Judging from my newsfeed the past few weeks, everyone's had a pretty rough start to 2018. We all have different ways of coping with it, but having a reference-guide in your bookmarks never hurts. Here’s 13 positive things to do if you’re going through a hard time:
1. App Therapy
The geniuses in Silicon Valley, Austin, Seattle, Boston, New York, and other tech hubs know as well as anybody the stress and pressure of modern life. Whether it’s a byproduct of being a high achiever, an intiative awareness of the culture we live in, or an awareness of the paradox of progress, app-developers recognize anxiety and have put work into making a difference.
One of my favorites is the Calm app. It's gotten me to sleep, through long car rides, and out of an anxiety attack more than once. It’s not always an emergency go-to – sometimes it’s just a way to stay accountable on a mindfulness meditation practice.
You can check out Anxiety and Depression Association of America reviewed apps here.
2. Youtube, Podcasts, and Self-Care Web Content
The internet is full of all kinds of amazing resources --- charities, letters, poems, infinite knowledge. Youtube is full of all the above, as well as some pretty incredible testimonies and art.
There are also playlists full of reiki, sleep-music, self-hypnosis, and meditation – guided and self-directed alike.
If you have a Roku or can't download apps, vids like this one (if you can get past the over-tagged title) are wonderful and very similar to the Calm app.
3. Yoga and regular exercise
Cardio is proven to help with anxiety and depression – personally, although I’m not the fittest girl in the world, a run is the only thing that can help me work off a panic attack long-term.
Still, for those of us who aren’t active, whose mental health prevents us from building up a habit, or physical ability or disability limits access, yoga practices (with or without movement, and varying degrees of modification – including sitting or stationary versions) have been spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically interconnected for centuries.
I highly recommend looking into vinyasa morning yoga.
4. Nutrition therapy
Making sure to keep on top of vitamin deficiencies (D deficiency is very common in Americans and is associated with depression), but it’s always valuable to check with a doctor before starting anything beyond a general multivitamin. Drinking lots of water to keep the body hydrated, keeping on top of any medication you might be taking for mental health, and eating lots of nutrient rich fruits and vegetables is an act of self-care that keeps overall wellbeing happy.
Whether it’s something you write on a mirror, keep on a paper in your wallet, inscribe on jewelry, say to yourself to get through a bad night, or repeat when you need to focus your thoughts, having a few words of comfort that you can take ownership of and re-route your thinking with can be deeply comforting and even motivating. Personally, I got mine tattooed on my wrists --- Always Keep Fighting and You Are Not Alone --- where they’re close to my heart, in the two hands I can take control with at any time, and always at the forefront in what I give to others when I reach out my arms to help. If that’s corny to you, it’s okay --- what works for you is deeply personal. If it helps you, it should always be above judgement.
Oil diffusers, essential oils, candles, room sprays, or fragrances – whatever you find comforting is valid and meaningful. There’s plenty of web discourse, from bloggers to religious figures to self-proclaimed new age apothecaries, on more specific associations: smells for mood or even healing, depending on how far your interest or belief goes. Scents and spices are sometimes associated with ayurvedic healing practices, and best choices for you can be associated with your personality and body type.
Often, this can be combined with spa days --- look into bath bombs and other classic self-care goodies everywhere from Etsy to Bed, Bath, and Beyond.
7. Creating Your Safe Decompression Space
This can be anywhere. In my dorm, I have a gamer chair with a furry blanket next to a Himalayan salt lamp and a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. Back home, I have a canopied corner of my bed for movie nights. My best friend always jokes I go into a blanket cocoon – and somehow always convince my guests too as well – on a queen sized bed covered in more blankets and pillows than anyone has a right to --- the key to an epic sleepover/stay-in movie night.
Everyone has their own thing – some people just need white walls and a clean desk. Others have a favorite spot in their library, including registered corrals. As a kid, one of my brothers had a small attic loft he climbed into and read in, my friend had a closet full of Christmas lights, my cousin kept a tent over the bottom bunk of his bed, and my mom had a private writing den in an attached porch. Everyone needs a place that’s theirs. Design yours when you’re upbeat and energized – it will always be there when you need someplace else.
You might also enjoy researching Taoist fengshui or other influences in creating personal harmony within the built environment.
