Healing Minds: what works for you?

Often we are so socialised into looking to ‘professionals’ for their expertise that we forget that, prior to the boom in professions, we did a pretty good job of taking care of ourselves and one another.  Family, neighbours, community, aunts and uncles, grandparents: all of these community bonds have been eroded by massive shifts in geo-politics, globalisation and a movement away from authentic relationships into escapism, money-making, and pre-occupations with material goods.  This, in turn, worsens the conditions that create and sustain mental illness and the many difficult personal experiences that each of us struggles with in today’s world.

So, I wanted to really turn to real people and away from the textbooks, manuals and ‘professionalised’ wisdom in order to invite you to share your experiences of what specifically has helped you manage, cope with or overcome mental distress in whatever form it may have taken in your life, however mild or severe.  For who knows better the internal landscape of mental anguish than those who have travelled through it themselves?  Having spoken to many patients over the years, this kind of feedback is very valuable for me as a psychotherapist who has gone through a fair amount of it myself, and I think it could also help many other people who may be struggling in themselves for answers.

If I make a start with some of my own strategies and observations:

1. Low mood/ depression.  It depends on what is causing it, but very often low mood in my case is the result of:

  • fatigue, chronic pain and/ or insomnia.  If I identify these as the causes then going to bed and sleeping as much as I can definitely helps.  Long-term I need to create a lifestyle that gives me regular, sufficient rest periods and good sleep in order to help prevent my mood dropping too far.
  • I also have a simple scale of -5 > 0 > +5 that I use to monitor where I am if I’m in a low mood period.  0 is pretty even, +5 would be as happy or optimistic as I could imagine being. -5 is as low, pessimistic or unhappy as I’ve ever felt.  The more you use a scale like this, the more accurate and meaningful it can be.
  • As described in my last post, engaging in some form of loving kindness towards another person, animal, pet or any kind of wildlife has, when done regularly, quite a profound effect upon mood at a deeper level that simple ‘positive thinking’.
  • Shifting from worry to preparedness.  If anxiety or worry are behind my low mood then shifting out of the circular pattern of worry – going round and round in my head and creating more and more anxiety – is the best thing I can do.  Getting a bit of paper out and writing out what I will do if something I’m worried about actually happens, helps me change my mental state into one of being prepared for anything.  The act of writing the solutions down also means that you give your head a break and now have an external reference that you can consult instead of going round in mental circles.
  • Affirmations.  Making a self-supportive statement that I repeat over and over again, particularly at times when I feel insecure or shit about myself or I’m anxious or I start thinking about something troubling from my past.  “Every day I try to be the best person I can possibly be”, “I let go of the past and breathe here and now”, or the original affirmation that started the phenomenon: “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better”.

2. Insecurity or feeling off-balance.  I usually look at how I’m managing my time each day.  If I feel a bit off-balance it usually means I’m over-doing one thing to the exclusion of something else.  I’m not great at routine, but I do know that if I don’t have a little bit of routine then I start to wobble.  So balancing my time between ‘doing stuff I can’t really be bothered doing’ and ‘stuff I enjoy doing’ helps.  I see it as a balance between ‘doing what feels good’ and ‘doing what is good for me’.

3. Camping and being in nature.  This is probably one of the most healing things I can do.  When I go camping I prefer to do ‘wild camping’, which in Scotland involves finding a water supply, building your own fire etc.  It’s still enjoyable at campsites – like the ones around Loch Lomond, where you can pitch your tent right on the edge of the loch.  But camping out in the wild is so much more rewarding and helps me face any inner complications with the simple tasks of focussing on food and shelter in the simplicity of the natural world.  Getting out in and connecting with the natural world when we feel isolated, low or rejected is also a way of saying ‘it’s my world too’.

4. Troubled by the world.  I’m often troubled by our world and what is happening in it.  I feel upset by injustices, exploitation of people, animals and the environment; by widespread greed, corporate misconduct that harms the world, politicians who are causing harm and stirring up hate and fear.  Signing petitions, writing letters to MPs and others, and doing what I can to help out a local campaign group are all simple ways to contribute to resisting the harm and doing something better.  This is a way to channel anxious energy into something good for the world and for me.

5. Medication.  Medication can, for some, have its place in supporting us through mental distress.  I personally haven’t, however, benefited from anti-depressants for depression.  For insomnia-related depressions, a short period of sleep meds can help some people: temazepam, zopiclone, for example.  Pain-related depression has been helped to a limited degree by analgesics: Tramadol, co-codamol, aspirin etc.  Tramadol has also helped my mood for short periods of time.  Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN) has had, by far, the most beneficial effects upon my sleep, pain and mood of any pharmaceutical.  But as with all pharmaceuticals it is essential to read the information that comes with each drug and weigh up the pros and cons, risks and benefits of taking them.

