self-help info below is listed in no specific order, and some may apply better to anxiety attacks or depressive episodes, but regardless it will always be most helpful when you are better able to identify HOW you feel.
So, try moving away from vague words (like “good”, “mad”, “bad”) and try to be more specific in identifying what emotions are being felt because it helps with self-expression, which helps with diagnosis and treatment.
Finally, not everything below is going to be of interest to you, so skip it if so.
1. Are you in immediate danger?
First things first – if you have thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you should connect with some really lovely people who can help you stay safe because we all deserve that much.
- This here lists crisis centres available within the provincial borders of canada.
- These options here are for instant-messaging with someone, if you don’t have access to a phone right now: crisis chat OR 7 cups OR relax online or lifeline chat.
- If you are a youth, try calling the kids help phone: 1-800-668-6868
- Or if you’re a youth identifying within the lgbtq spectrum, call here: 1-800-268-9688
- And if you are specifically trans, non-cis, then call this lifeline: 1-877-330-6366
- The u.s.-based national suicide-prevention hotline called lifeline is another option.
- Finally, there is also an international hotline list to check out too.
If you do not need any of the info above right now, I’d still encourage you to bookmark it or save a number in your phone, just in case you ever need it yourself, or to help a friend or a stranger.
Whether you are suffering from insomnia or excessive worrying, or maybe approaching an old-fashioned panic attack, the best thing in nearly every situation is to BREATHE.
And that means intentional, paced breathing – try doing so in rhythm with your steps as you pace around the room, or in time with opening and closing your eyes.
- Aim to breathe in for 4-5 seconds, (one-mississippi, two-mississippi), and then exhale for longer, around 6-7 seconds (three-mississippi, four-mississippi).
- Involve your stomach and chest while you go, in what’s called abdominal breathing, by tightening and squeezing your abdomen with your exhales and then slowly releasing that control to expand your chest and open your lungs as you inhale.
- Shallow breathing brings tension into your chest and body, stimulating a response of “flight or fight”
- Deep breathing brings relaxation into your abdomen and body, stimulating a natural calm
- If you are restless, place a hand just above your belly and pay attention to how it moves up and down as air enters and then escapes.
Maybe try imagining your belly is like a balloon, filling and emptying out air.
3. Ground yourself.
Grounding is all about mindfulness, about focusing, about undivided attention.
It is super tricky to do well sometimes, but just trying is usually the hardest part.
Notice any sensations… What do you hear? What do you smell? What taste is in your mouth? What colours do you see? What does your skin feel like on your fingertips?
- Temperature changes shift your automatic nervous system, which helps snap attention back to the here and now.
- The “dive reflex” involves holding your breath for only a few seconds before splashing or dipping your face in cold water
- Or run a bath with some warm water – even soaking your feet helps
- Intense exercise is good for anyone – as long as it is done according to our current physical capacities – because it can help draw us out of our heads and down into our moving bodies where emotional energy can be expelled safely.
- Walk laps around your neighbourhood block or around your room
- Do some situps and pushups while Netflix plays next to you – win-win
- Progressively relaxing your muscles involves focusing nearly all your attention on individual body parts through a slow, methodical practice.
- Tense muscles in your jaw for 10 seconds, then relax it all the way and pay attention to all the feels you get from the whole experience
- Repeat that for the rest of your body, from toes to forehead, butt to eyelids
- “Gate shutting” is the idea of triggering a swift “jump-start” jolt to interrupt your worrying thoughts and prevent it from escalating.
- To regain emotional control over other competing thoughts or sensations, try grabbing ahold of your attention by imagining a sharp, loud yell of “STOP!” in your head. Whether it is your own inner voice or a stranger, just ensure it is shocking enough that it commands some authority for your mind to go quiet and listen. Yell your own name or something funny like “DON’T GO THERE!”
- Basically, just try to disrupt your train of thought before you spiral down. The stranger it seems, the better it will probably work by surprising yourself. Once you’ve disrupted worrying thoughts, go back to your breath
4. Fact vs. opinion
So much of our lives are lived inside our own heads.
Like seriously, think for a second how much of your day is spent NOT inside our own head (whether thinking about yourself, about others, about tomorrow, or yesterday, etc.). That means you need to up your game in challenging harmful self-talk.
