Hello my lovely friends! Before we dive into this weeks blog post, I wanted to share that we have officially launched the GUTSY CONVOS PODCAST! This is an audio version of Gutsy Feeling, where each week I will be sharing the blog post in a new format. If podcasts are more your jam, click here to listen. Otherwise, keep reading.
08. Mental Health Tips and Tricks with the CMHA – Gutsy Convos
In last weeks update post I spoke briefly about the severe anxiety that I developed at the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020. This anxiety started at the end of my semester before Christmas and carried its way through into the new year.
I have always faced high stress and anxiety throughout my life, but this was on a whole other level. I was constantly overthinking, looping the same thing over in my mind. I was having panic attacks, and was struggling with the thought of “messing up”.
My anxiety was mainly surrounding the future and I felt this overwhelming pressure that the decisions I made now had to be what I lived with for the rest of my life. I think this stemmed from a “need for control” that I developed when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Having a chronic illness can leave you with a lot of variables and can make you feel out of control. I think that is why I have always tried to be super organized and in control of all the other avenues of my life.
Well I guess the pressure finally boiled over. I was edging closer to graduation and I had this extreme anxiety that I needed to make decisions today that would hold true forever. This was making me second guess myself, every decision I have made, my relationships, my future etc. Don’t get me wrong reflection is good, but I would consider myself a very self aware person so this was very unhealthy. My doctor and therapist both agreed that I had OCD tendencies (not actual OCD) so the approach we took in therapy and everyday life needed to be tailored to stop obsessive thinking. So, today I wanted to share some of the things I learned that helped me move past this anxiety and some tools that I used along the way.
I began working with a therapist in fall 2019, so thankfully she was super helpful for me as I made my way through this transition. She knew me as a person before I had this extreme spike in anxiety, so it was very helpful for her to remind me of who I am. I believe that therapy is very important to get through any mental health concerns you may facing. I recommend it for everyone whether you struggle with a severe issue, or just need to talk to someone as an outsider opinion.
Therapy unfortunately can be very expensive, but I know that there are many options for financial assistance if you need it. I use Better Help, and they offer you financial assistance of up to 40-60% off your therapy depending on your financial situation. I was able to qualify for a reduced price because I was a student. For Canadians, I know that you can always receive free counseling sessions if you have faced a traumatic life event such as a break up, a death, etc. If you speak with your family doctor they can help. Finally, your local Teen Health Center or Health Unit will be able to provide you with options for therapy.
*If you want to try Better Help for a FREE WEEK, click here.
My brain began to develop unhealthy though patterns and I was spiraling. The old healthy habits I had developed were slowly being replaced with bad ones. I have been on medication for anxiety/depression in the past when I was struggling really badly with Crohn’s before my surgery. This was a very difficult choice for me then, and it was again this time around. I am a huge mental health advocate and I KNOW that there is nothing wrong with taking medication for ANYTHING. But, it is still a difficult decision and it makes you feel “different” then others. However, I knew this was the right choice because I could not handle it on my own anymore no matter how many tools I used.
So, that was when I decided to go on an anxiety medication, and I also used Ativan when I needed it for panic attacks. It took 6 weeks for the medication to work, but once it did I slowly began to feel more in control. Before the medication kicked in I was having panic attacks and spiraling almost every day or two. It was very hard to use the tools I was learning in therapy and to use all of the self care tools I was taught throughout the years because I didn’t want to be alone with my thoughts for too long. But, once the medication kicked in I was able to really retrain my thoughts and let go of things that were limiting and holding me back.
#3: MEDITATION & DISTRACTIONS
You probably read that title and were like wait what? Those definitely contradict themselves. You are right.
In meditation we are taught to be still and clear our mind, this was something that was very difficult for me at this time. But, when I could I tried to meditate for even 5 minutes to calm myself down.
However, when I needed to get out of my thoughts I would use some healthy distractions like my favorite show or content creators to zone out. It is not great to always distract yourself, but when you have something consuming your thoughts all day long, it is important to cut yourself a break and allow yourself some time to relax.
#4: DON’T FEEL PRESSURE TO DO IT ALL
People are always ready to give you advice on what you should be doing to help your mental health. Meditation, journaling, mantras, therapy, coloring, yoga, the list goes on. Don’t get me wrong I am A HUGE FAN of all of these things. But, we go through seasons of life where some things work, and others don’t. That is okay and totally normal.
