5 Everyday, Brass Tack Tips for Dealing With Mental Illness

Got anxiety? Panic attacks? Maybe a little obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) sprinkled in for good measure? Yep, me too. These are things I’ve struggled with for most of my life. (More so than ever after my first child was born last year.) Yet, I didn’t quite know what they were until about a decade ago.

For the majority of the last several years, my “issues” have remained manageable and mostly under control, but only because I’ve learned about myself and how to treat this unique and wonderful mind I was given. If you struggle with some combination of these problems like I do, then here are some things I know about you:

First, you’re not crazy. I repeat, you are not crazy. The best thing I ever heard during the worst of it: “‘Crazy’ people don’t wonder if they’re crazy.” (Preach!) You are, however, pretty smart. You’re probably creative and quite imaginative. You’re empathetic and truly care about other people. You might be a little bit of an introvert and spend a lot of time in your own head. Sometimes, you might feel alone.

I’m here to tell you that you are not alone. The world isn’t ending, and it’s going to be OK. So here are some brass tacks strategies that have worked for me over the years to help me conquer these issues in my own life and be a (mostly) fully-functional wife, mother, employee and generally happy and productive member of society.

(Note: For me personally, these strategies are part of a holistic plan that includes counseling and medication. Everyone is different, and no two cases of mental illness are alike.)

1. Get out of your head.

Spending too much time in my cerebral universe can be exhausting. So I find getting physical brings me enormous relief. Going for a run, dancing, snagging my hubby for some lovin’ or just getting outside and moving makes a world of difference. Plus, exercise releases all sorts of positive neurochemicals that can really lift the mood.

2. Be careful what you put into your head.

I have to be extremely cautious about what I watch, read and see. Your brain has an entrance, but no exit. So it’s wise to put a filter on what you allow in there. Plenty of my past panic attacks have been triggered by something I saw on television or in a movie. Now, I don’t even own a TV, and I’m cautious about what kind of media I ingest. I have to consciously choose to invest my time in positive, uplifting media and not give any time or space to the negative, scary or disturbing.

3. Focus on the positive, but in a tangible way.

To a person with mental illness, being told to “just stop worrying about it” can quickly turn you into a flaming monster of rage. While this might not be an option, what you can do is redirect your focus onto the things in your life that you love and are thankful for in a way that’s a little more concrete. Write out a list of things and people you’re thankful for, draw it in a picture or put it in a song. Create something beautiful. Maybe just call someone you love and say, “Hey, I love you!” Vocalizing your thankfulness is always a good idea.

4. Don’t give your thoughts and fears too much credit.

Just because you think it doesn’t mean it must be so. As a worry wart, sometimes I (irrationally) feel if I can just think of every possible worst case scenario, then maybe my fears can’t take me by surprise. However, just because I’ve thought of it does not mean it’s going to happen. When thoughts that freak you out come your way, acknowledge them, but then try to let them float on by, as if they’re drifting past like pieces of flotsam on a river. You’re on the shore. You don’t need to wade in there and gather up every passing stick and strap it to your back. Your thoughts and feelings are just that: thoughts and feelings. They do not dictate reality, and they do not dictate who you are. You are not your scary thoughts.

5. Realize that you can struggle with issues like these and still have faith.

I have chronic anxiety, and I love Jesus. These are not mutually exclusive concepts, which might be obvious to some. Yet, during the worst of my struggles, I was told on multiple occasions by a variety of religious folk, “If I just had enough faith,” then I would be cured. Fixed. Healed. Which is, frankly, absolute rubbish. The God I believe in is not my personal genie or vending machine, doling out things I think I’m entitled to on demand. And “healing” can come from many sources, such as medication and therapy.

If this is you, please know more than anything, you are not alone. You are among friends and good company at that. Help is available to you, and you are not crazy. It’s going to be OK.

Image via contributor.

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