Episode 1 - Emergency Coping
Hi. I’m Anne and this is a video i have been wanting to make for a long time, largely because looking back at my life, there were several occasions where i probably would have benefited from watching something like this.
I have struggled with depression and anxiety for a while now and i continue to struggle. Mental illness sucks. It makes simple things very difficult, it makes good things hard to see, and inflates bad things until they are all you can see. If you're watching this video, chances are you kinda know what i'm talking about.
But, and this is the important part, it doesn't mean we are doomed. There are many treatment options out there, and there is a lot you can do yourself to sneak comfort, control, and even enjoyment into your life. This is what this video, and the upcoming next videos are about: Nifty little life hacks to make life with brainweasels a little easier.
("Brainweasels", by the way, is the representative catch-all term we're going to use for all kinds of mental illness, to remind you that this is not about science, but about people. And weasels. Because they are nice to envision.)
I am not a doctor or healthcare professional. In the grand scheme of things, I don’t know shit about shit. Here, I talk about things that have worked for me or people I know. Mental health is an outrageously complex issue and mental illness comes in many shapes and forms. There are many ways to approach and treat it and you have to find what works best for you. (And after you found it, keep looking for more and better things that help, because when you’ve lived with “awful” for a while, identifying “good” is tricky).
There is no replacement for professional help. Go see a doctor. These videos are for living with depression/anxiety, not for acute, severe mental distress. For acute, severe distress, call help. I am including links and emergency phone numbers in the video description. But enough disclaiming, let’s get to it.
Today we’re talking about emergency coping, things to try when mental pain overwhelms you. The lesson here is to get to know yourself and to try anything you can think of to make you feel better and don’t shy away from supposedly weird or odd coping mechanisms. Life’s far too complicated to try to be sane and proper.
Part 1 - Things to try at and around your home
There's a lot of physical things you can do to calm down and reframe your situation, some of which use your body's natural responses to impulses, some are just nice, and nice things are good.
Hug something. anything. Or have yourself hugged by another good human.
2. Small spaces
If there’s no one around to hug you or you aren’t up for human touch right now, find the tiniest possible space to crawl into.
3. High Vantage Point
… or, of course, the opposite. Find a high vantage point, get out, get above it all. Plus, wind is comforting. To me, at least.
4. Shower or Bath
Rain has a calming effect on me, too. When my moods fail to control the weather, a cold shower works in a pinch. Or a hot bath. You do you.
5. Moving Pictures
Distraction! There are many seasons of many shows streaming online on many platforms. Your main task right now is to survive. So rewatch all of The Office while your brain gets all tuckered out shouting mean things at you and becomes cooperative again
6. 5 Minutes of Movement
I know it can be incredibly difficult to get up and do anything. But moving around can do wonders to help you calm down, reframe and refocus. Just five minutes is all you need and basically any physical activity is fair game.
Cover yourself in blankets. In fact, have a friend help pile blankets and cushions on top of you.
Write down the bad thoughts your mind is yelling at you. Then go rational scientist on yourself and write out evidence to contradict and disprove the all-black depression thought. Depression lies. Examining specifically why it’s wrong won’t necessarily make you feel better in the moment, but it’ll loosen the grip of the brainweasels on your mind. I think this may be a topic for another video.
9. Smile (for Science)
Personally, I hate it when people tell me to smile when I'm not feeling well but according to science there actually is something to that. Engaging the facial muscles that make us smile actually make you feel better
Create a playlist that calms you, or that resonates what you feel and makes you feel less alone. Or that makes you dance. Or all of the above.
11. Active Distractor Hobbies
Activities. Anything you can do to positively occupy your mind to keep it from imploding on itself. Find a hobby to distract and comfort you. In fact, find several. I started carrying paper and folding tiny elephants. But you can also knit, bake cupcakes, go skateboarding, pull weeds, do yoyo tricks, collect rocks, throw rocks, don't throw rocks.
I mean really absolutely anything that works as a positive ritual when the brainweasels attack.
12. 4-7-8 Breathing Technique
Breathe. The 4-7-8- breathing technique has been going around the internet recently, and it’s a great way to focus on something different while also letting your body know that it can kick out of fight or flight mode. Inhale for 4 second, hold for 7, exhale for 8. Repeat twice more. Or as often as you need.
Deep and slow breathing makes your parasympathetic nervous system kick in, so rather than preparing to fight for your life or run from a rabid tiger you are telling your body that it’s safe to go to sleep. Or digest food. Or ponder how pretty clouds are.
Make some tea. Holding warm things is proven to prime your brain for good things, but even more than that, it’s a caring ritual, it’s a reasonably simple thing you can do right now, and tea is delicious.
14. Take 2 Tylenol and go to sleep
Take two Tylenol and go to sleep. This sage advice comes to you straight from my best friend Kelly’s very wise grandmother, and there is actual science to back it up now. This won’t fix everything. But odds are you’ll feel better in the morning. (Don't overuse this one, though. Tylenol comes with side effects, too, and you’ll still need your liver later.)
