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Self-Care Strategies for Managing Depression, Anxiety and Other Emotions
Depression, anxiety, and other emotional problems are issues that many people struggle with. Often, these problems interfere with everyday life and general well-being. I have read a statistic saying that 80% of the population in North America will suffer from some degree of depression at some point in their lives.
There are self-care strategies that you can learn to help you get through your days with a bit more ease if you find you are struggling with managing your emotions or find yourself on a bit of a roller-coaster of emotion at times. Even during bouts of low-self-esteem, self-care and emotional management techniques can help.
In this article, I am going to share some information that I teach to my clients in counselling sessions as well as to members of self-care workshops. If you have any questions about something I have included here, please do not hesitate to contact me and ask.
Good grounding tools are very helpful for better daily living. By grounding, I mean the tool(s) used to help calm yourself in an emotionally upset time. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe it is important to process and feel your emotions at times as this is the body’s way of healing emotional upset to be able to set it aside. Sometimes this can be done at home using some of the tools listed here and sometimes people need the help of a professional to heal some deeper wounds or to help you get over a hurdle. However, there will be times when it is not appropriate to feel upsetting or disturbing emotions, and it is then useful to know way to ‘ground’ or set the emotion aside and come back to it later at a more appropriate time.
Fundamentally, all of these strategies are about you being in control of your emotions instead of your emotions being in control of you. It can be helpful to know that our bodies have processes already designed into our nervous systems to take care of emotions. Emotions have a lifespan of about 45 to 50 minutes. They do not last forever.
Please note that not every technique will work for everyone. Every person will have some that work for them and some that don’t. Once you have found techniques that work for you, it can be helpful to write them up, or type them and print them out, and keep them handy to ensure you’ll use them when you need them.
The main concept to understand is that when you are feeling a lot of emotion, you are functioning from the right side of your brain where your negative emotional centre lies. It is commonly noted in psychology that when you are trapped, in a way, on the right side of your brain, your left side is functioning at a lower capacity. The left side of your brain is thought to be the rational or logical side of the brain. It is therefore helpful to get your left side more activated, but sometimes it needs some help during emotionally charged times. There are many ways to do this, but again, find the strategies that work for you. Strategies:
Shifting your focus away from the emotion and back to your body can be very useful. This can be done by tapping your feet back and forth and really feeling how your feet connect with the floor.
Another way to shift the focus back to the body is to notice how your body feels on the chair you are sitting in. Notice your back on the back of the chair, your arms on the arm of the chair, your legs, and how your hands are placed.
Next, notice your breath. Long deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth if you can. Really feel the breath going into the body. Breath is very life sustaining and supportive – it is a very good thing to connect with at times of feeling emotionally upset. This can help ground and soothe the body and shift your focus away from an upsetting emotion.
Now, the counseling modality I use most of in my practice is something called EMDR (which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). You can read some information about EMDR if you click on the tap in the menu bar of the website. Some of the grounding strategies I am including here are the tools I use to end sessions with clients so that things are not left open and my clients can get home safely, go back to work, or whatever it that they need to do that day.
The most important of these tools sounds very simple but it is very effective. All you have to do is move your eyes up and down in a vertical line. No need to move your head, just your eyes. Turning your body to face a doorframe or the corner of a room can help. You can think of a metaphorical door in your mind closing your emotional self and centering the body.
Becoming more aware of your physical surroundings can help shift your awareness and activate the left side of the brain. This can be done through naming objects you see in the room around you, naming colours that you see, as well and sounds that you hear.
Another way to get both sides of your brain working if you are feeling a strong emotion is to access them both at the same time. This an be done by looking at a piece of art such as a painting or a sculpture – not a photograph though – and count at the same time. You do not need to analyze the art. Just by looking at it, the right side of your brain is accessed. By counting (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10 – as far up as you need to go), you activate the left side of the brain. If you are aware of a feeling and do these two things together, the feeling should dissipate.
Going for a walk, or other physical activity, can help the body feel better and help release the emotion. I strongly believe in the term “walk it off”.
Reading is something that many people do to take their minds off their worries. Some sort of distraction can help shift your focus away from the emotion.
Cooking can be another good, healthy distraction. By the way, eating healthily and getting some exercise are two of the best things you can do for depression.
Journalling, or writing, is very helpful for some to help you handle an emotionally charged situation. It helps give clarity to thoughts and allows for some distance from them by looking at them. Some people find writing very therapeutic. If it is not the right thing for you, that is okay. Keep in mind, you do not always have to go back and read what you wrote. Sometimes its just nice to have a place to get it out in the moment.
Other creative outlets are very helpful as well. Doing some art – which does not have to look like anything – helps get emotion out. This is a similar idea to journalling. What colour would anger be? What would it look like?
If you are able to do some art and give your thoughts or feelings some creative expression, follow-up with some good self-care like a nice bath, a walk, or a warm drink.
The ‘Container’ is a very common therapeutic tool. To some, the concept of the container might not sound very useful, but when practiced and developed, it does wonders for helping set emotions, upsetting thoughts, or memories aside when it is not a good time to be aware of them.
