I’ve built up a mental list of coping strategies over the years. These are things I do when I feel like I just can’t take my life any more. When I remember to do them diligently, life becomes manageable. When I forget all about them, I spiral down into blahs, tiredness, crabbiness, being easily frustrated and discouraged, and then, if I’m not careful, depression.
I spent years depressed, some of them (once diagnosed) on anti-depressants. I thought I’d have to take anti-depressants for my whole life, and so did my doctor. But I am currently living without them, and my life is good. It is not easy, or simple, but it is good. And if I guard myself carefully, I can maintain sanity. Everyone’s body chemistry is different, though, and we all have to make and be responsible for our own choices. If you’re on anti-depressants right now, why not try adding some of my (or your own) coping strategies to your toolkit on top of your meds? And remember, I’m writing here from a position of maintaining sanity, not trying to gain it back. So pick and choose, and don’t feel bad if some of these just aren’t for you.
Take Care of My Body — These are the basics. If I miss these, a meltdown is sure to be on its way.
- Eat consistently. If I skip meals or snacks, I crumble quickly.
- Drink enough water. Being dehydrates makes me feel very tired and sluggish, and then it’s hard to accomplish anything.
- Get sleep. If I stay up too late, I find that I’m very grouchy about everything the next day, and my patience is short.
- Nap if I really need it. Some days, there’s nothing to be done but get some extra rest.
- Shower. I always drag my feet, but then I feel so much better afterward. Refreshed and ready to take on the world.
- Smile. The physical act of smiling, whether I feel like it or not, releases happy brain chemicals.
- Take a walk. Being outside, under the sun, especially where I can see grass and trees and the horizon, makes me take deeper breaths. I feel less weighed down under a blue sky, or even a dramatic, overcast one.
- Avoid the foods that make me worse. In my case, it’s sugar. I discovered, by accident, that if I avoid sugar altogether, I can cope. When I eat too much of it one day, I have a huge meltdown the next day. (I was really encouraged to find an article recently on the Forbes website that backs up my claim. I realize quitting sugar won’t necessarily help everyone, but if it means I can live without anti-depressants, sobbing, and hopelessness, I’m happy to leave it behind forever.)
Nurture My Spirit — These are both icing and cake. If I indulge too much in them, they backfire, but in just the right amounts, they lend sweetness to my life.
- Have fun. So often, I’m too busy feeling resentful about the things that “must be done” that I forget to include fun in my life. Let supper be something “fun.” Go sledding. Take a walk. Tickle my kids. Laugh. Build a fort. Swing on a swingset. Try a cartwheel. (I did that. It hurt, but it was exhilarating. Soon, I’ll be too old and it might risk breaking a hip.)
- Give myself a treat. In my case, that’s not something sweet. But maybe it’s a latte, or a trip to the bookstore, a new skein of hand-painted yarn, or just 15 extra minutes in the bathroom to shave my legs and paint my toenails.
- Give myself permission to take the day off. Purposely allowing myself to set aside my responsibilities for the day and do something I enjoy — without guilt — can be a lovely mini-vacation. (I can do this sometimes because I’m a stay-at-home mom, and what I’m taking time off from is feeling bad about not cleaning or stressed about homeschooling. I say yes to my kids’ fun ideas instead of “later,” or “finish your work first.”)
- Say no to condemnation. I don’t have to let that negative tape play in my head. It’s not helpful or healing; it’s destructive and discouraging.
- Paint. I love having a brush in my hand, whether it’s painting a canvas or a wall.
- Knit. I’m not sure what it is about yarn and needles, but they are so therapeutic, especially once you get good at it. When my brain is too muddled for something complex, I choose a simple, repetitive pattern. And I always use beautiful yarn and slick needles.
- Read a good book. I mean, a really good book, that makes you wonder and laugh and think about interesting and lofty things. I avoid sad endings at all cost, and I can’t stand reading tragedies. I’m already depressed enough, thank you.
- Listen to music. Some days, I forget to turn on the radio, and all I hear all day are the theme songs for Max & Ruby and Spongebob Squarepants. That’s enough to drive anyone crazy. Putting a favourtie, uplifting or thoughtful CD in the player makes a HUGE difference. Even doing the dishes can be fun when Superchick or Relient K is playing.
Renew My Mind — These are like water. Even if I take care of myself physically, when these things are lacking, I feel dry and brittle.
- Read my Bible. It really is living and active, and sometimes a verse I’ve read over and over again will pop out with a previously-unnoticed nuance.
- Read the 12 steps and the 8 Recovery Principles from the Beatitudes. (The 8 Principles are part of the Celebrate Recovery program.) They’re great reminders and come in small bites for easy digestion.
- Read the Serenity Prayer. It’s awesome. When I read it, or recite it in my head, I suddenly find myself taking deeper breaths and calming down.
- Fill my mind with good things. So often, I have a negative recording playing over and over in my head; I need to actively toss it out and replace it with good and true things. Those things can be Bible verses I have taped up around my kitchen sink or memorized, blog posts from other writers I love (the Sober Boots blog is a-MAZ-ing), podcasts (I’m currently enjoying Joyce Meyer’s Enjoying Everyday Life podcasts), small daily readings (I love My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers), or whatever inspired or uplifts me. As long as I can fill my mind with truth, I can recognize and toss out the lies.
- Stop being mean to myself. This kind of goes with the point above. But it’s a good, small phrase that I can easily remember when I feel like I’m drowning. “Stop being mean to yourself.”
- Go to a recovery group of some sort. Or some small group where people are real, honest, and accepting.
- Keep the remorse, but toss the shame. I do wrong things. I mess up. But if I beat myself up about them, I can’t move on and get better at stopping doing them. I remind myself that His mercies are new every moment. (I know the verse says “every morning,” but I think moment is just as real, and way more encouraging. I need new mercies every. moment.)
- Gather up some catch phrases. In recovery, there are a bunch of itty bitty cliches to help us along. They seem silly at first, but they’re basically just condensed bits of truth. My favourite is about acceptance: It is what it is.
I’m sure I must have more coping strategies than these, but you get the idea. And it’s been a great reminder for me to write them all out today. I think I’ll go listen to some good music and do some dishes. Now that I’m not beating myself up about being a bad housekeeper, life doesn’t seem so bad.
What are your coping strategies? I’d love to add more to my list!