Part 2 - Brainweasel-Remedies to go
But brainweasels don’t wait for convenient times to attack. Sometimes they strike while you’re out and about. So here’s some stuff you may consider carrying with you for emergency preparedness purposes.
Scarves come in various materials and colors, so they fit into every season. They are a socially acceptable portable blanket that can also function as a tent to hide in when needed.
2. Portable Distractors
Distractors like books and music and such... Smart phones make great distractor-machines and you can put your playlist and maybe even an episode of your favorite show on there so you have them available even if you don’t have internet access. And of course keeping a book with you is a very good rule for anyone and always anyway.
A rock: Yes. Weird. I know. But somehow having a rock that fits nicely in my hand that I can hold on to when I’m falling is intensely comforting.
I keep tiger balm in my bag, because I’m a ridiculous hippie, but lip balm or hand lotion also work great – it’s little self-care rituals that give you something nice to focus on for a moment.
5. Active Distractor Hobbies
The active distractor hobbies from earlier still work. If your usual distractor hobby isn’t portable, come up with other things that could fit into your bag or pocket. So maybe do master the yoyo. Or just download a bunch of games onto your phone.
This I reserve for high anxiety days. Bite into a lemon slice to stop a beginning panic attack. This also helps some headaches.
7. Positive Social Network
Twitter (or the social network of your choice) – This is about distraction but also about connection, so make sure you keep your network free of toxic people. My twitter timeline is a big virtual room full of passionate, caring people chattering about random ridiculous, wonderful and important stuff. It’s a really good place to be.
The point, again, is this: Figure out what makes you feel better. Then do that. Don’t worry if your coping strategies are a bit odd. Being alive is hard, oddness can make it so much more bearable. So try out weird tactics, figure out what works for you, and don’t give up. It will be fine. Please share your own story, experiences, tips, tricks and life hacks in the comments. This is about helping each other and making connections.
But most importantly, listen to me, because odds are you need to hear this and there may be no one else around to tell you right now:
It will be fine. You can and will get through this.
You are not alone. You are okay.
You matter. You are valuable. You are important.
You are stronger than you know. But you don’t have to be strong all the time. You get to be lost. And you get to be scared and sad. Those feelings are valid and real.
But also don’t forget that depression lies and anxiety is an idiot. They cloud your vision. But that brainweasley fog will pass, you will find your way out of it again.
And you are here. No matter how lost or broken you may be at the moment, you are still here. You can and you will get through this and anything else that comes after it. You will find happiness. And you’ll lose it again. And then you’ll find an even brighter one.
It will be fine.
Notes and Links
List of international emergency helplines 1
List of international emergency helplines 2
IMALIVE - Online Crisis Chat
Both 1 and 2 go back vaguely to the idea of deep touch pressure (DTP) which can be calming for some people. It's also just a personal observation: Tight spaces sometimes help me get centered and find calm.
Showering/Bathing can be incredibly difficult when under siege by brainweasels, though. I found that showering by candle light is easier. Taking a bath can be nicer if you add aromatherapy oils (I think citrus scents, rosemary, bergamot and such are supposed to help with depression/anxiety, but anything that smells nice to you works.
There's a lot of guilt associated with doing nothing, especially when it's not following a rough work-week, etc. Nope. Free yourself of that notion. When merely existing is hard work, you absolutely get to do just that.
No need to commit to a serious workout or anything - just commit to five minutes of moving. Throw yourself a one-song dance party in your kitchen, run up the stairs, or do go outside to run or jump or climb. After five minutes, you're done and free to return to your couch or bed or other safe space. (This "five minute" strategy also works well for household tasks, etc. Don't commit to cleaning the entire kitchen. Commit to five minutes.)
We may do a full episode on this, but you can find a lot more on how to examine and contradict depression/anxiety thought patterns here.
I maintain that this is not sufficient reason for other people to tell you to smile. It IS enough reason for you to fake a smile at you computer screen right now.
Start a playlist right now and add to it whenever you come across or remember another song that fits. Spotify is great here, but Youtube, etc. also work.
Here is a beautiful post by the Bloggess about, well, mental health hobbies.
This phenomenon is commonly referred to haptic sensation or embodied cognition and it's profoundly cool psychology.
I am generally not a fan of drugs, especially after several failed experiences with SSRIs/SNRIs/..., but I am a big fan of grandmotherly advice and of simple things helping with complicated issues. Here is a good summary of the research.
Can't seem to find any relevant research on this right now, so chances are I just really like lemons and that's why this works for me. But i kind of think the acid startles you into relaxing. I will keep researching or else conduct my own study.
Lemon balm, the herb, however, does seem to be backed by research.
Konstitutionelle Anarchie is on twitter - we don't tweet too much, mostly about arts and things we care about
Anne overtweets about all things.
Konstantin doesn't tweet nearly enough.