Through living most of the last twenty years of my life with Bipolar Disorder and PTSD, I have picked up a trick or an idea or a method that works to help calm the pain inside my addled head. Much of it is learned from DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), a lot of it is common sense, and so much more came to me through the process of trial and error.
Captain Jack is right — it is often how you think about a problem, and your attitude toward a “problem,” that is the issue. While I don’t often think of these skills after the storm has passed, when I am in the thick, I am really thankful for the ten random things listed below that help me get through:
- An extreme attempt to change body temperature. From going and standing out in the winter air in shorts and a t-shirt, to a cold compress to the back of the neck, this is my number one go-to coping method. It also works in the form of a super-hot shower, a super-cold shower, frozen bag of peas behind the knees. I don’t know the science, but the temperature change trick almost always snaps me out of hysteria.
- Coloring or doodling. I have several “adult” coloring books and a seriously large collection of markers, pens, colored pencils, crayons. This is becoming a more popular choice among many anxious people, and has even turned into a big of a “fad.” The thing about this “fad” is that is REALLY works. If you can get yourself coloring or doodling, you will find that you can turn your mind over much more easily than if you are just sitting and angsting.
- Phone a friend. Not just for “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?”, this coping strategy works especially if you have one person in your life that can talk to you for five minutes and bring you outside yourself. For me, this person is usually my dad and sometimes my mom. They both know me well, and often five minutes after picking up the phone, I am mostly calmed down, or at least I have a plan to calm down.
- Get a hug. A hug, or really any physical contact, can be helpful. LarBear knows that if I am really upset and he rubs my neck or my back, that I can start to calm down. There is something reassuring about human touch, something that makes us not feel so alone. Sometimes I can calm down if LarBear simply sits and holds my hand for awhile, even if he says nothing.
- Get up and move. Of course, this is easier said than done. In the midst of hysterics, its tough to get up and do anything, but I find that if I can even get up and do a little pacing, or, even better, find a small area of the house to organize (like a drawer or a shelf…think small!), I can calm myself.
- Five senses meditation. This is a great grounding exercise and it is exactly what it sounds like. Out loud, name five things you can see, five things you can touch, five things you can taste, five things you can smell, five things you can hear, five things you can feel.
- Get it in writing. Blogging is great for anxiety, but journaling or even free-writing can be helpful. I have numerous written pages, where I have been extremely anxious, and have put pen to paper for a set amount of time (usually five minutes) and written down things as they flew through my brain. It is an excellent way of letting thoughts go on down the road.
- Mind your breath. After the temperature-change exercise, the thing I do most to calm down is to focus on my breath. There are many ways to do it, but my favorite is to do a breath in to the count of five and a breath out to the count of seven. You might have to play with it to see what works for you, but if you can put all attention on your breath, you may be able to calm yourself that way.
- Hug a tree. No, seriously, I mean it. Go outside and hug a tree. Panicked, anxious, sobbing your eyes out? Go hug a tree. This is a very grounding exercise, and, similarly, sitting or laying in the grass can be almost as helpful. Concentrate on the textures and feelings through your hands or on your legs.
- PRN medication. As an opportunity of last resort, after I have tried all of these things, or if I have tried several and none are working, I will take a teensy dose of Klonopin. I don’t do it everyday anymore, or even every other day. It is meant for short-term, very occasional use, and I really don’t think there is anything wrong with using that tool in my toolbox, as long as I am not abusing it.
Do you have any coping skills that you use, that I haven’t mentioned? I would love to hear from you and have a blog post full of what works for everyone! In the meantime, as a PLUS-1, maybe take a few minutes and put a Ten Things of Thankful list on your own blog. ‘Till next time!