Coping Skills, Life, Uncategorized

What to do when things aren’t working

I’ve heard other people on blogs and in person express the sentiment that they’re trying everything they know how to do, and it’s not working. What do you do when nothing seems to work?

I’ve been struggling with feeling like nothing’s working recently and then feeling even more hopeless as a result. I’ve been having a tough time since my uncle and and grandmother passed away. I’m grieving and being reminded of past trauma and the recent trauma of their deaths in intrusive and unpleasant ways, all the while being apart from my family (away at college) and trying to literally survive and not fail my classes.

So what do you do??? I wish I had more answers than what I have, but I’ll share what’s getting me through so far, and if anyone has any other ideas, please let me know.

Validate yourself. If you’re trying everything you know and using all the skills you have, you’re probably trying really hard and dealing with some pretty hard stuff! Give yourself some credit and acknowledge that you are struggling.

Think about what you mean when you say “things aren’t working.” Sometimes the skills I use do work; they just don’t solve all my problems. For example, the goal of distress tolerance skills in DBT is to get you through the moment without worsening the situation. They’re not supposed to make you feel happy or to get rid of whatever was causing the strong emotion. If I hold ice up to my face (the TIPP skill) in place of acting on crisis urges, then the skill worked. Even if I am still really upset and the crisis urges come back soon, the skill got me through that moment. I expect that skills will help more than they are able to. Having more realistic expectations here would help, I think.

Make sure you’re doing the things that have helped in the past. Personally, I know that I have to eat enough and sleep enough and get exercise and see my friends and have time to myself regularly in order to maximize my okay-ness. Sometimes I get frustrated thinking, “But I slept so much! I ate three meals! I did so much good work and tried so hard! Whyyy am I not feeling better?” and maybe it’s because I’m avoiding my friends and haven’t had a real conversation with anyone in a week. Not doing one essential thing, even when you’re doing all the others, could be the missing piece.

Ask for and accept help from other people. You don’t have to do everything alone! Friends, family, strangers, online friends, old friends, therapists, doctors, etc. can all help! For example, my mom visited me at college this past weekend. She has offered to do this in the past, but this was the first time that I accepted her offer. She was willing to help, and I knew it probably would make me feel better and was desperate. Her visit ended up going great, and I felt much better afterwards deep down.

Still on the topic of asking for help, I sometimes know that I need help but don’t know what I need. When people ask, “What can I do?” or “How can I help?” I don’t know how to answer. I’m still working on learning what I need, but here are some things that I have asked for: a hug (many times), for my friend to let me vent, for my therapist to reply to my email, for an extension on an assignment, for someone to eat a meal with me, for a friend to send me something in the mail, to schedule an appointment with a doctor, to set up a time to facetime a friend. These are things I can ask for! People can always choose to say no, but asking doesn’t hurt and often helps a lot!

Maybe consider bigger changes in your life. I know that if I keep on feeling this badly, taking a semester or a year off of school is an option. Dropping some classes is an option. Going to an inpatient, residential, or day treatment center is an option. Changing my therapist is an option. Transferring schools or switching my major are options. There are lots of options!

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Radically accepting that 1) you are having a tough time right now, and that 2) there are things you can’t change and have no control over, can allow you to see a situation more realistically and therefore make better decisions about the things you can control. I can’t change the fact that my uncle and grandmother died, but I can celebrate their lives, think of fond memories, and strive to embody the qualities I admired in them.

Have patience. I know that this can be really hard to do. But giving things time and just pushing forward can work. Hold on. Time may not heal everything, but it can help with a lot. I have a saying that I like: “There are good days and bad days. Keep going, and you’ll find both.”

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Coping Skills, Uncategorized

Getting stuff done when anxious and depressed

College has been a struggle with my mental illnesses. I thought I’d make a list of stuff that I have found through trial and error that works for me in hopes of having a nice list for other students who are struggling, anyone who has stuff to get done and has trouble doing it, and myself for when I inevitable forget about all the good skills I have to remind me that I can do things.

  • Set a timer and work on something for only x amount of time.
    • This is good if the assignment seems too scary or overwhelming.
    • You break it down into a smaller piece that you can handle and feel okay with. Sometimes I set my timer for 20 minutes, and sometimes I set it for 5, or even less. The key is to do something manageable.
    • Then when the timer goes off, I stop and take a break. If I’m up for it, I set the timer again, but I don’t put any pressure on myself to do that.
  • Rewards!
    • I give myself stickers when I do important stuff, especially stuff that’s hard for me or things that I’ve been procrastinating. I actually mainly use this for therapy stuff, not school stuff, e.g. I give myself stickers for doing exposures, being vulnerable, using skills instead of doing target behaviors, etc.

