Sometimes life is shit. Sometimes we are shit at life. In both instances, there is often a need to switch on the coping machine in order to get through the day/week/month. Here’s three main areas which are good to reflect on when switching on that coping machine…
Feel the emotions
Try and be mindful about what is actually going on emotionally. I think we are always in such a hurry to change our negative emotions into positive ones, that we sometimes fail to recognise the value and even the necessity, of negative emotions. In a sad situation, sadness is ok. It is normal. In a worrying situation, worrying, or anxiety is ok. It is normal. In a high pressure situation, stress is normal. These feelings help us adapt to our circumstances. Like swelling around an injury. Transient negative emotion is normal. The key thing here in feeling the emotions is in knowing that they will pass. The sadness, the anxiety, the worry, the fear, the stress, the insecurities, the unknown… all of it. It will pass. In the meantime, the goal is to not be swept up in too much of an emotional thunderstorm. Recognise the emotional state from an observer perspective, and at the same time, realise that it will pass. You can read more about the benefits of Mindfulness here.
Ok, this is slightly more challenging, particularly when in the eye of an emotional thunderstorm. There are many things in this life that provide pleasure untold. Some of them are highly adaptive & healthy activities, some are not. When I’m personally having a bad day/week, I know all I need to do is step up the ‘good’ pleasures, and within a very short time, I am feeling so much better. Here are six strategies that work for me ~
1. Listening to / playing music — I grew up in a very musical household, there was always music/noise/laughter, and plentiful chaos. So it’s no surprise that in adulthood, listening to favourite music, and discovering new music is one of my most favourite activities. I have particular songs that I play (either on my computer, or myself on my piano) that I know will set my mood on a whole new trajectory. Here’s some scientific evidence about the value of listening to music for self-care.
2. Sleep — In periods of high stress, I find that I try and convince myself that it’s ok to stay up late because it’s ‘my time’ in the evening. It’s actually not ok. Sleep is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves, especially in times of stress. If I know I’m on the downhill slide, I will often tuck myself off to bed with a book, knowing that just that one move will result in a better me tomorrow. Here’s more information on the relationship between sleep and mental health.
3. Good food — ever been run down & stressed and simultaneously realised that your diet is shit? Yep, me too. Often a quick stocktake of what you are putting in your mouth, followed by a shopping trolley full of good-stuffs will make a big difference. Sometimes I even find the activity of meal planning and then stocking the fridge and pantry rewarding in itself, before I even get to the eating part! Here’s a great article on the link between mood and food.
4. Physical intimacy — No this is not all about sex (the relationship between mental health and sex is a whole article in itself); no, this is larger than that. I’m talking about physically connecting with your loved ones. Hugs. Holding hands. Warm kiss on the cheek with your best friend. And yes, sex too. Physical intimacy is so very important for us humans, even when it is just eye contact and an authentic smile. I know that just one hug from a loved one is the absolute quickest way to feel good. I feel you dopamine and oxytocin! Want more reading about this? Here’s an article on how physical intimacy provides a mental health boost.
5. Writing — This is quite personal for me, and although I have a prolifery of social channels where I put my writing out there, I do also keep a personal diary that is just for me. Sometimes when it is difficult to shake an emotion, I write it all out. All of the feelings. A full emotional purge. It is quite rewarding actually! I have always kept diaries & journals for exactly this activity. I like to imagine it as an emotional transplant. I’m taking my thoughts and feelings and putting them in my diary for safekeeping. It is also amazing to read back on past entries, and also very reassuring that some of the very tough times in my life where despair started to take a stranglehold, I not only managed to make it through, but I made it through to times of absolute pure joy. Here’s some more evidence to support the health benefits of journaling.
6. Get outside — THIS IS KEY… for me anyway. It’s a combination of things, the sun, the smells, the sights, and of course the physical activity that it involves. Feeling crappy? Walk on the beach for an hour: look at the immense ocean, notice beautiful things, what do I have now? Perspective. Feeling sad? Bike ride along the bike track: go fast, feel the wind whip your face, feel your heart pumping, and your adrenaline coursing through your veins. What do I feel now? Alive. I know that if I just put my body out there in our beautiful natural world, it is almost guaranteed that I will feel better. This article about “Biophilia”, and the link between our natural world and our mental health provides lots of evidence for this strategy.
Of course, these are just some of my self-care strategies. What are yours?
When self-care & coping aren’t doing the job over the course of a week or two, it’s good to revisit what the problem might be. If things aren’t going so well, we may realise that something needs to change. Sometimes this might call for a big change, which can be anxiety provoking in itself! There is a very important factor to consider with change, and that is that we can either change the situation, or change the way we think about the situation. Most of the time, we have little control over external events, but we can control how we think about them, and how we respond to them with our behaviour. This approach fits in with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and you can read about that in more detail over at ReachOut.com.
On that note, I’ll finish up. Gather in everybody, group hug ❤
Disclaimer: I am not a registered Psychologist, and this is not intended as professional advice. If you are struggling, please see your GP or mental health professional ❤