Coping with mental health issues as important now as ever

According to the CDC , roughly ¼ of all American teens between the ages of 12 and 17 have some sort of mental health problem: anxiety, depression, or behavioral problems. Mental health has a huge and unfair stigma in the United States. This makes it so that most people are ashamed of their mental health situation, and try to deny their problems. However, since mental health concerns have been on the rise for years, no one who is suffering from mental illness is all alone. Treatments are readily available to help with just about any mental health ailment. The great thing about all of these treatments is that you have the ability to initiate them. It is best to know what options you have, so here are the top six most common coping skills that can help reduce the impact of mental illness in your life.

Self Soothing

This includes comforting yourself with your five senses. Soothing the five senses is a relaxation technique that is used in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Relaxation techniques assist with stress relief and can help your body relax by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure. When your body is relaxed, your mind can function better. This is especially helpful with people that experience panic attacks. To do this, you go in a list like so: 

Acknowledge  five things you can see 

  • Look around and focus on one thing at a time and name the five things you can see 

Acknowledge four things you can touch 

  • This can be a fuzzy blanket, a stress ball, or something with a texture that you like

Acknowledge three things you can hear 

  • Open your ears and listen to what’s around you, try and pinpoint specific sounds and process exactly what you hear. 

 Acknowledge two things you can smell 

  • The smell of your hair, your jacket, or anything around you that has a scent 

Acknowledge one thing you can taste 

  • It’s beneficial to carry some mints with you or even some candies if you’re a sweets kind of  person                         

Emotional Awareness 

Being able to identify the emotions you’re experiencing at any given time. This is commonly a struggle with people who have post-traumatic stress disorder. If you struggle maintaining your emotions or feel “too emotional”, it’s helpful to try and keep track of how you feel everyday or even throughout the day. This can be writing in a journal, having a list or chart of emotions, or whatever you think best to keep track of how you feel! After being able to monitor how you feel for a good amount of time, you will be able to look back and better understand yourself and your emotions. When you conquer being able to fully understand how you feel at any given situation or moment.

Distraction 

Anxiety can be incredibly overwhelming, but luckily research has been found that there are methods of distraction that can help redirect your attention. When someone is having a panic attack, or even a lot of anxiety at once, they tend to put all of their energy into this negative emotion, but distraction will help to redirect your energy and attention into something positive. Different healthy distractions can be to count your breaths. While this may not seem like much, focusing on breathing and distracting yourself by counting will help the mind ease off of the panicking. Another could be to use sources of entertainment. Things such as reading, playing video games, watching your favorite show or movie. These activities will again distract, and research has found that these are very effective in helping people come down from their panic attacks. Some other different ways are to talk to someone you trust, exercise, do something creative, or even just writing about your feelings. Anxiety does not have to rule your life, and these distraction methods could potentially help someone from spiraling down further into their panicked state.

Mindfulness

Anxiety can have lasting impacts on your body both mentally and physically, but research has found that practicing mindfulness throughout your day can help reduce the impact. Mindfulness is all about paying attention to daily life and things that most of the time are rushed through. Helpful ways to practice mindfulness can be to meditate, calming your body and mind down and connecting with yourself will help reduce the feeling of anxiety. Another way is to leave behind some material comfort items for a few hours. This can be things such as your phone, tablet, computer, or TV. We tend to get so wrapped up into our technological life that we do not see and appreciate what is around us, which leads me to the next practice. Look around you at the world and try to appreciate the beauty, taking a break from technology and recentering yourself with the world can be really refreshing. The last peace of mindfulness is also a technique for distraction as well, try to journal. This can be especially helpful for those who do not feel comfortable expressing their feelings out loud yet. Journaling will not only help you get to know yourself better, but it can be a great release to let out everything you are feeling onto paper, and into words. Every tiny piece of mindfulness will help, what matters most is being consistent. Regularly participating in mindfulness can help relax and get past the negative emotions you feel.