And so in that case, it demands a serious consideration of how honest and accurate our own perspective is about the things we encounter.
To illustrate this better, imagine a common scenario of seeing someone you know while out in public, but the person walks past without greeting you.
- There is a wide range of ways to interpret that, ranging from:
- “He thinks he is too good to say hello to me? What an asshole!”, or
- “What did I do wrong? Why would she snub me like that?”, or
- “Maybe they just got dumped or fired? Would not surprise me!”
- Regardless of how you are at first inclined to respond, the only “fact” is that the person walked past – everything else to interpret it with is just opinions (reflecting more about our current mood than someone else!). If our mood is currently unwell, then it is really likely that we will be colouring our reality with negative thinking.
- To help identify if that is the case for you, ask yourself some questions:
- What evidence is there that makes me believe this thought to be true?
- What evidence is there that makes me believe this thought to be false?
- If I shared this thought with someone I trust, would they likely agree?
- If this same trusted person had this thought, how would I respond?
- Have I had a similar thought-trap like this before? How did that resolve itself?
- Use the 10 years test:
- Will this matter in 10 hours?
Will this matter in 10 days?
Will this matter in 10 years?
Usually not, so keep things in perspective.
- Will this matter in 10 hours?
The takeaway to remember: most of our thoughts are only opinions.
5. Acknowledge all the shit.
Most of what we all struggle with most, carry around inside our heads and hearts, the stuff that interferes and dampens our ability to really feel present, is because of the difficulty of trying to actually face that burden, that fear, head-on.
We feel, even if we don’t consciously think it, that if we stop running from that shit, stop distracting ourselves by reaching for something outside ourselves, that it will destroy us. We worry it will melt us like the wicked witch that we imagine we truly are deep down.
The good news? Facing your shadows is how you defeat them. Like looking under your bed to check for monsters as a kid (and adult…), the act of facing it is the only way to win.
- Acknowledge what has happened.
Whatever occurred – something rude said to you by some broom-head asshat or something truly difficult happening that is essentially part of the game (so it goes…), just acknowledge it happened.
Try saying it aloud, “This, ______, is happening.” Envision that negativity (or whatever you call it), accept that reality now exists in life and then allow it to pass on through and go on its way.
- Acknowledge what is happening.
Otherwise known as running into your fear, this is about recognizing when the fear of fear is actually worse than the actual fear just by itself. Humans are weird right?
A super frequent example is putting off a to-do errand (an email, a phone call, a job application, dishes, exercise, whatever), and then this delaying (for days, weeks, months, years) gets to be more toxic and terrifying than the actual act of just sitting down for 5 minutes or half an hour to just do it and move on.
Treat it like a cold shower, where the sooner you jump into the water, the faster you adapt to its temperature instead of shivering outside, naked and awkward.
- Acknowledge what may happen.
The world is a beautiful and scary place – you’re not a pessimist to recognize there are many real dangers and shitty luck for anyone of us, but that never means you need to dwell on anticipating the worst or behaving like the worst has already happened. If ya like, take what is worrying you right now and make it worse. Imagine the worst-case scenario, the FUBAR end-result, alternate-timeline where the apocalypse does indeed happen today. You can lose almost everything and still be here. Phew, right? Most likely, things will pass on and you may very well forget all the time you spent worrying about it. Try recalling something from last week or X number of years ago that caused you major grief, and then try to laugh about it.
So, how does one go about doing that, acknowledging and all?
Simple – STOP CLINGING – LET IT PASS.
Think of it all – thoughts, feelings – as clouds as you lay back and watch the sky.
Sure you can watch the clouds and look for meaning in some of their shapes, but don’t chase after them – no, just let them pass on through and trust all will be well.
When you get really good, you try to let the feelings teach a lesson (so that you can grow wiser from the experience).
6. Be nice.
Like most of these listed here, they can and should be applied together to help produce a better impact on getting by today. And being kind to yourself is definitely such one.
With so much stigma around mental illness, and then living within a consumer-capitalist society that bombards us with messages intended to undermine our confidence, it is no surprise when we eventually learn how we are all our own worst bullies.
