MENTAL HEALTH: SELF-CARE TIPS FOR WHEN YOU FEEL STUCK
Today I wanted to get into some real talk and blog about a more serious topic than usual: mental health. This is honestly a topic that I don’t usually get into, sometimes not even with the people closest to me, and especially not publicly like this. I will not go into specifics about my own issues too much, since I do value my privacy and also it might be triggering for some people, but I do think it’s important to discuss this topic more freely, in general, and I truly hope this post can genuinely help people that are struggling in a similar way.
Despite the fact that it’s so common among men and women, mental illness, or struggling with your mental health in general, is still incredibly stigmatized. I really hope in the future this can change, since I do see that people are starting to talk about it more openly. Personally, I have struggled with my own demons which I fight every single day, and have been doing so for a really long time. I’m sure everybody has their own struggles to deal with, and their own “darker” thoughts. I am a psychology student, however I have not graduated yet anddo not claim to be giving this advice in a professional way whatsoever. This is just me talking about my own personal experiences with mental health and what I feel helps me the most.
I find that personally, my mental health goes constantly up and down. There’s times when I feel amazing and perfectly fine for days in a row, and then there’s times when I feel stuck in a dark place for some time, too. And that is okay. Don’t beat yourself up because of it, this won’t help at all. It’s not your fault. You can get past it and life will get better if you allow it to.
There’s days when I will feel especially stuck. Stuck in thoughts that are not adding any positive value to my life, stuck in a dark place where I feel like nothing is worth it and things will never get better. It’s important to recognize those moments, and to really let yourself feel them, don’t suppress them, as it will only make it worse. I’m still figuring it out, and I don’t always follow my own advice, either. But the times that I have been able to do so, I do feel like it has helped me a lot, it has helped me remember that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and that I don’t have to feel this way. Of course, very important for me to mention, if you suspect that you have a mental illness, and have never seen any type of professional therapist about it, but it is taking over your life in ways in which you cannot control, please go see someone, don’t wait, it’s not worth it. When I was a teenager, I waited years before I finally recognized that I needed help, and it was a real game-changer.
Aside from that, here are some of the things that have personally helped me cope with difficult days/dark thoughts.
1. Check your triggers. If you’re anything like me, you’ll start to recognize the signs of a breakdown or anxiety creeping in, even before they completely take over. I’m at a point where even though I can recognize it, I can’t always stop it, but at least I’m aware of what caused it, and it can be helpful in the future. Something that helps is writing down those triggers, and the “episode” that followed, since it can really help to keep track of them and see if there’s some kind of pattern that you could change in your day-to-day to avoid the triggers.
2. This goes hand in hand with the triggers I mentioned in #1, and at least for me, it doesn’t always work, but it has worked before and so I thought I’d share it anyway. When I start to feel overwhelmed, and like the anxiety is drowning me (physical symptoms include nausea, tight feeling in my throat and stomach, breathing really fast/difficulty breathing or getting in a deep breath, feeling like I’m losing control over my own body, and more), I know I am getting to a bad place, and depending on the situation, sometimes I can stop it by trying really hard to distract myself and just not let myself go there right now. As mentioned, this only works sometimes, when it’s not as bad and also when you have a strong way to distract yourself immediately, like maybe I really need to get to work or school and I know that I cannot allow this to happen right now, I convince myself that I can break-down later, once it’s safe and I have “time” or “privacy” to do so. It’s a good way to trick my brain, and most of those times I don’t even need to actually “break-down” later, it’s just something I tell myself in the moment.
3. If you are unable to distract yourself from your breakdown, make sure you actually let yourself feel it. Identify all the thoughts you’re having, all the symptoms you’re feeling, write them down if you can. It’s important to really acknowledge the situation. Don’t try to use your logic to “fight” with the negative thoughts, since it won’t actually help, it will only bring more attention to them. Just let yourself feel them for a bit, cry if you feel like you need to cry (I know I always do), and let it all out of your system. Remember that it will pass. Your intrusive thoughts don’t have a very long lifespan, they will go away, and your brain will be yours again.
