10 Counselor Approved Techniques to Combat Mental Illnesses
These actions will change not only the way you feel but how you live your life as well.
There is much controversy on the “right” ways to handle situations dealt out by various mental illnesses. Whether it’s Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Multiple Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Depression, Anxiety, or PTSD, how can we be sure which solution is truly a solution? Here are 10 things that have been proven by specialists that actually work.
1. Radical Acceptance
Radical Acceptance is defined as: completely and totally accepting something from the depths of your soul, with your heart and your mind. Included in this definition is the idea that no matter what, you cannot change a situation – you are powerless. For example, imagine that there is a tornado coming your way. You cannot do anything to stop the tornado – it isn’t possible. But, if you radically accept the fact that it’s coming and it’s coming fast, then you can act, prepare, and keep yourself safe. If you sit around and try to will the tornado to stop, holding onto the thought that you will be able to prevent it, you will be in real trouble without the opportunity to flee. The same goes for mental illnesses. You cannot change the fact that you struggle, so therefore, any time spent trying to get rid of it will drain you more than accepting the fact that it will not change and taking the steps to take care of yourself.
2. Opposite-to-Emotion thinking
Opposite-to-emotion thinking is summed up as: acting in the opposite way that your emotions tell you to act. When I first heard this technique, I was extremely confused. The title and concept, at first, is very complicated to comprehend, but once it’s understood, the outcome is incredible. Say you feel depressed and have the urge to isolate. Opposite-to-emotion tells you to go out and be around people – the opposite action of isolating. When you feel anxious, combat that with something calming like meditation. When you feel manic, turn to something that stabilizes you such as watching a TV show or movie. This concept is probably one of the hardest to put into play, but once you do put action behind the idea, the results are incredible.
3. Deep Breathing
It sounds cliché, but the best way to calm down anxiety is to deep breathe. While battling my own anxiety, I turned to the concept of “5 3 7” breathing. Breath in for 5 seconds, hold the breath for 3 seconds, and breathe out for 7 seconds. This gentle repetition sends a message to the brain that everything is okay, or it will be soon. Before long, the heart slows its pace, blood pressure goes down, and you will begin to relax – sometimes without even realizing it.
Another thing that seems cliché but really does work is meditation. The key to this practice is to get out of your own head – even for just 15 minutes a day. The most important aspects of meditation are the setting, ambiance, and atmosphere. Sit in a dimly lit room with a warm temperature. Light some candles or burn some incense. Put on a low-volume sound that calms you down – the beach, a rainforest, the crackling of a fire, white noise, or something else. Get in a comfortable position and practice whatever deep breathing technique that works for you. Before you know it, your meditation session will be coming to a close because you got out of your head and into the realm where there is no worry.
Grounding means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. The most common grounding skill is focusing in on one physical object in front of you and describing it to yourself. For example, say you’re suffering from a panic attack at a coffee shop. Focus in on the mug or cup in front of you. Tell yourself: “This cup is filled with a liquid. That liquid is coffee. The coffee smells good. The cup is white. The cup has a design on it.” Doing this will result in bringing yourself back to the present moment instead of focusing on the anxiety that is produced in your body.
6. Five Senses
One of the most effective ways to combat PTSD attacks or flashbacks, using the five senses is another great way to bring your focus back to the present moment. As an example, say a PTSD flashback comes on in the middle of a class. Look around you. Notice the clock ticking. Feel the chair beneath you. Listen to the voice of the teacher or professor. Smell the faint aroma of the chalkboard. Chew a piece of gum. Practicing these actions only takes a few second and you will be reminded of what is happening in the moment and what is real because you can physically witness all of those five senses right away.
7. Mental Reframing
Mental reframing means to take an emotion or feeling and think of it in a different way. This is another thing that takes time and practice. But, once the skill is refined, the outcomes are incredible. Take the example of being stuck in traffic. You can think to yourself, “Wow, my life is horrible. I will be five minutes late because of this traffic. Why does this happen to me?” or you can reframe your thoughts. This would look something like, “This traffic is bad, but I will still get to where I’m going. There is nothing I can do about it, so I’ll listen to music or an audiobook to pass the time and everything will be okay.” Doing this will soon become second nature and change your perspective on life and tough situations.
When dealing with a challenging situation or emotion, it is easier to wallow in it and let it consume your thoughts. Combat those feelings by distracting yourself with healthy things. Pick up a book, journal, get an adult coloring book, listen to music, go for a drive… Any of these things (and more) will take your focus on a negative and put your focus on something that will bring positive thoughts and reactions.
9. Talk to Someone
Perhaps the most helpful practice to do, talking to someone – a therapist, family member, friend, psychiatrist, etc. – will help you get in touch with how you are truly feeling, release those emotions and thoughts, and help you better understand what you’re feeling. Just the action of hearing yourself say what emotions you’re feeling and why you’re feeling that way is a great way to realize that those emotions are real and they are a challenge. Without talking things through, emotions will be bottled up and will resurface at something very insignificant. There is a metaphor about stuffing emotions. It goes like this: imagine holding an inflatable beach ball underwater. The harder you push it down, the more intense the pressure becomes. When you finally let go of the beach ball, it will burst through the surface of the water with extreme force. The same goes with emotions. The more you stuff them down, the more explosive and powerful the release will be.
10. Emotion Awareness
The sooner you recognize the realness of what you’re feeling, the sooner you can tackle it or whatever is causing it. If you live in denial of your emotions, it will longer take to take care of them. If you’re feeling anxious, let yourself be anxious for a couple of minutes and then meditate. If you’re feeling angry, let yourself be angry and then listen to some music. Be in touch with your emotions. Accept that you are feeling a certain way, let yourself feel that way, and then take action that will diminish those feelings.
I have tried all of the above techniques and they have changed the way I deal with my struggles. If you have any more questions about these skills, do some research on them to better understand how to put them into practice.