How many times have you been in a situation where you’ve felt out of control?
Either in a moment lasting 5 mins, 5 days or 5 months or more?
My guess if you’re reading this blog post is that it’s been more than once.
Cool. Me too.
Too many times? Same.
Still happen all the time? Not good.
I wanted to share this blog post because I’ve been able to reduce both the frequency of this feeling and the negative effects when it does happen. In figuring out a few things that work for me, I hope you’re able to customize them to best work for you and if you find it valuable, share this post or the tips with the people you care about.
The most important step to re-gain mental control over negative, destructive, mental illness-type of thoughts & behaviours is to develop the insight and ability recognize when it’s happening. You might think this is an obvious point, but can you think of a time when you let these types of thoughts and behaviours go on longer than you would have had you noticed it earlier?
A few ways I’ve been able to improve in this area are to:
1.1. Study my specific illness. The more I started to understand my illness, the better I could identify symptoms vs regular thoughts/behaviours.
1.2. Keep it tight. Keeping people close to me updated on how I'm doing and what I’m up to has also helped a ton. I remember specifically last spring telling a good friend everything I was currently doing and planning to do in the next few months. When I saw his eyes light up with fear, I immediately dropped some plans and felt relieved.
1.3. Check in more formally. For a good while during my serious struggles, I would fill out a 1-2 page check list of unhealthy or ‘alarming’ thoughts/behaviours with a family member. My sister, who’s a psychologist created it and I would literally print it off and fill it out 1 x per week, then 1 x every 2 weeks, then monthly, etc. until no longer needing to. The questions were things like: I am sleeping far more than usual/far less than usual; I’m exercising less than usual; I’ve felt [symptom x, y, z].
Once I recognize thoughts or behaviours that either aren’t serving me or are making my life worse, and I feel like things are sliding downhill, the thing I try to do immediately is reach into my ‘Wellness Toolbelt’ for a tool, resource or strategy to reverse the trend pronto. This can range from anything like medication, counsellors, a hobby, deep breathing/meditation, super-high-quality-nutrition, or anything that is healthy and doable in that moment/time frame.
My 3 top tools in my tool belt are:
2.1. Opening Up. Talking to someone who understands who you can trust and rely on to offer good advice and non-judgmental support is huge. You don’t necessarily ‘stumble’ across these people ‘in the moment’ (although that’s very possible), you prep them ahead of time by opening up to them when you’re doing ok and sharing where you’re at so they’re not caught off guard if things go downhill. This is part of building a strong support system which I cover in The EDGE training program.
If I can get into nature and do some exercise, that’s often better than therapy for me. One or the other often does the trick as well. That might not be possible for you though, and to that I say find your ‘Oasis’ - that place or activity where you feel free, relaxed and where your worries just don’t seem to matter. Got it? Perfect!! Can’t think of it? Your homework is to find it and then use it. One of mine is so special to me, I won’t even tell you what it is for fear of ruining it for myself. Don’t be afraid to have a few so you increase your chances of having access to it whether travelling, on a budget, busy, etc..
Another one of the most potent tools I use is what I put in my mouth. Let this sink in real deep - what you eat and drink has a MASSIVE effect on how good or bad you feel. Doubt me? Do some Googling or just observe yourself after great/shitty food. I’m not always perfect at eating 100% healthy food (I am for 80% btw), but when I feel like my mental health is sliding downhill, I step it up in a big way and aim for whole-foods + smoothies + superfoods + water + no alcohol + very little processed foods. That simple combo should be all you need to correct course, even without the superfoods.
Once I’ve identified the slipping-of-the-downhill.. and hopefully been able to use a couple wellness tools, I then have a look at my schedule for the next 1 to sometimes 30+ days and re-evaluate. The decision is whether I need to cut back, adjust, etc. all with the intention of reversing the slide. Make sure this is very clear. Nothing else (NOTHING) is more important than your mental health in these situations. Not family birthday parties. Not work. Not school. Not events, speeches or trips.
Bailing on your schedule could literally save your life and/or a ton of additional struggles.
Do it cautiously, but do it with confidence.
One example of me doing this was when I was doing some final research for a speech at 9pm on a Friday a couple of years back. Speech was 10am the next day at a student leadership conference. I stumbling across some really disturbing information that spun me immediately into severe symptoms. Within 2 mins I realized I was at a huge risk of having a relapse, emailed the conference organizers to cancel my speech, applied steps 1-3 and by Monday I was back to work like nothing had happened.
Were the conference organizers pissed? Absolutely. Did I care? Of course, but I didn’t feel one ounce of regret.
Have that commitment to your mental health and wellness and you too can live without fear of sliding downhill out of control ever again. Doesn’t mean it can’t happen, it just gives you a better chance at stopping it from happening.Remember this article next time you’re slipping and make sure to share it with the people you care about either to help them help you, or just to help them help themselves.
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Keep well and keep doing awesome things.