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Practical Recovery: What To Do When Mental Illness Gets the Best of You

We’ve all been there. The crash that comes when you’ve been flying high for a while now and all of a sudden your mental illness yanks you back to earth. Maybe it’s an anxiety attack. Maybe it’s the panic and the insecurity and the fear hammering away at your brain, or maybe it’s the static that takes over and threatens to fill your lungs until you choke. Either way, you’ve had a bad day. A bad few days. A bad week or month, maybe.

It’s okay to fall, but sometimes it’s hard to get back up on your feet, even if you need to. So here are some practical tips for recovering from the illness, as tested and tried by yours truly. (I have experience with anxiety and depression specifically, and what works for me won’t work for everyone else — we’re all unique that way. But I’ve found them to be pretty helpful, and maybe some aspect of this will help you, as well.)

1. Physical Self-Care

Have you had anything to drink recently, especially water? Drink another glass. (I know you hear about staying hydrated from everyone all the time. That’s because you need it, and it does help you.) Shower; sometimes hot water can work miracles. Put on soft clothes. Get something to eat, even if it’s something small. Even if it’s your mind that needs the care, your body needs to be comfortable too, and the process of taking care of yourself can be calming. It doesn’t have to be difficult or elaborate or luxurious — sometimes, all you need is a glass of water. Make sure you’re not neglecting your body’s needs before you try to do anything else. You live there, after all.

2. Remember what’s true.

The great difficulty in mental illness is that it tells us lies, and in the midst of it, those lies are easy to believe. Breathe in and out. In and out again. Tell yourself the truth. 

You are loved.

You are worthy.

You can keep going.

You will keep going.

Remember, remember, remember, even if you don’t believe it immediately.

3. Go for a walk/go outside.

4. Pay attention to someone else. Tell someone you love them. Take the focus off yourself for a while.

5. Watch/read/listen to something that makes you happy. Give yourself time to enjoy something.

6. Get some sleep. It’s gonna be okay in the morning; the sun makes everything look better. You can try again tomorrow. There’s always tomorrow morning, a new start.

7. Deep. Breaths. You roll your eyes at the cliches. That’s okay. Keep breathing anyway.

8. Make a battle plan for next time.

You can’t say for certain that you won’t crash again. In fact, you probably will. But you’re not helpless; you can be aware of what things trigger you, what things put you in a bad spot, the bad habits that help you slip back into those times. Make a battle plan now, while you’re thinking clearly! What will you do when you start to feel yourself going downhill? Knowing ahead of time can save you a lot of trouble, and it never hurts to be more aware of what helps you and what hurts you.

Sometimes we can’t afford bubble baths or long hours with a book while buried under the covers. Sometimes we can’t practice self-care with a cat and a smoothie and a spa day. Sometimes, it’s messy. Sometimes it’s sweatpants and your favorite show. Sometimes it’s getting back up in the morning and pressing on, even when everything in you tried to hold you down the night before. Just the fact that you can keep going is admirable. But mental illness, like any physical illness, is treatable, something that can be beaten, something that doesn’t define you. There are practical things you can do to help yourself.

It’s going to be okay.

You’re still here.

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