8. Creating A Go-To Playlist
If you have a song, artist, or album that you know always takes you out of your head and into a better space – whether its healing, calming, or heightened-but-cathartic, having a playlist downloaded off your cloud and on your person is always helpful. Headphones in public spaces keep some of the world’s noise out and help to keep the stimulation surrounding you more on your terms than chance. Sometimes having a little bit of familiarity, control, or just a place you know you can go that makes you feel safe or helps you escape is huge.
9. A Go-To Movie Night
When you’re having a really difficult day, you’re ruminating, panicking, or just need to decompress – have movies and maybe a basket of ‘movie night things’ (special PJs folded and kept aside, a bag of popcorn ready-to-go, essential oils, a hot pack, or other treats or comforts) prepared for as little thinking as possible is comforting. It’s like expectant mothers keeping a hospital bag – it’s peace of mind. Pick out movies in advance that always cheer you up – personally, I always love The Breakfast Club, Dirty Dancing, Iron Man, The Avengers, and Pride and Prejudice – is just part of being ready for the days where life isn’t treating you as good as your fav cinematic experience always does.
10. A Go-To Book
Just like a movie or a playlist, you might have a favorite book that’s guaranteed happiness and escape. I know a friend who always carries around her favorite Harry Potter. My mom loves White Oleander by Janet Fitch. My dad likes a particular Clive Custler book. My grandma keeps a mini bible on hand. A teacher in high school always loved Dubliners. Personally, I really love the last chapter of Family Don’t End in Blood, feat. Jared Padalecki from Lynn Zubernis and Katherine Larsen when I’m having a really bad day --- but Brandon Burchard’s Motivation Manifesto, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Fitch’s novels – like my mother, and even screenshots of favorite poems (I love Rupi Kauer, Maya Angelou, and Richard Siken) I keep in my phone’s Camera Roll are always there for me too. Everyone has one. Yours could be anything from The Giving Tree and the Kissing Hand to War & Peace and Homer’s Odyssey. Whatever moves you – no shame – could either be kept by your bedside, in your pocket, or in your backpack at all times. Literature is a love that’s between you and your higher power.
11. Art Therapy
While this term being used too casually is problematic to art therapists, it is our cultural go-to to describe expression and the arts as a means of catharsis. Adult coloring books are extremely popular right now. I discovered them in an airport bookstore while I was looking for something to do on a seven hour flight – and have always kept one in my desk since. Some are overtly meditative – mandalas, spirituality-inspired drawings, some are academic (inspiring figures, feminism), some are funny (comic book style), and others – my favorites – are TV inspired (Supernatural, Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings). Whatever you look, the mindless task of coloring can be a true pleasure for some – and even help you channel an inner child from a more carefree time.
Exercise aside, sometimes it’s important to find a way to get both shoes on and walk outside. Being surrounded by nature has been shown to increase mood (and the Japanese actually have a deliberate practice for being around nature - Shinrin-yoku - translated as Forest- Bathing), but you don’t have to go find the woods to do it. Sometimes a walk in the park, or just being in the fresh air under the sun is enough to change the tone of an afternoon.
To be fair, Scandinavians have an untranslatable word for being comforted and increasing happiness indoors – hygge – which means spatial and also interpersonal cosiness inside during the wintertime. It seems there are good things anywhere you go with intention and positive vibes. So, if you’re not an outdoorsy person – you can always read poetry about it next to a warm hearth or against a window on a rainy day!
13. The Notebook
Pen and paper – the place where anything’s possible. This might literally be a diary to talk about your day (studies show journaling reduces depression and increases overall happiness), a sketchbook (see: art therapy!), a mood journal, a place to note memorable quotes, a listography book, or a place to put poetry and ideas – a note app on your phone, a blog. I always keep a literal notebook for ideas, doodles, homework reminders, and anything else I need to work through, get out of my head, or make sure I don’t forget. My notes app is similarly full. Sometimes I go to Instagram and edit pictures I take throughout every day, or I often work on Odyssey contributions here, or most especially – write poetry for one of my Tumblrs.
I say it often, but only because I believe in it so fundamentally: whatever works for you is important, fair game, and genuinely good. However you engage in self-care, work through anxiety or depression, and find ways to inspire yourself to be a part of the world is a good and worthy way to take care of you.
January was hard. February is still being an absolute pain. Hang in there.
If you have your own tips or want to share what you enjoy, comment below!
Affirmation tattoos via Miranda Wheeler. All other photos via Pixabay.com.