Coping strategies for mental health to help you deal with overwhelm, low mood and stress.
In the last mental health blog, the emphasis was on achieving a better balance in life – not just work/home life balance, but with all the additional elements that we know provide us with multiple sources of joy and the ingredients for wellbeing.
The second thing to learn about are the strategies to use when things do get on top of us. To be clear, if we ensure we have a good balance, we are already protecting ourselves against overwhelm, overload, chronic stress or sadness but life is hard and in life there will ALWAYS be pain, suffering, death, sickness, divorce etc. So how do we go about managing that? Firstly, we have to face our feelings.
We have all heard of mindfulness and how effective it is, in its basic form, it reminds us to check in with ourselves, to notice how we are feeling and to allow the feeling. Avoiding or burying/suppressing emotion is very unhelpful, and to grow and develop through anything in life, we have to face our fears – with emotional wellbeing, the same rule applies.
At this point I would like to clarify that whilst I do advocate honouring our feelings (because we know that ongoing burying or suppression of them results in poor emotional wellbeing and even ill health), I am not saying that we should wallow in them ongoing. Noticing them, respecting them and processing them is essential and will subsequently help us to grow and develop. With this in mind, the number one rule is tune in to your feelings.
With my clients I look at the emotional vocabulary wheel which is freely available online (or ask me to email you one). What is it that you feel exactly? Don’t just dump everything in the angry/sad bucket – feelings are much more nuanced than that. If you recognise that you feel angry, dig deep and figure out what that’s about.
Are you feeling ridiculed or maybe provoked? If you are, then own the feeling and you will feel a bit freer and certainly more able to do something about it. Buy yourself a journal or notebook and take note of your thoughts and feelings. Jot down whenever you have an emotional reaction to a situation, a conversation, a comment. Discover your fears and feelings, and discover what brings you joy too. Make sure to notice the positive things. Unfortunately, negative emotion is experienced as much more enduring and impactful than positive emotion, so we have to work hard to remind ourselves. And with all things, ensure we keep the balance.
Journaling also helps to stop the cyclical thoughts that haunt us from time to time, the action of writing down a thought moves the thought in our brain and brings relief – there is a lot of research that backs this up.
Now you have your feelings, you can begin to question what you have been doing to keep them going. Are you stuck in your negative routines and behaviours? Are you true to yourself? Do you speak up about your views and feelings? Not having a voice can be hugely detrimental to our wellbeing, leaving us feeling small and ridiculed. So when someone asks you how you are, don’t say fine! Be honest – don’t live in fear of your feelings. We are human beings and having a full spectrum of emotion is part of the design.
So, first – recognise your feelings, next notice what your triggers are and journal them. All this time you are developing your self-awareness. Next up, communicate them when appropriate and find your voice. In addition there are lots of free apps available which help you to express and process your feelings. Having a good vent reduces stress and anxiety and brings your heart rate down – and some apps have a section to allow you to do that (although I believe that the act of physically writing is more effective).
Following on from this, if you need to work a negative feeling out of yourself – move your body, walk, run, cycle and feel the benefit to your mind. Any of these strategies will benefit you far more than emotional eating, drinking alcohol, shopping or taking drugs. The short-term pain of facing your feelings is far far better long term. Don’t avoid or numb as this will only ensure that you feel exactly the same in a year or two or more from now.
Other things to consider which will help you feel better.
- Proper sleep with a decent routine. Night shift workers I’m sorry – but your emotional wellbeing is not going to be as achievable as those who can ensure good sleep structure. Get a good pre-sleep routine going. Avoid caffeine before bed; warm milky drinks are goodHot bath or shower to raise the body temperature and release sleep hormone
- Digital detox 30-40 minutes before bed.
- Make your room a sanctuary where possible, uncluttered and comfortable and with a good temperature.
- Keep your room dark.
- Don’t eat too close to bedtime, your body will be working hard to digest – not conducive to restful sleep.
- Reduce sugars and caffeine from your diet and especially late in the day.
- Journal before sleep. Keep your journal next to your bed in case cyclical thoughts keep you awake during the night.
For emotional health, structure is key – full stop. This includes sleep structure, daytime structure, weekly structure – giving yourself a plan and sticking to it is extremely important in increasing resilience and coping skills.