📷: Do what You Want by Ruby Tandoh
Everyone is different. There is no uniform solution for how people deal with things. We all have our own situations and individual experiences with mental health and how we cope when we are having a bad mental health day. Because of this, I’ve decided to compile a few of the things I do that help me, along with quotes from my friends that help them.
These are not long-term solutions to deep rooted mental health issues, and they’re not going to fix the problem. But, it might distract you for an hour or so and take you out of your head, which sometimes is just what you need. And that’s okay.
This will be a long post full of personal experiences from me and the people around me. I wanted to reach out to as many people as possible and try to gather a broad range of advice to show how individual mental health is and the variety of ways people cope on a day to day basis
1. Watch Friends (or your equivalent easy watch nostalgic show). Friends is that one show where I can watch it without thinking what the next line is. I don’t have to pay attention, because I know every story line of every episode. It’s a problematic show, yes, but it’s familiar and comforting and there when I need it.
I tend to go for Brooklyn Nine Nine or Supernatural (anything familiar). I try to make sure I talk to people rather than shutting myself off even if it’s just a message or a text cause I always find isolating myself makes me feel worse. Looking at photos from uni also helps if i’m having a bad day coping with living at home.
When I’m having a bad day I watch something fun like How I Met Your Mother, or Friends (obviously) or I clean/tidy (lol I realise that is not something that would work for everyone, but it helps me de-stress.) I also call someone to either talk about it, or just talk to them about something else, just so I’m not so much in my own head. Also, because I’m quite a methodical person, I use this as a coping strategy: If I’m in a situation that makes me anxious, I ask myself “what’s the worst thing that could happen” and then actually think about the scenarios. This helps me because the chances are, nothing that bad would actually happen and helps me overcome the fear of the thing I was too anxious to do.
On a really really bad day I will listen to music (I have certain songs I listen to) to comfort myself, and I will break the day into tiny steps – so like ‘get up’ and then ‘walk to the bathroom’ ‘get in the shower’ etc. I also really like to have a bath on bad mental health days and really make it pampering by using bath bombs, and lighting candles, and sometimes I meditate in the bath. I use distraction/escapism a lot as a coping mechanism (not always a good thing) so I like to immerse myself in playing a video game, or watch TV/a film while colouring or crocheting (doing one or the other isn’t distracting enough for me). I find it hard to concentrate on reading when I’m having a bad mental health day. And the other major thing I do is exercise – walking or running or cycling outside and listening to music is one of the most calming and mood-lifting activities for me.
2. Re-read a favourite book. This is a tricky one because sometimes it doesn’t help and sometimes it does. But if I’m feeling stressed and anxious, I’ll sometimes pick up a reliable book I know will soothe me. By all means, I’m not condoning ignoring your problems but sometimes it’s nice to forget and distract yourself even for an hour. Mine is Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins.
d i s t r a c t i o n. I am a master at not dealing with my anxiety, but just repressing it lmao. I make sure I’m rarely alone with my thoughts in order to minimise thought spirals, this involves listening to audio books as I fall asleep and always have something on in the background like Netflix. Sadly this means my anxiety can come out in physical symptoms, but I have anti nausea tablets for that. Also my regular medication is really helpful and having psychotherapy was really good for me.
When I’m struggling with a low mental health period I tend to escape into music. Whether with something cathartic, familiar or uplifting songs, it helps me to get out of my own head space and process what I’m going through.
Reading a bit of a book I’m very familiar with helps to ground me if I’m particularly anxious or disconnected – the Harry Potter books are a favourite of mine as well as Cloud Atlas and a few others. Watching a familiar film also helps if I’m anxious. It also helps to make a list either in my head or on paper to distract myself. I’ll do an alphabet list of things such as Harry Potter characters, TV show characters, countries – literally anything I can go through the alphabet with and focus on doing that rather than thinking about awful things I’m scared might happen! Going for a walk helps when I can get up and out – being in the fresh air and out in the open makes me feel less stuck in my own head and more grounded.
3. Talk to someone you know you can trust. This can be anyone. I turn to my best friends or to my partner because I know that they understand and I don’t need to worry about feeling moany or annoying. It really helps me to just talk, even if what i’m saying isn’t coherent or feels contradictory.
Depending on how bad the mental health day is, the little things I do vary. If it’s a really dark day and I feel like there’s no point in anything then i have to force myself up to shower – having a shower or bath and getting clean always helps me feel a little more worth something. I often feel isolated and disconnected from everyone on bad days so it helps to talk with someone I’m close to, either about how I’m feeling or something completely different.
I’m currently sorting out my bedside table and I’m making the top drawer a little mental health drawer. In there, I’m going to keep cards or notes from friends or family that make me smile, quotes that inspire me, my counselling notebook, a list of little things I can do when I can’t do much at all that day, my antidepressants and vitamins, a couple of cereal bars. These are things I may need every day or may help me. If I can’t get out of bed because it’s too hard, I’ll have my tablets right there to take and I always make sure to have a fresh glass of water on my table every night.
My counsellor suggested trying to think of three positive things at the end of everyday bc apparently there was a study which did this for people with mild depression and it helps you to look for the good things in the day rather than always focusing on the bad.
For me, I just think it’s nice to try and think of 3 things – they can be as simple as anything as well – I’ve had things like “played with my nephew” or “had a nice cup of tea” on bad days and I write them in a cute lil book.
4. Take time to make myself dinner. This is particularly hard if I’m struggling to feel like a person, but it always helps. For some, it might help to eat easy comfort food but, for me, that always makes me feel worse. Taking ten minutes to get up, and make a dinner I know I will enjoy can really help. Equally, I try not to pressure myself to if I really feel like I can’t.
If I’m feeling generally very anxious (i.e. not triggered by anything) I just try and ‘let myself off the hook’ (that was a phrase from counselling) as much as possible.If i don’t feel like going to the gym I don’t, and try not to beat myself up about it, if I don’t want to leave the house I don’t. If I get bad thoughts about where I am in my life (e.g. job, lack of relationship, money) I just try and tell myself mentally that it’s ok to feel that way. Often if I can I will lie in bed and let myself be there, rather than trying to get up and do things that I can’t face doing.
If I’m panic attack-y, I have a few methods. It usually happens at night/early morning, where I’ll get up (if I’m in bed) and go and make myself a cup of chamomile. I’ll watch youtube videos of really inane stuff like ‘the least used train station in the UK’ or chemistry videos and it gives me something to focus on. Often if I get a panic attack it is truly debilitating to the point I can’t go to work. As it happens in the morning, I have twice before just waited until I feel well enough to go to work and don’t rush myself. It’s happened twice and both times I’ve told my manager etc that I was having a panic attack and had to calm down before coming into work, otherwise it would just have gotten worse. I think that the majority of the time people will be understanding.
Depression/depressive symptoms are harder to get over. But again it’s letting myself off the hook, rewarding myself mentally for doing little things and not pushing yourself or thinking you need to do stuff. Basically just doing whatever is comfortable. Getting a good night’s sleep later, having a long shower, watching TV etc.. and it often helps.
Thank you so much to everyone that contributed to this post. You all rock and inspire me boundlessly. I’m hoping this post will help me next time I’m having a bad mental heath day. I also think it’s really interesting and helpful to see how differently people find ways to cope. I hope you all find it useful too!