Remember when someone would use the “mental health day” reason to take a day off from work? Well, today is Mental Health Month Blog Day (that’s a mouthful) which I like to think of as a mental health day in the middle of mental health month. The goal?
Mental Health Month Blog Day to educate the public about mental health, decrease stigma about mental illness, and discuss strategies for making lasting lifestyle and behavior changes that promote overall health and wellness.
I’ve written rather extensively about stigma and my symptoms. And I’ve learned that no one is going to come to my rescue, except me. The systems are broken and require a lot of self-advocacy to negotiate and get your needs met. That requires being educated about mental illness and services, treatments, supports and our rights as citizens of the United States. It requires me to continually educate others about these same things. It requires me to push back constantly both on my own behalf and for the millions of Americans who struggle alongside of me every day.
Sometimes, you need a break.That’s actually a treatment strategy – taking a break from the stressor du jour and giving your mind a rest or a reset. So in the spirit of my recent spurt of lists of things, I offer this list of ways to take a true mental health break. They work for me. They might work for you. They might inspire you to find other things that work for you.
1. Phone Apps – I love my phone and use it all of the time to manage my anxiety. I’m not a game player and there’s only so many tweets I can read to distract myself. So I have a few apps that I can pull up to help me more directly distract my mind and get me in a better place. I like PsychMeUp which forces me to pay attention to “supportive and accepting social feedback” by searching for the smiling face among a photo array. No points, no levels, no big payoff. But it works. iChill helps me revisit and learn resiliency skills and tools like tracking, grounding and gesturing to literally get me back into a resilient zone rather than being on high alert in distress. I also use several “white noise” apps and a Mindfulness Bell app. I found most of these using Google searches for recommended tools.
PS – think twice before you snark on someone seemingly being rude on their phone instead of talking to other people or doing what you think is appropriate in a social setting. some of us are actually using to function and thrive, not just to annoy your proprieties.
2. Napping – a long-term coping strategy for me has to literally take a nap with the idea that things always seem a bit better or more manageable when I awaken. I recently came to realize that it is more than the nap – it is also my body responding to the sensory experience of lying in my bed with the weight of the sheet and covers. That feels comforting. I have always had a preference for heavy blankets – woven cotton or hemp are my favorite. So I’m learning that when I’m feeling anxious, if I get under the covers and listen to white noise for a while I can get back up to face the stressor. I don’t actually need to nap. I’ve considered buying a weighted blanket, but they are pretty expensive so not for now.
3. Netflix – This is pretty specific, mostly because we don’t have cable or a dvr or anything like that. So we spend $7 a month on Netflix so I can find something to engage me when I need to, not when it is on our limited array of television stations. I can pick my poison – do I need lifted up? calmed down? inspired? distracted? challenged? Sometimes Ledcat will put her hands on my shoulder and softly say “Maybe you should watch an episode or two of one of your shows.” I’ll watch Dr. Who and she’ll cook dinner, then I’m fine and we are fine and things seem okay (except poor Rose.) The great thing about Netflix is that there’s always something to watch. It is the best $7 investment we make.
4. Starbucks – This is my guilty pleasure and I make no apologies. I really like Starbucks coffee and several other drinks. I like the atmosphere, many of the corporate policies and so forth. I believe in supporting independent coffeehouses, too. But they are different experiences for me. Remember, when you are living with social anxiety entering a new situation where you perceive their to be expectations for “cool” engagement can be overwhelming. So a new space with a typically hard to read menu printed in curvy chalk lettering is unnerving. The sense that I should immediately know what I want is unnerving. The uncertainty about finding a table, is there an outlet and where is the bathroom is unnerving. But we often stop at Starbucks for a mental health break. Sometimes, we run errands and that’s my only outing for the day so we’ll add a trip to the closest Starbucks to add a little flair and some engagement. Sometimes it takes all I can muster to do the chores myself so that Starbucks at the front end of Target is a reward.
Knowing what to expect can be incredibly soothing and helpful when you are trying to take care of yourself emotionally and psychologically. Maybe not for everyone, but I appreciate that I can walk into Starbucks and have a pretty good idea of exactly what I need to do to have a positive experience.
Bonus: I can listen to both Netflix and apps at Starbucks if I use my earbuds. 🙂
In sum, it is critical to know your tools and USE them as often as you can both to cope with immediate stressors and to build up your resiliency. Mental health breaks aren’t just for once in a while. You can take them several times a day even. And thanks to technology, the options are pretty endless.