Survival. The one word can mean so many things. Usually, we consider survival to be the bare minimum. “At least she survived that horrific shark attack,” “He was fighting for survival in the woods for 5 weeks,” “I’m not trying to just survive, I’m trying to thrive!” Something a lot of people without mental illness take for granted is their ability to simply survive without trying. For those of us with Mental Illness, survival is a daily goal. I’ve often said to myself, or out loud, “I just have to survive today.” And I’ve meant it.
Survival is often a daily struggle for me, and while I don’t tend towards suicidal thoughts, many people with mental illness do, so surviving is a VERY real battle for them. Somedays, it’s all I can do to move from my bed to the couch. Sometimes, just staying awake once I wake up is hard. These are very few and far between days for me now, but they still happen. So how to I prevent these types of days? The answer lies in a whole lot of self-care, and coping mechanisms!
(Before I go any further, I would like to say that I currently see a counsellor for my anxiety and depression, and while these coping mechanisms below may work for me, they may not for you or for someone you know, and THAT’S OKAY! They also may take time to start working. My best advice to anyone struggling with mental illness (Or really just anyone at all) is to find a counsellor or therapist to help you. We all need a mental tune-up once and awhile and mental health professionals are great at tuning up your brain! I’m not a mental health professional, so please don’t sue me if one of these coping mechanisms doesn’t work for you. I have no money for you to take anyways!)
So here’s a breakdown of all of the different coping mechanisms I use to help me get through my days and be mostly productive:
Meditation: I haven’t been as good about doing this one lately, but it really does help. Meditation is all about being aware of your body, and noticing feelings and emotions without judgement. This is particularly good for people with mental illness because it teaches you both to listen to what your body is telling you, and helps you practice not labeling things you think or feel as good or bad, but simply as they are. I’m going to do a whole blog on this topic later, but it’s very important to see your mental illness as something apart from you, instead of you. It’s okay to be angry with your anxiety or frustrated that it’s back, but if you don’t define it as something other than yourself, it often feels like you are mad at yourself, which simply isn’t fair to you. It’s not your fault you have mental illness and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person if you do! Theres a great app for your phone that you can get called “Calm.” It has all kinds of meditations from beginners to advanced, and will guide you as you learn about meditation. To find out more about the app, click here.
Puzzles or Brain Teasers: For me, a big part of preventing a full blown panic attack is taking my mind completely off of whatever is causing my anxiety. A great way that I have found to do this is to engage in something that hold your brain’s focus, and makes you think. For this reason, I have lots of puzzles and brain teasers around my house and on my various pieces of tech. There’s a super useful one that I’ve found called Flexi Puzzle. It’s a string of cubes on an elastic that you have to manipulate to create over 80 patterns. I’ve been using it for a year now, and I still haven’t figured out all the patterns. I use it both before a panic attack and during to help my brain refocus and find something else to think about. It has about a 95% success rate for me, which is pretty incredible for a toy that costs $7.99 at Target!
I also use a jigsaw puzzle app on my tablet called Magic Puzzles, that is great for when I’m on the plane. The puzzles are pretty tricky and engaging, and there are lots of different modes. I’ll link it here.
Exercise: Man, this is a big one. I hate exercising, going to the gym, or even looking at my yoga pants sometimes, but exercise really does help my anxiety and depression, so I do it anyway. Now, I’m going to say this really clearly: DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, TELL SOMEONE THAT ALL THEY HAVE TO DO IS EXERCISE AND THIER MENTAL ILLNESS WILL GO AWAY. That’s not how it works, but for some reason people think that exercise is like the Holy Grail of mental illness. IT’S NOT! For me, it helps take the edge off, but I still have anxiety and depression. Some people love exercising, and find that it truly is a miracle cure, and that’s awesome! But it’s just not that way for me unfortunately.
Exercising is helpful though, and I like to combine it with other fun things and use it as a way of self-care. For example, I love obstacle courses and challenges, so I like to go rock climbing or to an adventure park once in awhile. I like audio books, so I listen to them while I run, and Yoga is great for practicing mindfulness while doing something active. I would say, giving exercise a try is good for everyone. I’ve found it especially helpful during bouts of depression because it helps with the insomnia for my body to be tired at the end of the day. Whatever you chose to do, make sure you enjoy it at least a little bit, but also don’t over-do it. Listen to your body, and it will tell you what it needs.
Pets: If you follow me on facebook or Instagram, you know that I have a Trained Service Dog that goes with me to most places, especially when I travel, (More on service dogs in a later blog,) so the cuddles are pretty much endless when I need them, but for a lot of people, just having a pet is a great way to combat mental illness. For example, if my dog has to go out to potty, I HAVE to get out of bed and take him. Having something to take care of is a big help when you feel like you might have nothing to live for. If you have a pet, that’s awesome, but don’t feel like you have to own a pet to help your anxiety. There are lots of animal shelters who need volunteers, or services like dog walking for you to get your fix!
Breathing: Okay, this is the big one for me, and it should be for everyone honestly. Breathing exercises are some of the easiest and most effective ways of calming and centering yourself in any situation, after all, you always have your lungs with you, and unlike exercise, it’s not hard to do! The key is to find a breathing pattern that works for you. My personal pattern that I like the best is breathe in for a count of 6, hold for a count of 1, and breathe out for a count of 8. You can find all kinds of breathing patterns on line, but here’s a good link to get you started. It comes from Spire, which is a stone that is proven to decrease stress. You can read about it in the review I did of the stone here.
When ever I am in the middle of a situation that may make my anxiety act up, I begin my breathing pattern, and a lot of times, that’s all it takes for me to be able to calm down and go about my day. Not always though, and especially when you first start using breathing. Sometimes it just helps me maintain a non-crazy person appearance until I get to a place where dealing with a full-blown anxiety attack is something I can handle. For example, when I fly and have a panic attack, I use breathing to get me through until we land and I can find a bathroom to implode in. In short, keep breathing, it’s good for you!
The 5-Second Rule: This is my newest thing that I have started doing and it’s really helping me take on my day in the morning when anxiety and depression make me want to stay in bed and not participate. I’m going to post the link to the video here, but the gist of this technique is to count yourself down and go with your gut. In my case, when my alarm goes off in the morning, I open my eyes, and count 5-4-3-2-1, and shoot myself out of bed before I have time to think about it. It works on other places too. When I’m nervous about going into a building or a meeting, or when I’m afraid to speak up about something, I count in my head 5-4-3-2-1, and then I just do it! Without giving my brain time to talk me out of it. Seriously, watch the video, it’s good for you! (Then google Mel Robbins and get sucked down a motivational rabbit hole and fall in love with her as much as I have!)
And that’s all of them for now; I hope that you’ve found one of these ideas worth trying at least! Tell me what you use to cope in the comments and let me know what you want me to write about next! I’m going to try to be better about writing more (I know, I say that a lot!) but I want to know what you would like to read! Until next time!