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      I have a sheet of paper pinned to my wall where I write down my accomplishments in pretty colors and give myself a sticker and checkmark.
    • Rewards can go along with the timer thing above. During my break, I can get to  play one round of a game on my phone, go out to the lounge and hang out with friends, read comics, etc.
    • Important note: do not use self care as a reward. A reward is something extra. Keep up with your normal self care habits regardless of whether or not you complete something. Take breaks regardless of whether or not you got anything done.
  • Ask. for. help.
    • This can be really hard to do, and sometimes asking for help doesn’t actually get you the help you need, which feels awful, but overall asking for help is so essential. 
    • To me, asking for help means:
      • asking questions in class when I’m confused,
      • emailing the professor or TA when something is unclear,
      • emailing my professor to ask for an extension when I’m going through a rough time,
      • asking people in my class if we can work together on the problem set (if collaboration is allowed),
      • asking people in my class how they did x problem I’m struggling with,
      • going to office hours,
      • emailing my disability services coordinator if I have questions or need something or am having a rough time,
      • going to see my advisor,
      • asking to switch my advisor when the relationship isn’t working,
      • asking my friend if I can talk to her when I’m having a bad day,
      • asking a friend if I can hang out with her,
      • asking for a hug,
      • asking my therapist if we can talk about something that’s been bothering me, or if we can have more frequent sessions,
      • asking people in my suite if there’s a problem I’m not sure how to deal with or could just use some help with (mouse in my room, people are being too loud at night when I’m trying to sleep, etc.)
      • and many other things
    • The main thing that gets in the way of asking for help, for me, is lots of shame. I try to check the facts on whether the shame is justified and if the intensity is justified and effective. It’s usually not. Generally, asking for help will a) get me what I want and b) help to solve my problems and also c) show people I care enough about something and d) am working on it enough to ask.
  • Be realistic when planning out what to do.
    • This is hard for me, especially when the amount of things I have to do is not possible.
    • I have to radically accept that I cannot do everything, and I cannot be perfect.
    • In that case, I have to decide what to skip. Sometimes this means getting less sleep, but I try not to do that because I know less sleep will make me feel worse later. Sometimes it means I don’t go to a club meeting, don’t answer all the questions, get some wrong, skim readings, miss a class, and don’t do things as thoroughly as I like to or as thoroughly as I think my professor would like me to, ideally.
    • In these times it’s helpful for me to remember that other people are skimming the readings, not understanding everything, and getting questions wrong, too. No one is doing all the work.
    • Being realistic is beneficial in the long run because I don’t feel as guilty later for not doing everything. I knew from the start that it was unrealistic, and I had already decided not to do something and accepted that I wasn’t going to do it.
  • Prioritize, and do the priorities first.
    • I have a new planner this year that categorizes the to-do list into three sections: top priority, priority, and errands. This has been helpful to me because I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the things I have to do. When I put them into the categories, I find that I only have a few top priority things to do, and most of the things I have to do are errands. It will be okay if I don’t get to the errands because they’re less important and less urgent. Knowing this helps me feel less stressed.
    • When deciding what’s a priority, I think about this equation: priority = important + urgent.
    • I also have a drawing on my wall of the fish tank thing where you put the big rocks in first. The fish tank thing…I’m not sure where I heard of this, but it was a while ago. Basically, you want to put the big rocks (important things) into your fish tank (you life, day, schedule) first so that the extra space is filled up with the less important things. If you put the smaller things (sand, gravel) in first, you will fill up your tank before you have room for all the big rocks. Here’s a video explaining it.
    • IMG_7579
      This is my drawing. It’s some sort of vase instead of a fish tank, and I have flowers instead of rocks. The size of the flowers roughly represents the amount of time, relative to the other things, that I want to spend on it. Sleep and self care are the biggest. Classes, homework, and eating are second. Hygiene, fun, planning, and replying are third. Clubs, socializing, and cleaning are next. (some of these things also fall under self care) Projects, events, and volunteering are the smallest.
    • In more concrete terms, for me this means having a rough bedtime to make sure I get enough sleep, blocking out time for meals, going to classes and doing homework before reading random emails and fiddling around on my computer, doing the assignment that’s due tomorrow instead of the one that’s due in two weeks, etc.
    • Sometimes it’s hard to motivate me to do the highest priority things first when other things are more fun or easier. Recently I’ve learned (the hard way) just how guilty, ashamed, sad, angry at myself, and stressed I feel when I don’t do the important things. Although the intensity of these feelings is not justified (i.e. the magnitude is greater than the actual situation calls for, and I should use opposite action), I still want to avoid feeling like that. I’m currently using that as motivation to do the most important things first. (or first-ish)
  • Take breaks!
    • Lots of little breaks while you’re working (see timer thing),
    • some longer breaks, maybe every few hours (or more/less frequently, depending on how you’re doing)
    • and some really long breaks — I like to take Friday afternoon though Saturday afternoon off and not do things related to school. I also go home about once a month.
  • Have other important things in your life besides school/work.
    • I like to think of the saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” If you put all your eggs in one basket and happen to drop the basket accidentally, all the eggs will crack. But if you keep some eggs at home and put some in a purple basket and some in a green basket, and then if something happens to the eggs in the purple basket, you will still have most of your eggs.
    • It’s like this cartoon. 🙂 (image from https://www.reddit.com/r/GetMotivated/comments/3i8z5r/image_convertible_and_a_lake_peanuts_by_charles/)
    • When one things gets tough, you can rely on another to keep you going.
    • Therapy, dancing/ballet, arts and crafts, and relationships with friends are things important to me outside of school. I spend time on them, have fun, and make progress. This also helps me keep some perspective. There is more to me than this one thing.
  • If you’re going to procrastinate, procrastinate effectively. 
    • If you just can’t do that hard thing now, do something else productive. Take a shower, do laundry, eat a meal, reply to an email, etc. Then you won’t have to do it later on, and you’ll feel accomplished!
  • Take care of yourself when you need to.
    • If your anxiety is too high to concentrate at all, or you’re dissociating and can’t focus, or can’t stop crying and thinking bad thoughts, take a step back and evaluate what skills you need to use. Forget about work for now and just focus on taking care of yourself and your mental health. It’s more important. Use skills that you know work for you. Then go back to the work later, once you’ve recovered. Communicate upfront if you didn’t do something that others were relying on or expecting (e.g. group project). Be honest if you can.
  • Allow for mishaps. Budget in extra time. 
    • I’m not very good at this now but hope to be better at it. I sometimes have flashbacks or other crises that take me out of commission for a few hours. Ideally, I would not be doing my homework right before the deadline, and I would schedule in a few spare hours with nothing planned so that other things can flow over into it so that when this happens, it wouldn’t cause as great a problem, but I’m not there yet. I’m working on it.
  • Listen to music while working.
    • This probably doesn’t work for everyone (well, nothing works for everyone), but I find music helpful in blocking out distractions. If I listen to upbeat music, it also keeps me somewhat energized and hopeful about what I’m doing. Today I’ve been listening to a 60s music playlist on youtube. 🙂
  • Keep up with normal self care habits, because they’ll make you feel better overall and more motivated and able to do things.
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      Also on my wall — this reminds me of what self care means to me. The blowing bubbles imagery reminds me to breathe out as if I’m blowing a bubble.
  • Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. You can do it!! 🙂

