In modern times, it has become commonplace to refer to a variety of emotional and physical conditions with the blanket term “stress”. People will often use the excuse “I’m stressed out” to mean “I am physically ill with panic and anxiety” or “I am so depressed I can hardly function” or simply, “I have over-scheduled myself”. There are so many common conditions that range from mild to deadly serious that relate to emotion health. In American society, we have put too much emphasis on productivity, and have connected being overly productive to being successful and even popular. An imbalance is highly likely to occur when we chronically over-work ourselves and do not take the time to reflect and process our emotions. Because our society in general views mental health problems as abnormal and undesired, people experiencing emotional issues are likely to keep them to themselves, become isolated, and exacerbate the problem. There are probably many high functioning people with anxiety, depression, PTSD, eating disorders or a similar condition in your life right now. Maybe you quietly suffer yourself.
Today I will present some tips on how to “weather the storm” and regain balance if you are suffering from an emotional health issue. I have found these practices helpful for my own battles with anxiety, depression and PTSD. I hope they will help you no matter what your situation.
1. Deep breathing
It seems too simple to work, but it is the quickest fix for feeling out of control. Take slow, deep breaths into your belly and let them out slowly. Close your eyes if that helps you. Try breathing in for 3 counts through your nose and out for 3 counts through your mouth. Keeping a steady rhythm helps maintain calm. If you would like to, try square breathing: breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, breathe out for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts.
Especially if you are a visual person, looking at an image or holding an image in your minds eye can help to create calm and strength. My favorite visualizations are those of flexibility in the face of adversity. I prefer them to visualizing a calm beach scene (or something similar) when my anxiety level is high. Sometimes a calm beach is just too far removed from reality and feels escapist to me. I alternate between two images: a tree with very strong roots but flexible branches, and a duck on a stormy sea. Both images inspire me to remain open minded and flexible in order to weather the storm.
The human body and mind are marvelous things, and they have incredible regenerating powers. By making sure you are listening to your body, stretching muscles sore from tension, eating healthy foods to give yourself some more energy and replenish vitamins lost from stress, doing everything in your power to get good quality sleep, you are giving yourself the best chance of recovery.
4. Gather a support network
We as living beings need to connect to other living beings in this life. Too often when we feel badly we isolate ourselves from others, when what we really need is the support of a network of trusted companions. Reach out to your friends, family, coworkers, or partner. Choose people who love and support you no matter what. Don’t let your fear or pride get in your way of feeling better. Many people find the support of animal companions to be extremely therapeutic. If you don’t have a pet yourself, offer to walk your neighbors dog, or find a local stable or animal shelter to volunteer at.
5. Connect with a professional
There are countless types of health professionals out there that are trained to offer assistance and support to those suffering from emotional imbalance. Massage therapists, yoga instructors, acupuncturists, health counselors, Naturopaths, etc. are available outside of traditional psychotherapists. However, a therapist is the most extensively trained in mental health, and I strongly recommend seeing one if you are dealing with a chronic or acute mental health imbalance that is interfering with daily life. Remember, just as you can choose your friends, you can choose your therapist. See a variety of people for an initial consultation and choose the one that feels right for you. Additionally, you are in charge of the content of your therapy sessions. If there are topics that you would rather not discuss, that is up to you to communicate to your therapist so that you may feel comfortable in your sessions. Please do not resist seeing a mental health professional because you are afraid of what others will think, because you are opposed to medication, or because you do not believe you are that badly off. You are in charge of your own life, and no health professional should force you to do something that you do not want to do. Remember they are there to help you, and so are you.