Now, I do not consider this to be an inherent flaw or failure of the human condition, but most likely just a simple fact that we tend to go back to what is familiar to us – it seems comfortable because we know the routine, even if that involves making ourselves cry, or repressing ourselves such that we go and make others cry.
Nasty lies. When I started working on giving myself “accurate self-credit”, I felt like a dork. But then I thought about how freaking often we all belittle ourselves and don’t blink an eye! Like wtf? We don’t notice because that is just normal human behaviour.
In which case, do not be afraid to counterbalance nasty lies by dishing out extra generous compliments to yourself. (Wow, I explained that really well. Good for me.)
Affirmations. These work best when you: make it your own; make it short; and make it real. Maybe you prefer something like “with all life comes suffering. I will do my best. That is all we can do”, OR maybe you prefer something like “I’m doing my fucking best so back off, capisce?” Whatever your flavour, try to keep everything you say to remain believable but still empowering. And of course, keep it to stuff you have control over!
Instead of “I will not face disappointment today”, try something like “I am learning to do better” and “I will at least try to cope with whatever comes my way”.
7. List what’s actually helpful to you.
So often you find mental health advice online or elsewhere that involves offering solutions for shit that you obviously cannot do right now.
Like, that’s the whole point of the problem, is it not?
Feeling depressed? Go out and make some new friends. Piece a cake.
Feeling anxious? Tell your family about it. No biggie.
I am not going to be suggesting you “fix” something today when you do not even know what is wrong, what is fixable, or what is even worth fixing.
Some hints at what is NOT helpful:
- blaming yourself;
- “should-ing” yourself;
- predicting disasters;
- taking things personally;
- putting yourself down;
- chasing unrealistic expectations;
8. Take a break from yourself.
Otherwise known as postponing that mood, this is when you just go “fuck it, I’m tired, I’m human, and I need a gd nap.” No need to think about whatever is bothering you – it will most likely still be there for later – so try to blank your mind and only breathe steady, for as long as you can do so.
- If you have trouble forgetting this problem, then switch attention to something, just for a break. Start a new netflix show. Anything new on youtube? It doesn’t even have to be good.
- You can even schedule (yes, like a proper boss) times in the day to commit specifically to worrying about your shit. Like, I won’t worry about bills until 8pm.
Distractions are brilliant because everyone deserves pleasure and satisfaction.
The trick really is understanding how much pleasure before it becomes harmful, and what things are good for the short-term you and long-term you.
Enjoy yourself – you know your problems are not going anywhere, so why worry that you will lose your worries too?
9. Anything else right now? Try saltwater.
Saltwater is good for all the problems…
- Have you sweated in a while?
Turn on music and dance until you do.
- Have you cried recently?
Sob it out and then shower.
- Have you been near open water lately?
Anything will do really, just plant yourself there and ponder the water, admire it just doing its stuff, and then see how you feel.
10. Remember that you are NOT alone and that you are a survivor.
I can almost guarantee that there are a few others who are reading this around the same time as you are, or in a similar fix as you are now, which can give you goosebumps maybe. No, just me?
My point is to remember that this moment – for all the suffering and nasty feelings you are holding over yourself – is an epitome of human experience.
EVERYONE can relate to feeling like shit, to not giving a fuck anymore, to feeling damn scared and hopeless, to not knowing what to do, to being too scared to do what you know you gotta do. People alive right now, people who died long ago, and people yet to come.
You, feeling like this, is oddly enough exactly what connects you with other humans in a deep, fundamental way. Like, congrats, you are a human for experiencing this stuff…
But even more, recognize that living as a human does requires some damn hero courage to be here, to feel and think and then still keep your head on your shoulders.
That shit is far braver than most other things, and that deserves some honest respect.
“A lot of people have battled with negative emotions and bad experiences and all these apocalyptic concerns for the future that they are so anxious about. And you know what, they didn’t win their battle overnight. Understand that. Accept that. Reading one article, watching one video or reading a book about mindfulness will not make you an expert of it. It takes time to learn, study and practice mindfulness.
It’s not easy. Your journey to attaining mindfulness is unique to you. So, be kind to yourself, be patient with yourself, and don’t beat yourself up for not achieving mindfulness or flow states or enlightenment immediately.”
That’s all for now!
Thanks for reading and take care of one another ❤