6. Someone you can trust and turn to.  A good friend, a loving partner, a guru, a decent psychotherapist: having someone in your life you can turn to, talk to and rely upon is really crucial I think.  I go for walks with my partner and we talk about things that might be bothering us.  The act of walking as you talk, especially in natural surroundings, is very helpful to me.  Loving someone and knowing they love you is perhaps the best medicine of all.  I’ve experienced long periods of time on my own with no-one to turn to, so I know how fortunate it is to have someone in your life who is there for you in a real way.

7. Not relying on the world for validation.  This is a big subject, but one that can be helpful in preventing highs and lows in mood, disappointment and experiences of disaffirmation.  In our current society the increasing reliance on social media and ‘being noticed’ or ‘trying to be popular’ can actually be ways we can set ourselves up for mental distress by investing our efforts in online activities that seek social approval.  Turning to real relationships, self-care, activities that give us experiences of self-validation, activities that involve helping others without seeking a reward – all of these things can be healthier and more substantive ways of feeding ourselves and keeping our mental health in good shape.  Finding a meaningful spiritual path and genuine relationship with God can also be a much more reliable source of meaning than the fripperies of social media validation where one day the world seems to love you, and the next it seems as if no-one gives a damn!

These are just some of the things that help me maintain balance or get through difficult times.  I could write a huge list of things I do as self-support and mental hygeine techniques, and will maybe add a few more as I go along.

In the meantime it would be great to hear what works for you and also anything that really hasn’t helped you.

Be well.

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10 Comments Add yours

  1. J♡ says:

    Having a close relationship to God has really saved me. I lean on him more and more each day. Having the support of my husband and my parents is amazing as I know I can tell them anything without the fear of judgment. There are some people in my life, who no matter how much evidence/education I provide, still do not understand/believe the struggles I face. I’m slowly learning (though difficult) to not let their opinions affect my well-being. When I struggle to do so, writing has become a form of release of frustration and hurt.
    Thank you for sharing your own thoughts and what helps you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Stephen says:

      Thank you for sharing this J. Illness and struggle can reveal our true friends and also those whom we perhaps thought were true friends but who just aren’t when it matters the most.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Stephen, this is good, really good. I really enjoyed reading it and got a lot out of it. I could relate to a lot of the strategies especially the ones relating to pets and nature (camping). I have a therapy dog and horses, chickens, geeese etc so animals area huge part of my life and give me great solace. The routine of caring for them is very beneficial to me too. I related and agreed very strongly too with having a loving partner and soul mate in your life and walking together, something myself and my partner to all the time on the beach with the dog. Bliss and a great place to solve problems. I share with you, your concerns about world and local problems and am active in lobbying and am involved with GetUp and Greenpeace. I wonder would you consider being a guest blogger with this article on my blog. All credit would go to you and a direct link would feed back to your blog. I think it would be of enormous benefit to my readers. Looking forward to hearing from you. All the best Erin

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Stephen says:

      Many thanks for your comments Erin. I’m honoured to be a guest on your blog. Take care for now, Stephen


  3. The T Word says:

    Hi Stephen! Thank you for sharing this. Since I suffer from generalized anxiety AND depression, it is a constant battle and I have to take several measures (outside of relying solely on medication) to stay afloat. For me, surrounding myself with people who may be going through the same helps in that we can talk about different methods to combat the lows we face. I make a valiant effort to counteract my negative thoughts with positive ones. A simple hobby that keeps me together is reading. I love escaping my reality and reading about someone else’s, whether it be fiction, non-fiction, or even a blog haha. I’m also so glad you mentioned pets as someone to surround yourself with. I currently have two cats who I shower with affection and everyday it seems they return that same affection no matter what my mood is. These are only a few things I do to attempt healing my mind. Great post! 👍🏽

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Stephen says:

      Thanks for sharing that Tiffany. What you say about having others around you who experience similar things is important for helping us realise that anyone can suffer emotionally and mentally.

      For anxiety I’ve also found yoga to be very beneficial, as well as therapies that help us experience our bodies in a good way. Very often, as you mention, we can respond to anxiety by going into our heads, when actually finding ways to be aware in our bodies can help accept and paradoxically reduce the anxiety.

      I look forward to reading more of your blog.

      Take care, Stephen

      Liked by 1 person

  4. LovingSummer says:

    How interesting about LDN, I used to take that for MS. In fact, I was worried about coming off LDN for the chemo (can’t do both together), in case it was the reason I was managing to stay bright, but I think I must have a lesion on the happy centre or something. Now that WOULD be a lucky turn out! 😝
    But I think for me, I like Job where he says: “though you slay me, yet I will trust in you”… it’s the ultimate trust that there’s a God out there who has a plan, even if we hate going through it and can find ourselves shaking our fist at him – well, at least, I can.
    Oh, and the pets thing. Definitely pets keep people sane. Man’s best friend in fact.
    Also with you on the nature thing. You can just feel how it soothes your spirit, the beauty kinda puts everything into perspective; into its rightful place.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Stephen says:

      Thank you LS. I hope things are going well for you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. LovingSummer says:

        Yeah… I’ll be alright if I don’t get caught, as my Grandad used to say 😆

        Liked by 1 person

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