6 Coping Mechanisms That Help My Mental and Physical Illnesses


I sit at my desk before work, eyes locked on the wallpaper of Rivendell from “The Lord of the Rings,” my idea of an exotic island getaway, on the computer screen. Being the first one of the department at work has many benefits; one being time to do my cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) exercises. I also miss all the traffic – an added bonus.

I fill in the small charts that measure my mood and pain levels. What exactly is hurting today? I think. I go through the list of aching head and joints before doing a breathing exercise. In the end I opt for pain tablets before getting up slowly to go and make tea. This morning it’s vanilla rooibos – it’s the little things. And having a routine also doesn’t hurt.

What many people, perhaps most, don’t realize is that there is a multitude of small coping mechanisms always present in someone who is chronically ill. While this may include medication, it is a holistic approach. For example, music and hobbies play a large part in my routine. My hobbies themselves are meditative in nature — as much by necessity as by choice. Being unable to run means that joining friends for park runs is out of the question.

Dance classes are also now out of the question, even though I did ballet for many years.

Rather, time is spent creating new realities in stories or channelling energy into creative endeavors like crochet and embroidery. Knitting is my usual go-to when I am in pain, though.

There is a very satisfying feeling when you get to create something of beauty.

My list of coping mechanisms for my chronic mental and physical illnesses:

1. Routine

While taking my medication at the same time every day is very important, I also keep to the same sleep pattern as much as I can, although I may sleep a little longer on weekends. This is especially handy when I am in a lot of pain — I can take something for it if it doesn’t lessen after a while and then go back to bed for an hour or two.
I also prefer to take power naps when I get home. This gives me the energy to not only actually do things after work, but also helps to clear my mind before I start writing fiction.

I even have a routine for listening to podcasts — which is more to keep me from listening until late and then being too tired to get up in the morning when I need to. Lucky for me, though, I usually wake at the same time every day by myself. Unless I have painsomnia (being awake the whole night because of pain), when I almost always oversleep. (Also a reason I get up early – oversleeping means I am still in time for work.)

Because of the depressive side of bipolar, I am very adamant to go to work unless I am in so much pain that I can’t hold a pen properly. Skipping work is usually a good sign for me that the darkness is present again.
Keeping a routine for me doesn’t mean slavishly following the same pattern every day to the minute, but rather doing the same thing at “about” the same time. Like getting to work, switching on the computer, and only then getting tea or coffee. Taking lunch at the same time every day as much as possible. Listening to my favorite podcasts on specific days. That kind of thing.

2. Music

I love music. Especially alternative and epic music. Not only do they make me want to write, they can also take my mind off of anxiety or pain.

I especially like listening to “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” soundtracks while writing copy. It seems to get the creative juices flowing.

The music is usually background music, just loud enough to keep my brain busy while I’m thinking about other things.

Lucky for me we’re allowed headphones at work, so I can listen to whatever I feel like.

3. Soothing Teas

Ah, the awesomeness that is tea. Whether it’s black tea, rooibos or honeybush, it really hits the spot when you need to zone out for a few minutes. Add a favorite mug and you’re good to go. Rooibos is especially good to drink when you don’t want to consume caffeine.

4. Pleasant Surroundings

Yes, yes, I know this isn’t always possible, but here I am referring more to that which you do have control over. Decorate your desk at work or home with photos and fun stationery to make it a happy place to be. Try to make your bedroom as comfortable as possible. Even just getting a pretty container for your medication can help.

5. Hobbies

I find that hobbies are extremely important to keep me going. I even take my knitting or crochet to work in order to work on it during lunch and have my “zen” moment. My colleagues also know that this is my quiet time. If we’re very busy I may only take 15 minutes, but a proper break doing something else is a lot better, I find, than only sitting at my desk.

6. Quiet Time

This can be any time you spend not being busy with work or chores. It can even be when you only have one spoon left for the day and go and sit in the office bathroom and cry a bit. It’s the time you spend reading or listening to an audiobook while lying in the bath or curled up in bed.

But these are just the things that I do to cope — and I know that I am very, very lucky to be able to work on a daily basis and do hobbies while ill. But that’s also not to say that I take all these steps – or that I’m able to take the steps every day. Sometimes even just bathing takes up so many spoons.

However, I will not give up, give in, and have my illnesses destroy me. I will live life to the fullest and as mindfully as I possibly can while I am able to.

Getty Image by stockce


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