Opposite Action

Affirmations:

There is a whole movement that has sprung up around self care. Self care is many things, but it is often used when a person is trying to increase their confidence or self esteem. This can be done through Opposite Actions. Opposite Actions are conscious actions that someone takes to make them feel an opposite, positive emotion, when in crisis due to mental health. These tools put you back into the driver’s seat in your own mind, so that you can help change the thoughts that are causing a mental illness. Affirmations are repeated thoughts that help remind the thinker that they will be alright in the long term, and that they have what it takes to get through the pain of mental illness like anxiety and depression. Affirmations sound like, “I’ll be OK”, “I’ve made it through before”, or words of encouragement like “I’m scared, but I’ll be brave!”. Repeatedly thinking positive affirmations about ourselves may help reduce overall feelings of depression or anxiety over time, or at least can help provide a breather from the stress in the short term. Affirmations help break the cycle of negative thinking that is commonly associated with depression or anxiety, and allow someone who is suffering to take some time to list the positive in their lives, alongside the thoughts that are the roots of the mental illness.

Inspiration:

Inspiration reminds us that our problems are short-term, and that we can rise above them with help from our friends, family, and mental health professionals. With that in mind, make some fun plans that you will do when you have more free time, or after your mental health situation is in remission. Plan a fun trip for you and your friends. Write down a list of goals to achieve once you put mental illness in the rearview mirror. Everyone you know is cheering for you, so talk to them about the things that inspire you and encourage you to keep fighting the battle against mental illness.

Something That Cheers You Up:

While the other two techniques of Opposite Action focus on the internal, the third is something that takes place outside of your mind. Looking for entertainment that can cheer you up is also helpful to improving mental health in the category of Opposite Actions. When people are having an “attack” or “flare up” of mental illness, it can be helpful to distract themselves from the cycles of thought that lead them into a bad place. Many assume that it is best to fight mental problems head on, and while this is true, people often need vacations from all the stress, in the same way you would take one from work or school. So, take some time, and unplug from thinking. Watch a funny movie, listen to some uplifting and affirming music, or do an activity outside that requires concentration, like going for a run or playing a sport with friends. Doing these things may not reduce your frequency of mental illness in the long run, but it will serve as a nice gap in time when your mind sets aside its worries and is able to enjoy the simple things in life. Remember that when your treatment is over, your mood will generally improve, and you can look forward to many more days like those in the future. If you have the right support structure in place, this can happen surprisingly quickly.

Crisis Plan

Contact People Who Can Help You:     

Simply put, a Crisis Plan is a safety net of trusted people in your life who can help if you are facing a struggle with mental health. The name “crisis” implies that something very serious is happening, but this support net can be good for other times, too. Whatever you may need them for, just make sure that you choose people that will be there for you; who can help whenever you need. They can be anyone– your best friend, your parents, your favorite teacher, or a trusted adult leader in the community, like your religious leader, the advisor of an extracurricular, or a mental health professional. If you think that a crisis may be on the horizon, it is a great idea to have a trained and licensed professional on your side. They have likely seen it all before, which is very reassuring in times of trouble. If all else fails, there are many mental health and suicide prevention hotlines that you can call for free at any time of day, and can help you ease the pain. In our area, these numbers include: 800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Hotline, and 330-793-2487 for Alta Behavioral Healthcare. Make sure to write your plan down, because having “emergency contacts” is just as important in mental health as it is for physical health.

Let People Know What’s Going On:

Once you have identified the people and resources you can trust in the event of an emergency, you should let them know. Of course, you don’t have to tell them everything unless you are really comfortable sharing those very important details. Tell your safety net a little about what’s going on so that they understand, and confirm that they will be able to help you when you need it, even if that is late at night, or early in the morning. Let them know how they can help, too. If you want someone to give you advice, tell them that. If you want someone who has been through the same thing, let them know. Sometimes it is just best to vent to a good listener. If that sounds like you, be sure that everyone you will be turning to can meet your requests. Remember that even if someone seems uncomfortable in this situation, it’s because they are worried for you. They are your friends, so you know you are not inconveniencing them or wasting their time. With all of these things in mind, you will be prepared for any emergencies that may happen down the road.

 

No matter which path you take, it is important that you take action. Mental health problems are very treatable with routine, and especially with the help of a licensed counselor or other mental health professional. You have the power to make a positive difference for yourself and for all of your friends and family. Please remember to always be kind, and offer a helping hand to those in need, so that our society can rise above the pain of, and stigmas surrounding, mental health.