I am a huge journaling advocate, I always have been. But, when I was going through this period of anxiety, journaling was not helping. In fact, it was making me worse and reinforcing this compulsion and need to write it all down and reassure myself every day. This was not healthy so I stopped and instead chose a different approach.
#5: MANTRAS AND STOPPING THOUGHTS
Journaling was not working, so with the help of my therapist I was able to try a few different approaches. These approaches all worked to strengthen my self-confidence and my ability to trust the decisions I have made and the process. The first approach we did was writing out exactly what I felt, what I wanted, and what I believed to be true. Once, I wrote this down I was not allowed to write it out again. Whenever a negative thought would pop into my head I would use the following approach:
- Thought Stopping: When a repeated unwanted thought occurred, I would say “stop” in my mind
- Thought Replacement: I would then replace the thought with a positive one by using a mantra like “I am in control” “I choose positivity and love” or whatever resonates with you.
After awhile this was not working as well, so we decided to switch the approach by not acknowledging the thought at all. By acknowledging the thought, it shows your brain that it holds power over you. When in reality, 80-90% of your thoughts everyday are repetitive and useless. Either one of these approaches may work for you. It is all about trial and error, so be patient and take your time.
#6: UNDERSTANDING THE MIND
A huge misconception within modern society is that because we as people produce thoughts and feelings, we must therefore identify with our thoughts and feelings. If no one has told you this before, I need you to know that YOU ARE NOT YOUR MIND (Mind = thoughts + feelings). Your mind is a tool that you can use to your benefit, not the other way around.
In order to really push past anxiety and depression it is important to disidentify from your mind. If you believe that you are your mind, then you also believe that you would cease to be without your thoughts and feelings. This is not true. It is important to remember that we have the power to use our mind as a tool. So, when a thought or feeling pops up, get curious. Don’t judge the thought or feeling, simply observe it within yourself. Once you do so, it looses it’s power over you.
If you want to learn more about thoughts I would highly recommend the book “You Can Be Happy No Matter What” by Richard Carlson. This book is based on psychology and science so I really resonated with it. In addition, I would check out “The Power of Now” by Eckart Tolle. This book is a little more spiritual but it still has some really good information based in psychology.
#7: STOP GOOGLING
This is something that was very common for me. I would think of something, I would want to know an answer or see others opinions, and I would fall down a Google rabbit hole. This was not helpful and not healthy for me.
Something to remember is that when you Google a physical symptom half the time websites say you have brain cancer or 25 ulcers. We shrug this off and know that this is probably not right. So, we should do the same when Googling for mental symptoms. If you do need to Google, remember to only look at credible websites. Sites like Psychology Today or scholarly articles are good options. If you want to get advice from someones blog, be sure that you take it with a grain of salt. It is someone’s personal experiences, it is not right or wrong, but it may not be the right thing for you.
#8: BE PATIENT & CELEBRATE LITTLE WINS
I am a doer and I like to have things done NOW. So, being patient with my anxiety and my recovery was very important. I needed to remember that if it took me weeks/months to create bad habits, it would take the same amount of time to develop good ones. To stay encouraged it is important to celebrate little wins. It can be anything that pushes you closer to the life you want. Something as small as having a good morning, or as big as a week without any panic attacks. Remember that if you do fall down or move backwards (which you will), get back up and try again. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
#9: DEVELOP A ROUTINE FOR HARD MOMENTS
For myself, my most heightened anxiety period of the day was in the morning. So, I scheduled my routine to get up and get going in the morning. This helped me to feel accomplished, but also helped me to not get consumed by negative thoughts or emotions in the morning. Because I knew this was when I experienced the most anxiety and the most overthinking, I would get up and do a quick routine and get to work. I would then schedule my calming activities for the evening time.
#10: SELF CARE FOR YOU
It is important to remember what I said earlier. There are many things that people say you SHOULD do. But, whether it actually helps for you is a whole other story. There are many forms of self care and many different things you can do for it. So, experiment and find what works for you right now. It may be different in a few weeks or months, but that is okay. If you want to learn a bit more on the forms of self care and get a free printable tracker, check out the post below.
That is all for today’s blog post. I hope that this was helpful for anyone who is struggling with anxiety or any mental health concerns. It is important to remember that this is a process. My anxiety is not all gone, but I have learned ways to deal with it and thrive despite the negative thoughts. If you ever need to talk, my inbox is always open on Instagram and Facebook.
QUESTION: HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH YOUR MENTAL HEALTH CONCERNS?
Leave your tips in the comments down below or on my latest Instagram post.
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Your trusty, gutsy gal,