Disclaimer: It’s important to note that these tips are not designed to discourage mental health sufferers from seeking treatment, or to encourage them to simply accommodate their problems rather than address them. The aim of this blog post is to help those who are on the waiting list for help, are struggling with functioning on a daily basis or want advice on handling long term mental health problems that standard treatments won’t apply to.
In February of this year, I experienced one of the biggest and darkest mental health lows I’ve had in years. I went through mental and physical struggles I haven’t faced since I was a teenager and I honestly had no idea how to handle it. From severe anxiety to deep depression and a crippling bout of OCD, it felt like I just shattered and everything that made me me was gone.
But once I was over the worst of it, I felt like I had to learn how to be a person again – I had to remind myself how to go outside and how to socialise and how to think without anxiety. I’d gone through so many years of relative peace, but a combination of health worries, a global pandemic and work stress just pushed me over the edge. It seemed impossible for me to find a way through this fog I was swamped in, to fight my way into eating every day and sleeping and working. I had to bully myself into becoming a functioning human again when every bone in my body wanted me to curl up and cry.
It was a serious low point in my life and one I didn’t want to revisit again. And then I did. On a seemingly ordinary Monday a few weeks ago, I crashed again. My therapist described it as ‘hitting capacity’ – where my mind just checks out due to so much stress and trauma, and it falls back into old habits of anxious thinking and depression.
But this time, instead of my recovery time lasting months, it only lasted a week. In fact, the very next day, I forced myself to get out of the house and go and sit in a coffee shop for a while – just to prove that I could do it. I forced myself to eat, even when my stomach rebelled against it. I pushed myself to do work again, knowing that my future self would be grateful for it and I did everything I could to avoid going back into my own personal black hole again.
I know there are other people out there just like me. People who are struggling to cope with the day-to-day presence of their mental health and who exist in that ‘hole’ more days than not. I know just how hard it is to put on a smile and try and feel normal when even the smallest of actions can make you feel distressed. So I wanted to share some of the things I did to help me claw my way out of the hole before, and will hopefully help me to climb out of it again in the future.
Make the most of your good days
As with every dip, down period, anxious bout or breakdown, your mental health can feel like a constant wave – taking you up and down in ever-switching moods and modes. You can feel like a helpless mess for 8 hours of the day, and then have one random hour of clarity and motivation, before the shakes begin again and your mind drags you back down to the pit.
My first tip is to make the most of those moments. Whether it lasts for a day, an hour or a week, this is your time to get the essential jobs done. Take a shower, reply to your messages, eat some food, tidy up your space, put a wash on, check your emails – do what needs to be done when you feel strong enough to do it. This is your time to make the doctors appointments and change your bedsheets and invite someone you trust over to help you with the rest.
Make a list of the jobs that need to get done – around the house, for yourself, in your job or for school, and leave that as a reminder for your next period of clarity. Even just ticking off one of these items can make you feel a little better for the next time your mental health dips.
Prepare things in advance for your bad days
It always pays to be prepared, and when it comes to your mental health, the more work you can put in before a bad spell, the better. During a period when your mental health feels relatively stable, alongside getting all of your jobs and tasks completed, it’s important to also start preparing some things for your bad days as well.
Think about what you need the most during your worst times. For me, it can be things such as a jigsaw puzzle to keep me distracted when my mind starts to race or some smoothies and soups for when my throat closes up from anxiety. I make sure I always have my medication topped up so I don’t run out, and that I get as much work done on my good days so that I don’t feel guilty on my bad days. If I have a little extra time, I even like to create a backlog of content to go out for my clients that can be applicable any day of the week, so all I have to do is publish it if I’m in the depths of my anxiety.
But for you, your bad day preparation can take many different forms. It could be making sure you have a stack of unread books to lose yourself in until your storm passes, stocking up on your favourite food, or making sure your favourite depression hoodie is clean and ready to go when you need it. It’s also important to let other people know what you need on your bad days too – as referenced in my next tip.
Talk to those around you
You don’t have to wait until things get really bad before talking about your mental health with your friends. Even a simple conversation about what you need, what can help you and what they can do to make you feel better when things are bad can sometimes make a huge difference. Make the effort to list helpful or unhelpful things your friends, family or partner can do when you feel bad to both help you to feel better or to at least prevent you from feeling worse.
If having company makes you feel safer during times of poor mental health, let your friends know! Even if all you want them to do is come over and watch tv in your house or do some work on their laptop and ignore you, if it makes you feel good, then invite them. Or if you know you need time alone to feel better, share that with them as well. Explain that you still love them and care about them, but that you’re just taking a bit of time out for your mental health and you’ll let them know when you’re feeling better soon.
It’s ok to ask your friends for help, even if that help comes in the form of respectful silence and pre-approved distance. They love you and they want you to feel ok, and if they truly want to help you feel better, they’ll agree to your needs.
Write notes to future you
For me, this blog post is a note to future me. So your notes don’t have to be sentimental handwritten letters or elegantly crafted artworks – sometimes it just needs to be a to-do list of ways to help yourself get out of the hole a little faster and a little easier than the time before.
Tell yourself in the future what worked for you, and what didn’t work last time. If scrolling on your phone watching depression Tiktoks at 2am didn’t help last time, recommend that future!you doesn’t do it either. If going out for a run at 6am every morning did help, however, then pop it on the list. You’re not here to criticise either your past or your future self, and so strict rules and judgements aren’t going to be helpful.
These notes are simply kind and gentle reminders to yourself that you have both survived this feeling before, and some tips of how to do it again.