The container is about using imagery, or the power of you imagination (your mind) to help you when you need it. Our minds are pretty powerful so I encourage you to give this one a shot and see how it goes. When I first heard of this exercise, I also did not think it would be helpful. Was I ever wrong. Even last week on the street I had a member of a group I had run come up to me and tell me how helpful the container is and expressed, “Its just great.”
The container is about imagining some sort of container that is big enough, and strong enough, to hold whatever you might ever need to put in it. One stipulation is that it shouldn’t be something that you see all the time in your day as you may be getting a constant reminder of what you are trying to forget (for the time-being). It can be made of any material and can be any colour. It needs some sort of door or lid to keep what ever you put in there safe inside. It may need a lock of some sort. Examples could be a warehouse, a safe or vault, a big box, or plastic container.
To use, or access, your container when you need it, it is helpful to have a really clear picture of it first (drawing it can help). You might picture the items you would like to go into your container individually being placed inside. You might just get a felt sense of it being set aside and placed into the container. Some people like to have some sort of animation to help take the items into the container such as a pack man motion or some sort of suction.
Now, an important idea pertaining to the Container is that you are not trying to make the things you place into it disappear or say that they are not important. It is about setting things aside and coming back to them at a later time when you can better deal with them such as in counselling, talking to a friend, or journalling about it at home.
Sometimes it is helpful to have some sort of nozzle or valve on the container so that you can more easily be in control of what comes out when it is time to take something out.
The Safe Place is another very common therapeutic strategy and is a very useful tool for many. I originally learned of the ‘safe place’ in relation to working with sexual abuse survivors. However, as the years have progressed, I have found that this tool is very useful for anyone. Again, this strategy utilizes our minds by using imagery to help calm the body and the mind. The safe place works by closing your eyes and imagining yourself in a place (which can be real or imaginary). It can be any place at all that you find soothing and comforting. Some people call this place a relaxation place or a happy place. It is helpful if there are not people who are currently a part of your life in your safe place because if that relationship were to ever go sour for a time, it would affect your safe place.
The safe place can be somewhere you have been, a place that you liked when you were a kid, a place you have always dreamed of going, or an imaginary place such as somewhere in outer space. It is helpful to notice all the colours that are there, the sounds, the objects. The clearer the image is for you, it will easier it will be for you to access it and to use it when you need it.
Imagine yourself in this place and notice how it makes you feel. Do you feel calm, more relaxed, at peace? Whatever the feeling is, notice also where you can feel it in your body. Allow yourself to stay there as long as you need to calm yourself.
Anther strategy to help alleviate emotional distress is the Spiral Technique. For this exercise, allow yourself to feel the emotion and close your eyes. Which direction would the spiral be turning? Ok, now change the direction – this will decrease the intensity of the emotion. Try practicing it and see if you can have work for you.
Practicing something referred to as ‘Dual Awareness’ can really help get you through when nothing else seems to be helping. For this concept, it is helpful to note that the emotion is caused from a past experience. However, you are feeling that past experience being triggered in the present. Be aware of these 2 things at the same time: the emotion being connected to a past experience and yourself in your present surroundings. Tell yourself, “I can allow myself to know I am okay right now”. The feeling will eventually pass – your body will take care of it in its own in time. It will not last forever. Sometimes you might feel as if you just need to hang on. Find something to help you connect with your current surroundings.
Design your surroundings so that they reflect calm and relaxation. Your surrounds can greatly affect your mood. Soothing pictures, some spiritual objects, or other calming objects help create an atmosphere of better emotional health.
Spend time talking to friends when you can. Be aware of their boundaries so that you do not go too far with pushing limits. It is important to share with people who will be understanding and supportive.
When dealing with issues of anger, there are healthy ways to process it. Anger has a lot of energy to it and wants to have a physical way to get out of your system. Going to the gym, for a walk, or for a run can help. Screaming into or punching pillows can also help. Stress balls are good as well. Find a healthy way to get the energy out. Anger serves a purpose of letting us know that something needs to be different but, just as it can be done with other emotions, anger too can find a positive outlet.
Rescue Remedy is a homeopathic product that is becoming more and more common as it is helpful to calm your nerves. You might give this a try and carry it around with you if you find it helpful. It can be found at many health food stores.
If spirituality is important to you, you can get in tune with your body at times of feeling emotional upset by visualizing your chakra system and aligning the chakras. Be aware of centering the body along this system. Finding other spiritual beliefs or outlets can help as well.
It is important to remember that practicing these tools will help. Repetition is the best way to learn something new. Also, please keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive list. There are many ways to ground and self-soothe during times of emotional upset.
In closing, I would like to mention that something I try to encourage to all of my clients and to others in my life as well, is to always attempt to have good self-care. Taking care of what you eat, how much sleep you are getting, limiting the amount of caffeine is in your diet, and getting some exercise will go a long way to helping your body take care of you and help support you better during times of emotional upset.
I hope some of the things on this list will help you.
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