What to do when you’re feeling down, depressed or anxious. And this has nothing to do with why it’s been almost 2 weeks since my last post. Had a busy week. Will write about that in a few days.
A friend posed a question on her FaceBook a couple weeks ago. She asked if anyone else had feelings of depression, anxiety, loneliness, etc. and if so, what was their best advice for coping with it? I really admire her for putting that out there. Many, many people (myself included, as you learned in a previous blog post) have these feelings. While some people deal with episodes their whole lives, for many these feelings are temporary, brought on by simple things like stress or hormonal imbalances, or trauma. Even trauma that doesn’t directly affect you can cause mental health issues as we saw after 9/11. I’m no real expert, but I learned a lot from my own experiences and through the Mental Health First Aid Certification class I took back in February. I know that she’s not the only one who might need help. So let’s talk about this. What do you do?
It’s important to know what to do for a loved one dealing with such feelings, so let’s start there. The mnemonic, or memory device, for the Mental Health First Aid Action Plan is ALGEE: Assess for risk of suicide or harm, Listen nonjudgmentally, Give reassurance and information, Encourage appropriate professional help, Encourage self-help and other support strategies. First and foremost, make sure they are not at risk of harming themselves; do not be afraid to simply ask them point blank. You will not be putting thoughts in their head if you ask if they are suicidal and they are not. And do not ignore someone who says they are having suicidal thoughts. This is the one exception to any “confidentiality” agreement established. You need to get them immediate professional help. Once any critical crisis has been ruled out, listening – without judgment – is one of the most important things anyone can do. People need to be heard and their feelings acknowledged. Reassurance includes empathizing, voicing hope, and offering practical help with tasks that may seem overwhelming to the person. Encouraging professional help and self-help (see below) is also very important.
Now, what do you do when you are experiencing these feelings yourself? To begin with, let those you love know how you feel so they can be supportive or at the very least avoid giving you any more bad feelings. In doing that however, know that not everyone in your life is capable of being supportive. That doesn’t make them a bad person. Just find people that know how to handle you, that are not judgmental, don’t try to solve your problem with inappropriate advice, and are good at saying the right thing or know when it’s best not to say anything at all. Spend your time with them and while the episode continues avoid people that make things worse.
If you haven’t experienced anything like it before, analyze what might be causing it. Have you started taking a new medication? Consult with your primary care physician or any doctor whose care you are presently under. Let them know what you’re feeling. Was there some sort of trauma that you experienced or witnessed, even from a far? Don’t be shy about seeking out a therapist or counselor or a coach. Talking through the issue can be powerful. They are paid to listen to their clients, and they ask the right questions to lead to introspection. Unlike talking through feelings with friends, they are not judgmental, don’t offer unsolicited (often inappropriate) advice, and you don’t have to feel guilty about making the conversation all about you. Additional professional support may include government services or non-profit programs that help with vocational and educational goals, and income or housing assistance, depending what your challenges are.
Take good care of yourself. Go to bed early, drink a lot of water, eat well, take some “me time” – again why its important to tell the people you are closest to. Maybe they can take the kids, or take care of other obligations. Exercise! I find that exercise (and it’s also a proven fact) helps elevate mood. Of course I run – but there are times, like when I had my back issues (result of stress) or after my surgery, when I couldn’t, I have found just getting out for a brisk walk was helpful. I also swim. And I hike. Sometimes I need to do something different in order to see things differently.
Journaling is also productive. I keep an e-journal (see Day One in the App Store), which allows me to add pictures, note the time, place, weather, and tag entries to search later. I try to take a picture everyday of something – even a small thing – that makes me smile and include it. Some days I just vent when I journal and that’s good too. I have found getting my thoughts down allows me to look at an issue from a different perspective.
As I feel myself emerging from a down mood, I plan a “me day” – maybe an updated haircut, manicure/pedicure, or massage, and perhaps a new outfit to wear to work to start a new week so I feel like I’m starting fresh. I will also add that a few months after my husband died (and this, as you know, came in a 8 year period where I also saw the loss of both parents, a close aunt and uncle, my dog and 4 jobs), I realized I was in over my head emotionally, so in addition to the therapist I was seeing, I started practicing Transcendental Meditation. This was a real game changer and has allowed me to manage things a lot better. I still get sad, have job stress, and I am the single parent of a teenager, but I feel like I manage the emotions much better. To a certain extend, I learned to ride it out. If you have experienced these feelings before, they pass, right? So it’s a matter of finding the strongest coping mechanisms and the best alliances that make it possible to ride the waves.
Sandy Hook, NJ October 2015