4 Tips for Staying Well in Mental Illness Recovery


Recovering from any mental illness is hard, especially when you are unsure of helpful techniques. I would love to share some ideas I found extremely beneficial through receiving cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

For anyone wondering what this therapy is, it’s a combination treatment targeting the cognitive distortions involved with mental illness, as well as implementing behavioral changes at the same time. At first, I was very skeptical about this treatment, however I can honestly say it has been the most successful (yet challenging) one I have experienced.

In CBT, you learn new ways of dealing with unhelpful mindsets and behaviors. So my first strategy is:

1. Challenging negative thoughts

Although some people can challenge negative thoughts in their head, in therapy I learned that writing them down can be more successful (I am speaking for myself on that one). It starts by writing down a negative thought you currently have. For example, “I’m not strong enough to complete my degree” was a typical one of mine. The next step is to weigh up the pros and cons of the scenario. For example, “What are the positives for completing my degree? What are the negatives?” Create two columns. I used to find when writing them down, the pros would always outweigh the cons. After this, I would create a new more neutral (or even positive thought). For example, I might think, “I will be able to complete my degree.” I would then be able to look at the thought through a new, more helpful perspective.

2. Positive log

This is another writing exercise that helped me. I used to do this far more often than I do now, as I find I now have the positive mindset to do this in my head. Everyday I would write down a positive for the day, while ignoring any negatives. No matter how small or irrelevant it may seem, write it down! I used to write things down that may seem so trivial to others. For example, I would write “I went to a gym class on my own,” “I drove in the dark in an unknown area,” “I applied for jobs,” etc. At the end of the day, take that positive statement and create an “I am” or “I can” statement from it. For example, “I went to a gym class on my own — I am confident and brave.” This massively helped me with my anxiety and my depression too, as I could always see little positives no matter how bad of a day it was. I now have a notebook full of positive thoughts and “I am” and “I can” statements to look back on when I need them.

3. Self-soothe

Now this one is very important. There are five different types of self-soothe, each for the different senses — touch, taste, smell, feel and hear. I have self-soothe on the brain nowadays because for 10 months, it was hammered into my brain nonstop! Self-soothe comes under the category called distress tolerance. When we are feeling distressed, soothing ourselves is the best way to ground and calm down quickly. I have used (and still do use!) a variety of self-soothe activities including: painting my nails, exercising, bubble baths, scrapbooking, listening to music, etc. I built up a collection of self-soothe activities in CBT that I had previously neglected.

4. Balance

The most important thing I learned in therapy: balance. Everything in life needs to be balanced. I went into CBT with no life balance. Learning to balance social relationships (partner, family and friends), job, university work and exercise were my main categories. Everybody has different categories. What worked well for me was drawing a massive pie chart on a whiteboard and splitting it into sections depending on the amount of time in a week I wanted to allocate to each piece of the pie. It was this visual aid that made me realize my life lacked balance and something needed to change.

I really hope these tips are useful to at least one person. There are plenty more useful techniques you can use to stay on top of your mental health but these are definitely my main four.

Lastly, remember that if you are facing hard times, you really do have the power to turn this around.

woman sunset

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Lead Thinkstock photo via berdsigns.


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Mental Health

Beautiful fantasy colorful painting of a radiant dreaming fairy woman with red hair and winter glowes by a tree trunk, with closed eyes

To the People Struggling in Silence

You may feel alone. Like no one will understand. Like no one can help you. You may feel like you are fighting a losing battle. You may not know how you can possibly keep going. You may think you deserve to be alone. That this is your fault. Your mental illness is not your fault. [...]
woman

My Problem With the 'Positivity Movement' as Someone With Depression

One thing that makes navigating mental illness difficult is the “positivity movement.” Not everyone is in 100 percent complete control of their own lives and emotions 24/7. We can’t always “choose to be happy,” and poof, everything will be better! I’ve already written about why I disagree that happiness is a choice, and in the [...]
Flying dreams have symbolic meaning. In a general sense they are about expanding who you are as a person. More specifically, flying dreams are about:

19 Things I've Learned in Mental Illness Recovery

1. This is not my fault. I did not choose this life. And never would I ever have stood up like Katniss from “The Hunger Games” did and yelled, “I volunteer as tribute!” if someone had offered it to me. Don’t take that the wrong way, though. Just because I didn’t choose it or volunteer [...]

Why a Scatterplot Better Represents Mental Illness Recovery

I’ve heard people say it over and over again — recovery is not a straight line. It wasn’t until recently that I found a good visual representation of recovery. It is a scatterplot.  The reason why recovery is like a scatterplot is because it’s OK if your recovery is not a straight line as long [...]