4. If you trust somebody enough, have them stay with you and talk to them about it, let it all out in the open, even if it makes you feel raw and exposed. Having someone to talk to can be extremely helpful, but be careful, because not every person will be right for that job. They might have the best intentions, but they could actually make the situation worse if they don’t know how to handle it, which is understandable, and not that person’s fault, however it can be harmful to you. There’s a lot of different scenarios for this, but the outcome is never good if that person is not saying the right things, it could end up hurting you, making you feel guilty for feeling this way, or the person could actually be an enabler, and take you to an even darker place, if for example they also have problems with their own mental health and you both end up spiraling downwards together. If you feel like you might need to talk to somebody but nobody in your life is the right person for it, make an appointment for a therapist, they will know exactly how to handle the situation and it will be freeing and helpful to you.
5. Try and get into a routine that you know helps you. For me, after I’m done letting it all out, I like to have a specific self-care routine that enables me to feel better and reminds me that I can carry on. My routine usually goes something like this: (it of course varies)
A. First, I light a scented candle with a smell I really enjoy. Then, I like to take a hot shower using my favorite shower gel, which smells incredible. I find that having products that smell amazing to me, are a great way to lift my spirits after I’ve gone through a rough time. Focusing on my sense of smell instead of focusing on my thoughts is very refreshing. Everyone is different and won’t enjoy every smell in the same way. For example, I love sweet smells like chocolate, peppermint, caramel or marshmallows but my grandma will barf if she smells those! Some of my other favorite relaxing smells include lavender, almonds, eucalyptus, and vanilla.
B. After my warm shower, I love putting on my most comfortable sweatpants and putting my hair up in a bun. I like to have soft fabrics near my skin, it really soothes me. Cashmere is obviously my favorite fabric, so if it’s not too hot, I’ll definitely put on a soft cashmere sweater.
C. Once I’m at my comfiest, I make sure I wash my teeth thoroughly, for some reason this always makes me feel better and just cleaner. I also add mouthwash if possible.
D. Skincare. This part will only apply if you feel like skincare is something that makes you feel better and that you enjoy. Some people might actually hate it so you can skip this if that’s the case. In my case, I love it, so I will most likely do some type of face mask, hopefully something that soothes my skin, especially if I’ve been crying and my face is red and blotchy. I add moisturizer and facial mist as well!
E. Either play some of your favorite music, read one of your favorite books, or watch some comforting tv! I love going back to old shows or movies that I haven’t watched in a while but that I really love, like Seinfeld or The Sound of Music.
F. Drink some tea or coffee in your favorite mug, or something warm that you enjoy, and sip it slowly and mindfully.
G. If you can, go out into fresh air. Lay down under the sun, close your eyes and take deep breaths. Focus on the feeling of the sun on your face. (While wearing sunblock, of course!) This is super super helpful to me!
6. Remind yourself that you are enough. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise or make you feel like you’re any less worthy because of what you’ve gone through, or what you’re currently going through. Your breakdowns or episodes do not define you as a person, you are so much more than that. You are your passion, and your love for people, for animals, you are your creativity, your humor, you are all the little things that make you you, and whoever that person is, it’s a person who is deserving of kindness and patience, because this is not your fault, and you’re doing the best you can.
7. Write down things that you’re grateful for, and keep that list with you. I have mine on my phone, and constantly re-reading it is always a good wake-up call. It reminds me of the important things, and how lucky I am.
8. Don’t isolate yourself. I know this it is super tempting because usually the last thing you want is somebody seeing you while you’re not at your best. Once you are feeling better, though, try talking to some of your favorite people, it could be just about random things, laughing about random situations, etc, it will help distract you and your problems will suddenly feel a lot smaller.
Please, if you feel like you’re lost and you can’t take it anymore, find help. I can’t stress this enough! I am here for anybody who wants to talk, by the way, even if we don’t know each other, I’ll do my best to give you any advice that I find helpful. <3