In my last post, I talked about using BACES and MECS to help keep you on track with your mental health and to be able to detect when you are struggling before the impact is too severe.
In this post I’m going to elaborate further on some tips and techniques that I have found useful.
This is not a substitute for medical advice from a mental health professional - if you are struggling please get professional help.
Safe Place exercises
If you are struggling with anxiety (whatever the cause), I would recommend the Safe Place exercise which helps to make you feel safe when you are safe. There are several on YouTube but I find this one the most useful.
For anxiety I also find mindfulness mediation useful and in particular I use the following videos:
Also this for anxiety (both of these overlap with the first one around Safe Place in the focus on the breathing and the body, though Safe Place takes it further still).
Another thing that can be very helpful is Diaphragmatic Breathing, which can achieve a Relaxed, But Alert state - this video talks about the benefits:
This video demonstrates how to do Diaphragmatic Breathing and also explains that whilst for Relaxed But Alert, your in and out breaths must be equal - if you extend the out breath, it increases relaxation and can help getting to sleep:
Reducing “screen time” and doomscrolling
As much as I am a geek and love using tech, I’ve found that if I’m struggling, one thing that makes it worse is screen time using mobile electronics a such as smartphones and laptops.
So when I’m struggling I try to stop looking at my phone after say 8pm and stick to TV or a book until I’m tired, then go to sleep when actually tired.
There are lots of studies out there that support the fact that screen time and the blue light from smartphones etc disrupt your sleep/wake cycle or circadian rhythm - and less sleep for me equals worsened mood/anxiety and heightened stress.
In addition, there is so much negativity in the news and in Social Media that endless doomscrolling of it is also unhealthy to your mood.
Boundaries and putting yourself first for a change
One thing I uncovered in therapy is that I am terrible at setting boundaries in all aspects of my life.
There are reasons for that, which therapy helped me understand. But regardless, if you also have issues with boundaries, with saying no to people, putting yourself last etc then you could benefit from adopting a technique that my therapist shared with me.
Try to start getting into the habit of, when someone asks something of you (be it face to face, over the phone, video conference, email, sms, chat etc) - ask yourself (internally, don’t say it out loud) the following simple question:
“By saying yes to you, am I saying no to me?”
Now - there are times in life where the answer is yes and where that’s probably the right thing - an example might be for parents - sometimes you just have to do things to look after your child that mean saying no to yourself.
But by asking yourself that every time there’s an ask of you, you start to become aware of just how often you put other people before your own needs.
Only when you start to recognise that might you start to change that.
And if, like me, you can struggle with confrontation, you can use non-confrontational ways of responding or:
Saying no without saying “no”
This can include saying - “I can’t get that done today but I could do it tomorrow”. Or “I already have 3 tasks to do for you this week. If you want this one too then you need to choose one that I won’t do this week”.
One thing that my therapist drove home a few times, and that I’ve experienced first hand just recently, is that you need to be mindful that there may be times where you have a relapse of symptoms and of mental health struggles.
This is natural - partly because you can’t predict what will happen at work, at home, in family relationships etc that will trigger stress/anxiety in you.
But also because nobody’s perfect - sometimes you will maintain the good habits mentioned on my previous post, but sometimes you will slip into bad habits again and may not immediately realise it.
Scheduling and reflecting, with BACES and MECS, helps me hugely and I hope will help you too.
However, I also found it helpful when I was asked at the end of my therapy to complete this questionnaire [PDF].
It contains a number of slightly repetitive questions designed to help you have a handy two page document you can use to help you recognise when you have relapsed and how to get back on track.
I have mine all filled out with short snappy bullet point responses - think of future you who is struggling. How will future you interpret what you write on the form so that it helps them?
- What have I learned?
- What was most useful?
- What can I continue to do to prevent a setback?
- What are my high risk situations of this happening?
- What events / situations / triggers cause me to be more vulnerable?
- What are the signs?
- Thoughts / feelings / behaviours
- What can I do to avoid losing control?
- What could I do differently? What would work best?
- When I’m struggling or feeling bad, what could I do that will help?
- What could I do if I did lose control?
- What has helped? What have I learned? Who can help?
In the event of a setback
- How can I make sense of this?
- What events / triggers led up to this setback? How did I react to this? What did I do? What did I think? What did I feel?
- What have I learnt from it?
- Was this a high-risk situation? Are there things that I can identify are difficult? What helped and what didn’t?
- With hindsight, what would I do differently?
- When I think / feel………………………………what could I do instead?
I hope that these techniques are useful to you!
As ever, thanks for reading and feel free to leave comments down below!