We dramatically misunderstand mental health. Why? Because it is a war within yourself. Physical illness or injuries are for the most part caused by something external, whereas mental illness is internal. Anxiety and depression are traitors trying to push you to the edge and in the extreme circumstances, over into the void.
It is a war we cannot win, but we can contain it. We all do that by having coping mechanisms in place for when those traitors come whispering lies in your ears about your family, friends, and every other aspect of life. You have your techniques ready.
Here are my coping mechanisms. You may have similar ones or ones unique to you. Either way, find the ones that work for you and life will become a little easier to deal with.
My favourite coping mechanism is a visit to the cinema (I’m currently writing this in the Costa at my local Odeon). I have Odeon Limitless allowing me to watch as many films I want per month. I’ve watched eight films so far this January. It allows me to escape the anxiety when it strikes.
The dark cinema allows my mind to calm itself by having nothing to distract it. When the film begins, it draws my entire focus. I lose myself in the story, ensuring the traitors can’t get close to my ears.
When it starts in my mind, I leap in the car, race to the cinema and choose a film I want to see. I have seen films two or three times in the cinema as a result. Since acquiring Limitless, I go more often on my own just as a way of clearing my mind. When I leave the cinema, I forget what the anxiety was trying to say.
I have different levels of anxiety attacks, and not all of them are extreme enough to deserve a cinema trip. I don’t always have the time for a full film either. Instead, I go for the quick option which is a drive in my car.
A quick jump in the car can be enough to distract the mind away from those troublesome thoughts. Just the practical actions of the clutch, changing gear, accelerating, braking and turning give my mind something else to focus on.
APPLE & THINK Techniques
There was a time when I attended Mindsmatter in Preston. It is a service designed to help people with mental health issues to cope. They give you specific techniques allowing you to deal with those troublesome thoughts.
The two techniques I use are A.P.P.L.E and T.H.I.N.K.
Let’s begin with A.P.P.L.E. When a thought or series of thoughts seep into your consciousness; the first action is to acknowledge the thought. To recognise the thought is to accept that they are present, but also that they may not necessarily own your mind.
That leads to the next step. Pause! Stop, take a breath and don’t immediately react. That will stop you making rash, unnecessary assumptions or decisions that could result in adverse consequences.
The third stage is to pull back. Consider if it is you or the anxiety or the depression that conjured the thought. Consider who the thought benefits and if it will have a negative impact on you or your friendships or relationships.
Then we have the hard part. Let go of the thought. You don’t have to respond to it. Let it go, ignore it and prevent it doing any damage to you, your mind, your work, relationships or life in general.
Finally, explore the moment. Our thoughts, especially anxiety and depression prevent us living in the moment. Instead, you should examine your present moment and understand that all is well and that your anxiety is a false prophet.
That is A.P.P.L.E.
Now for T.H.I.N.K, this technique consists of direct questions you can ask and answer yourself to get you through when the thoughts come knocking.
The first question is about truth. Is the thought knocking at your consciousness fact or opinion? There is a difference some people don’t understand. If you don’t have the facts to back up your opinion, your opinion is invalid. Anxiety, for the most part, is an invalid opinion. Something to remember when it comes knocking.
Follow that up with how helpful your thought is. That is important because when anxiety hits, we forget about whether our thoughts are at all useful. Instead, we merely dwell on them irresponsibly. It is hard, but is that thought helpful to you?
Next, we have importance at the moment. How critical is your thought right now? If the answer is no, then why are your dwelling on it and even considering it?
Along the same lines, how necessary is that thought right now? Do you need to respond to it or can you push it away? Again, if the answer is no, then let it go.
Finally, and crucially, is the thought kind? Much of the time, we never consider whether the anxious and depressive thoughts we are having are kind to ourselves and kind to others. I have had plenty of occasions where my anxiety has painted my friends as pity givers who don’t like me and painted myself as a failure. Neither is right, and neither are kind.
If you answer any of these T.H.I.N.K questions with a no, feel free to dismiss that thought.
Coping isn’t easy
Writing it down like this, makes the whole process sound straightforward. It isn’t. Anxiety and depression are some of the hardest things to deal with. It is why there are drugs to help you cope. It is why there are counsellors and other medical professionals ready to listen to you and help you. But fundamentally, it is down to each of us who suffer to cope day in and day out. That is why I use these coping mechanisms to deal.