Navigating a "Bad Mental Health Patch"
Updated: Dec 29, 2021
My mental health hasn’t been the best lately. I’ve been crying for no reason, feel emotionally and socially burnt out, and fear that I might never feel like my “happy and upbeat normal self” again. Lately, my inner voice of self-doubt has been drowning out the voice of self-compassion I’ve worked so hard to build.
Am I cut out for the career I want to go into? Am I doing enough right now to help me get there? Did I make a mistake by choosing to get off medication now? This sucks
I’ve written/posted a lot about mental health over the years - talking about how to love yourself, work through bad body image/food freedom, practice gratitude, and so much more - that to now struggle with these things makes me feel embarrassed, like a failure, or inauthentic. I’m reminding myself that mental health is nonlinear, and it’s normal to have bad days/patches.
I’m using this challenging time as an opportunity to apply all the tools/skills I’ve learned over the past few years and grow stronger/develop more self-awareness.
1. Journaling more often. Understanding my thoughts, challenging negative thoughts, and thinking about “what else could be true?”
See above for journal example. It's not laid out in the CBT ABC model format, but it includes corresponding components.
There are many ways to write out what's happening for you internally, and I use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) principles/skills because I find that works best for me. Specifically, an ABC model from CBT helps me understand my thoughts, challenge negative thoughts, and think about “what else could be true?”
Identifying the antecedent/activating event (A) is helpful for evaluating situations/experiences. In my case, what I've been struggling with is more chronic and not specific to one event.
So I started with the beliefs (B): the automatic thoughts. Writing out your automatic thoughts can be helpful in changing your relationship with them - you can slowly see the thoughts as only thoughts not facts. This is common in meditation or mindfulness practices, the act of simply noticing thoughts arise, develop, and pass away instead of gripping onto them and letting them control us. It's helpful to also identify underlying meanings or interpretations about automatic thought to understand where it might come from - maybe this is a core belief you hold about yourself or the world.
Then, I identify what are the short-term and long-term consequences (C) of acting out on the automatic thought. These can be physical sensations, so it can also be helpful to write out what physical sensations come up when having these thoughts - whether that's a tight chest, quick heart beat. Consequences can also be behaviors/actions that you are compelled to act on, such as eating to mask the pain, exercising to forget what you're feeling, these are typically negative actions/behaviors.
Writing out the ABCs of what I'm thinking about allows me to stop ruminating, judging, or derive meaning from unhelpful thoughts. Instead, I can view my thoughts as just thoughts from a more informed position, and can respond to any urges or feelings that might come up in a calculated way.
2. Seek support.
Whether that’s social and/or professional support. Speaking to people about my struggles reminds me that I'm not alone, and helps me feel supported as I take steps to work on myself. Speaking to others can hold me accountable, ensuring that I am working through negative emotions healthily instead of avoiding/engaging in old destructive behaviors.
3. Make time to move my body, whether that’s yoga or riding a stationary bike.
Practicing compassion in action by moving in ways I love, while also working up endorphins.
4. Doing one thing out of self-compassion each day.
Maybe that’s eating cake/sleeping in/taking a bath. I believe that the way you do one thing is the way you do everything, so practicing self-compassion in small ways everyday is helping me further strength my voice of self-compassion in all areas of my life.
Feeling this way sucks, but I’m hopeful that I’m capable of moving through and feeling my way through this rough patch. Instead of viewing this rough patch as my new normal, I have actively chosen to use this as an opportunity to apply techniques I've learned and grow mentally stronger.
Sometimes, it's our relationship to the challenges we're faced with, or how we choose to see the challenge, that keep us stuck and prevent us from growing.
Edit: Since I wrote this a week or two ago, I’ve been feeling a lot better aka spending time to work on yourself… works!!!
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