By Lindsay Simon | Special to Moonshine Ink
In case you are unaware, there is a mental health crisis happening right now. Barriers to accessing mental health services were already prevalent prior to Covid-19. The pandemic has only exacerbated this problem, while simultaneously leading to greater need and demand for mental health services. As a result, many people who could benefit from various forms of therapy are not able to access them, at least not in a timely or budget-friendly fashion. Below, I’ll share with you a few skills to help you cope with low or negative mood states that you might be experiencing right now. Please note that this column’s purpose is to provide some education on therapeutic interventions used and learned in therapy, and is not intended to be substituted for therapy.
- Emotion Regulation Skills
Create a healthy relationship with all emotions. (This is called meta emotions — how you feel about feelings.) Knowing there are no bad emotions, that they all have a purpose, can help us feel better. Negative emotions (sadness, loneliness, anger, anxiety) don’t feel pleasant. They are uncomfortable because their purpose is to motivate us to do things differently; to change something. Negative emotions are not bad, they are helpful! If you can see these emotions as a message that something is missing, a need not being met, then you can explore what that unmet need is and work on having it filled, if that is in your control. Alternatively, you can find ways to accept situations that are out of your control (this is called radical acceptance), rather than wishing they were different and feeling frustrated. Try naming the emotion you are feeling — this can help decrease its intensity. Allow the emotion to just be, non-judgmentally, without trying to actively change it, and ride the wave of it knowing all emotions are temporary. If they weren’t, then everyone would be walking around crying, right? A helpful coping thought: “This, too, shall pass.”
- Mindfulness and Self-Soothing
Get out of your head and into your body and the present moment. Practice focusing on your breath and counting. Try breathing in and out of your nose slowly, focusing on your breath being in your belly area, not your chest, and making sure the exhale is longer than the inhale. You can try to breathe five seconds in, pause, then six seconds out, pause. Repeat 10 times. When we are able to shift our mind to something neutral like our breath, it can stop our mind from worrying about the future (which is out of your control and just creates unnecessary suffering) or getting stuck in the past (which is also out of your control and leads to more unnecessary suffering). Also, when we breathe out a little longer than we breathe in, it gives our brain feedback that we are safe, which then stops it from releasing stress hormones, slowing down our heart rate and calming the body and mind over time (anywhere from one to 20 minutes is needed to reach a calm feeling, depending on the situation).
Skill 3: Behavioral Activation
Get outside, every day. Even if you don’t feel like it. Especially if you don’t feel like it. If your energy levels are low, and then you avoid things, you will in time feel worse about yourself and your energy will decrease even more. To get out of this negative cycle, get up, go be active, even if it’s just walking outside and sitting in the sun for 20 minutes. You typically will start to feel better once you go do something. Don’t wait for motivation — just do it. Break down the task to small steps: put on the shoes, put on the coat, put on the hat, walk out the door … you get the point. Being outside in nature is especially helpful (bonus mood-enhancing points for being in the sun, extra bonus points if you can get some walking in, too!). Twenty minutes is what research says it takes to reap the mental health benefits.
~ Lindsay Simon is a licensed marriage and family therapist with over 12 years of clinical experience. She is the clinical director and owner of A Balanced Life: Individual, Family and Child Therapy, a private practice with 10 clinicians based in South Lake Tahoe. Here, she relaunches her monthly column on moonshineink.com.