By Ratna Golaknath
A few weeks ago, I was caught in a minor pile-up on the road near my home. I got a bad jolt and the seat belt gave me a bad burn on my neck. I came out shaken but fortunately quite unharmed. My family and friends all called in and checked up on me and offered a kind word. I was offered drivers, pick-ups and even company till I felt better. I felt cared for. All of this got me thinking of an important comparison between how we respond to physical pain and emotional pain.
If you were involved in a car accident, even a small traffic pile-up that left you with bruises and bumps, you would allow your body and yourself time to recover. You would talk to others about it, you would cut yourself slack for a short period of time and you would allow people to empathise and show support towards you. In other words, you would treat yourself with kindness and patience.
On the other hand, if you were feeling low, had a nagging pain in your head, felt weak and incapable of doing anything, felt weepy and helpless, how would you react? Most of us get impatient with ourselves, feel angry and agitated for not ‘getting it together’. We switch off from people, try to hide the way we truly feel and we push ourselves to “move on”.
All of us treat our minds with a certain amount of disrespect, not allowing our minds to heal at their own pace.
We fall into the “delusion” that we need to be mentally strong and capable at all times. That’s not fair, kind or realistic when the mind is struggling with stress, loss, grief or even a biological mental disorder. Recovery is a process, not a time-bound agenda.
Here are some ways we can be Kind to ourselves when we are coping with a hard time in our lives.
1) Accept and Acknowledge the Feelings:
The most helpful way of processing feelings, is to give words to them. Try and write down the thoughts that are coming to your mind and the feelings you are experiencing. These might be anger, sadness, helplessness, hopelessness, loneliness — by articulating your feelings you are giving yourself a rationale for what you are going through. Try and make a connection between events that may be triggering the thoughts and feelings — such as a loss of a loved one, difficulties at work or end of a relationship. Talking to others might help make these connections if you are unable to do it yourself.
2) Routine is important:
When you feel things are spiralling out of control, a routine can be a good way to create a sense of stability. Even simple routines, like ensuring that you wake up at the regular times and eat meals on time can bring some structure to the day. Try to continue to go to work even if you need to cut back on the amount of work you undertake. Do not isolate yourself for too long, lack of social contact might lead to a warped perspective of how you feel.
3) Accept help:
This is something I have struggled with in my difficult periods but the truth is we need to let others in. Remember there are people around you who are concerned and want to help. Just as you would want to be there for them, they want to be there for you. Ask people to come visit, let them cook for you, let them distract you and most important let this remind you, that you are loved. Sometimes people want to help but they don’t know what to do, it is useful to let them know what you want them to do.
4) Understand your triggers:
When we are low, there are things we know will make us feel worse. In a self-destructive manner we might seek those out to make ourselves feel worse. We allow ourselves to keep sinking, because we can’t seem to fight our way out of our mental fog. I urge you to be kinder to yourself. Be aware of your triggers, write about them, try and avoid setting yourself up for more pain. Talk to friends or family and let them help you steer clear. For example when you are feeling rejected in a relationship, you might choose to continually call an ex and seek validation; or if you are grieving for a loved one, you might find anniversaries, birthdays are triggers for feeling low.
5) Be informed:
The fact is that 1 in 4 people will experience some or the other kind of mental health disorder in their lifetimes. All of us at some point or the other have felt low and depressed. It is normal to feel this way. Taking care of yourself is the best way for the mind to heal. Certain life events will lead us to feel sad and to experience grief. This grief will follow its own cycle of recovery. For each of us recovery will happen at its own individual pace. Some of us will take longer and for some the intensity of feelings will seem overwhelming.
6) Do not fall into unhelpful patterns of coping:
It might be that in the past you have felt better through unhelpful coping strategies like drinking excessively, seeking multiple relationships, self-harm or binge eating/ starving or risk-taking. Sometimes we fall back on these strategies to numb the pain or to distract ourselves from what we are going through. These are short-term strategies that will only leave you more distressed and confused about what you are experiencing. Be aware of your patterns and try and ensure you do not make unhelpful choices for yourself.
If these negative feelings seem overwhelming and if the low mood persists for more than 6 weeks, please seek professional help. You might want to meet a psychologist/ counsellor or a psychiatrist. If you have a past history of depression or a family history, do monitor your mood and keep a mood diary. A timely intervention is the best preventive cure!
Be Kind to yourself because you are important!
About the Author
Ratna Golaknath is a trained cognitive behaviour therapist, who has spent about a decade and a half working with Saarthak in the field of mental health in India. Her earlier columns on ‘lost voices’ and child abuse are here and here.
Read her piece on Understanding Therapy here.