Today is my birthday. That's right, I'm only 45 years old. Can you believe it? Me neither. As a treat to myself on this cold winter morning, I'm posting these tips because I think it's important for people to talk about this stuff.
I don’t think you can just flip a switch and change your feelings whenever you want to, and people who seem like they can do that are usually just denying their feelings and shoving them down really deep in order to ignore them. I don’t think that’s healthy, and my experience is that those feelings come out in other ways and are often more intense than when they first showed up. So please don’t think of this list as a way to avoid negative feelings. Instead, it’s just a compilation of things I’ve learned to turn to that help me process my feelings, as someone who’s struggled with depression and anxiety since she was a teenager. These are some things I’ve discovered that help turn the dial on my many feelings to a more reasonable setting, one that reflects the truth about who I really am and what I choose to believe. I call these adjustments self-care, and would like to share ten ideas that usually work for me:
Whenever you find yourself feeling out of sorts, allow yourself a minute to take a deep breath or two, and just experience whatever it is you’re feeling. Then try to name that feeling. Is it anger, sadness, jealousy, fear, or something else? Even if it’s as simple as sitting in your car and saying out loud, “I feel embarrassed that I’m going to be five minutes late for my lunch date with my friend Terry.” Words are powerful tools, and we can use them to express the pent up energy we feel in our bodies. When I force myself to listen to my own voice saying something true, in a calm manner, it makes me begin to feel some empathy toward myself. Which can be a bit like opening a card from a good friend that says, “your feelings matter.” If that sounds silly to you, try it anyway.
Let the feeling out. If you’re feeling really mad about something, make time to do something energetic, like running. If you’re sad, cry. If you’re scared, pray. Write down whatever you’re feeling or thinking. Get the voices in your head out of your head by putting them down in black and white. No matter how silly it feels. No one else has to read it, and you can tear it up and throw it away when you’re done. If you still can’t let go of your inhibitions, try writing with your left hand.
Treat with truth (by reading and listening to your favorite Scripture verses, seeking out wisdom from a friend you trust, or meeting with a counselor/therapist) until you begin to feel better.
On days when you feel super tired, allow yourself to sleep in a little, if possible. If not, find time later in the day to go lay down someplace extra cozy for a 20-30 minute nap. Try a weighted blanket to help you relax. Or, if the sun is out, sit outside for a few minutes. Vitamin D is very good for lifting moods. (I don’t necessarily recommend going to a tanning bed, but I have been known to buy myself a month of unlimited sessions during some really dark or cold winters in the past.)
When the day feels long and you don’t know what to do next, make yourself a nice hot cup of tea, or make yourself something tasty and nourishing to eat (notice I did not say ice cream or chocolate–save that for emergencies!)
If you need an easy pick me up, try listening to your favorite music. And sing or dance along if you can. Pick a soundtrack that matches your feelings and go for a drive in the country. Find artists and songs that honestly express how you feel. Here’s a link to some of my favorites: https://open.spotify.com/artist/2fbUQIKSBTohTK6tHaFGYV
If you have a particularly stressful event happen during the week, take one day during the weekend or next week to treat yourself to a massage or a pedicure, or a relaxing afternoon with your favorite funny movie or TV show.
Make yourself a nice bubble bath or take an extra long shower. Did you know they make shower bombs that work the same way as bath bombs? You can find them at the dollar store really cheap, and they don’t have to be expensive to work, you just have to find a scent that relaxes you. (A few drops of a nice smelling oil work, too.)
Get out some oil pastels or craft paint and play with color for awhile. The repetitive motions of coloring and painting are very soothing to me. I don’t put any pressure on myself to try and create a masterpiece. I just focus on mixing colors and looking for that unique blend that makes me feel the most joy.
Go for a walk or attend an exercise class. Even if it’s too cold, too hot, or too rainy, you can always meet a friend at the mall, for a walk indoors. Some churches even have indoor tracks that are available to the public for free. I love going to a restorative yoga class when I need to work through some extra big feelings that I haven’t been able to get out any other way. There are some seasons in life where all I can do is rest on my mat in child’s pose and let the tears fall. It’s also great to have a friend who will meet you there, who forces you to get out of the house now and again, and who will listen whenever you need to talk. I pray that if you don’t know anyone like that, that God will send someone to you soon.
A FINAL THOUGHT
If you have more than a day or two where you find yourself unable to follow any of these tips, it’s probably time to make an appointment with a mental health professional. If calling a therapist or a psychiatrist is a brand new thing and you’re feeling too afraid to try that, just call your regular doctor and ask if you can be seen today. If they ask why, you can say you’re feeling really terrible and need to see someone right away. Then when you get there, be honest with the physician about the symptoms of your dark moods, and ASK for HELP.
I know it’s scary, and I know you’re worried about what your doctor will think of you, but try to remember that your doctor has seen and dealt with all kinds of illness and his job is to help people get well. Think of it as you helping the doctor do a good job, and remember, your mental wellness is just as important as your physical health. You may have a chemical imbalance that needs to be treated with medicine, but that is nothing to be ashamed of. I’ve been on medication for depression and anxiety off and on since 2005, and will likely continue to take something to regulate my moods for the rest of my life.
As someone who’s even been afraid she’ll hurt herself or someone she loves, I can tell you that wellness is worth pursuing. I believe God loves you and wants you to learn to love yourself as well. Yes, God is able to heal people in an instant, but I find that most of the time he uses other people and modern medicine to bring about lasting mental health.
Thanks for reading my tips. I hope they remind you that your wellness is worth fighting for.