Sometimes when our minds start to tell us unwanted and distressing stories or thoughts, everything seems to look bad, you we may start to feel sad, depressed, anxious or angry and it feels like the whole world is coming crashing down. However, there are some things you can do that may help.
Dr Fiona Kennedy and Dr David Pearson, both consultant clinical psychologists suggest that self soothing is something you can do that tells your mind that you deserve a break and will help you to tolerate the distress. In their book ‘Get Your Life Back’ Drs Kennedy & Pearson talk about how you can stop fighting the pain of distress and learn to accept it in a more controlled way, so that you are actually in control of the pain rather than the pain being in control of you.
However, when you are in a distressed state is not the right time to start trying out new skills. You need to plan in advance what you are going to do when the distressing thoughts turn up. Practise when you are feeling good so that you will be better prepared when in a crisis.
So, the first thing to do (when you are feeling good) is to give yourself permission to do some ‘self-soothing. Find yourself a nice comfortable safe place where you feel at ease, a place that you feel you can self-soothe yourself. You might find that a nice warm relaxing bath, or being outside in the garden or in the countryside will be the best place.
You could then try some slow deep breathing (this slows everything down and helps the body and mind rest and relax). If you are relaxing there in the bath you could even visualise a small control room right inside your head, and you can see a struggle switch right there in the room in your mind – and imagine that you can turn it off. Or you could imagine your thoughts as leaves blowing gently away in the wind, or clouds drifting across the sky. If you are outside, maybe you could choose some positive words to say to yourself as you walk, such as “I can manage this” or something similar. Say the words out loud as they have more meaning than if you say them silently. If you are in the bath focus on saying the words out loud. You could co-ordinate the words with your breath, for example each time you breathe out say the word “relax”.
Another good exercise that Fiona and David recommend is singing or dancing your thoughts. It may sound ridiculous, but when you’re singing whatever it is your mind is saying to you, its as if you are replying to your mind. Your mind doesn’t expect such a silly response and so its difficult for it to be serious. The thoughts end up not seeming so important or distressing. If you find that the singing feels like its mocking you, imagine that someone who really cares about you is singing to you in a much lighter tone. You could also say the thought over and over again until the word loses its meaning. For example if your mind is saying you are rubbish, keep on saying rubbish, rubbish, rubbish, rubbish, over and over again as fast as you can . You will soon find that the word is no longer important. Other things like drawing, painting, listening to music or doing your favourite hobby may also help.
The challenge for you, if you are willing, is to experiment with some of the ideas above and let me know how you get on via the Creative Mental Health Forum – and enjoy giving yourself a break.
There are lots more helpful skills and exercises in ’ Get Your Life Back, The Most Effective Therapies for a Better You’ ISBN 978-1-47213-734-0 www.getyourlifeback.global