If anyone is interested, I believe my notes would be:
- Stop googling your symptoms – you know it doesn’t help.
- Being smart about your water intake, forcing yourself to exercise and eating healthy food does make you feel better.
- Distraction is useful, and it’s ok to let yourself get lost in something safe during this time.
- You don’t need to tell everyone around you about your anxiety – it’s just another form of reassurance seeking.
- Compulsions will fade, so just let them. You won’t get better or worse by giving into them.
Try to stay organised where possible
Being organised, in general, is going to be good for your mental health. Whether you do your best to remain organised in small ways every day or carve out chunks of time to organise your life, having a clean and tidy external space is going to positively impact your internal thoughts.
Making time for organising your diaries and calendars can help to remind you of events and appointments coming up, so you’re less likely to forget about them on bad days. Tidying up your house and your space can make you feel calmer and less overwhelmed. Setting up recurring outgoings such as automatic bills, online grocery shops and digital prescription requests can allow you to take care of yourself months in advance.
Particularly when it comes to work and school, our mental health can often make it difficult for us to focus, and can lead to mistakes, missed deadlines and sub-par performances. Doing your best to make notes of deadlines in easy to spot places, keeping up with your planners, regularly checking your emails and forcing yourself into a good routine can help to prevent this from happening. Many of these tasks are also useful activities to do on your good days, as whilst we would all like to use our happy days for fun and exciting pursuits, sometimes the smarter thing to do is to get our life back on track first.
Make small goals for bad days
We’ve all felt the guilt of a day wasted due to mental illness. It’s an unfair, disappointing and frustrating guilt, that we let a day or a week go by and accomplished nothing due to the chemical imbalances firing off inside our brains. It’s completely illogical and yet we all feel it. So instead, try to set yourself small, achievable goals for your bad days.
Try to round them up into a list of five to help you count them down as you complete them. These could be goals such as making the bed, cooking a meal, writing a page of your journal, reading one chapter of a book, making a coffee, taking a bath…Your goals will be personal to you, and depending on your lifestyle, you know what will help you to feel the most accomplished throughout the day.
Perhaps if you’re struggling with intense anxiety, then your goal on a bad day should be to go for a walk or to pop into a shop to buy some milk. It’s a small task but one that can make you feel incredibly accomplished when times are tough.
Or if your OCD is rapidly rising, challenge yourself to avoid one compulsion for the whole day. Use whatever techniques you need to, whether it’s CBT, distraction, avoiding the space or meditation, but do your best to resist the temptation.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Mental health is embarrassing. It’s messy and annoying and complicated and unpleasant and it can be such a personal experience that all you want to do is hide away from it in shame. But sometimes, on our worst days, asking for help is ok. If all you want to do is talk to a friend for a while, just to vent, that’s ok. If you need someone to come over and help you clean your house, ask someone you trust.
If you’re too anxious to go and get some food, ask someone to order it for you or drop some off at your house. If you need someone to call the GP or a hotline for you, that’s ok too.
Pride and mental illness can often antagonise each other to the worst possible extent, making you feel like a burden for seeking help. But it’s important to remember that if your illness was physical, your friends would be tripping over themselves to help you out and make you feel better. So why should your mental illness be any different?
Take one day at a time
We can all get lost in our plans for the future. Whether we’re planning the next five months, five years or five days, we all tend to think ahead a little more than we should. For someone struggling with mental health, thinking ahead is a rather frightening prospect. How do I know that I’ll be able to make that wedding if it’s six months away and my anxiety is still so bad? What if I’m too depressed to make it to Christmas next year? How will my mental health affect me having children or raising a family? What if my OCD ruins my wedding or my next career move?
Whilst it’s true that a little bit of forward planning is going to be useful for your mental health – as mentioned, it’s always good to put things in place to help your future self – losing ourselves in the future can actually make our mental health worse. The future is never certain, and we genuinely don’t know how we’re going to feel from one day to the next.
Mental health can be unpredictable and it does change. It goes up and down and gets worse and gets better and there are so many variables to consider when trying to plan your future that it’s an entirely pointless process. By the time the wedding arrives, you might feel better than ever or you might feel anxious. But even if you do, it won’t be the end of the world. Yes, you might still have mental health problems by the time you have children, but you definitely won’t be the only mentally ill parent in the world. Parents with mental health problems can still be good parents, and your mental illness shouldn’t stop you from enjoying a happy family. Christmas is one day and it happens every single year. If you miss one, there will always be another one to try it all over again.
All of the worries we have about the future can be minimized if we think about them logically, and so many of the fears we have now might not be a problem by the time the situation arrives. Think how many things we’ve been scared of in the past and overcome? Personally, I never thought I’d get into a relationship, fly on a plane, live on my own or go to university thanks to my anxiety. But I did. We’re always stronger than we believe we are.
Mental health isn’t something that we should always accommodate for. There are risks involved with letting mental health dominate your life and it can prevent you from seeking the treatment you need. But sometimes there are periods in our lives when all we can do is accommodate it. There are times when there’s no help available right now when the medication hasn’t kicked in yet, when we’re too low to ask for help and when the everyday feels just as bad as the lowest point. Learning to accept and accommodate your mental illness at these times can help to give you back some of the control and some of the power you have over your own life. Caring for yourself and caring for your mind during these periods is essential and all of the steps I’ve mentioned are designed to help you do that.
Thank you for reading.
If you want to speak to someone about your mental health, or you just fancy a chat with me about my own mental health, I’ve included all of the contact information you might need below.
Contact & Links
Email me: [email protected]
SANEline: 0300 304 7000
Samaritans: 116 123
CALM: 0800 58 58 58