 

In summary, because this was a long post:

  • Set a timer and work on something for only x amount of time.
  • Rewards!
  • Ask. for. help.
  • Be realistic when planning out what to do.
  • Prioritize, and do the priorities first.
  • Take breaks!
  • Have other important things in your life besides school/work.
  • If you’re going to procrastinate, procrastinate effectively.
  • Take care of yourself when you need to.
  • Allow for mishaps. Budget in extra time.
  • Listen to music while working.
  • Keep up with normal self care habits.
  • Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. You can do it!! 🙂
Coping Skills, Uncategorized

Morning Routine

I’ve been having a lot of nightmares recently, so I’ve come up with a morning routine to help me get on with my day. I like keeping this sheet next to my bed so that once I’ve woken up I’m not at a loss for what to do and how to live. This routine really helps me to start my day right. I sometimes change up the order or skip some steps, but having a methodical, ordered plan and doing positive things to wake myself up has been really helping me.

I found that I often got stuck between reading something funny on Buzzfeed and getting out of bed. I just stay there reading more and more, or start looking on Pinterest or Youtube for other funny things in order to cram out the bad in my mind. I think the idea of getting out of that warm, safe place and facing my day is too intimidating. So, I tried to break up that step into smaller steps. My ideas about how to transition from lying in bed to standing up are in the picture on the right. They’re intended to get myself to move around a little because after a nightmare I really want to fall into the freeze response, and that doesn’t do me any good. So there they are! 🙂

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What do you do to get yourself going?

Coping Skills, Uncategorized

Staying Busy: The Coping Skill of the Week

This week has been better than the last week, and I think it’s because I was busier and did more things.

I went on a walk with a friend, had lunch and hung out with another friend, did some volunteering online and in person, went to my high school’s graduation, went to a reunion, repainted my door, cleaned my room a bit, helped out at the dress rehearsal for my sister’s dance recital, went to therapy, taped things up on my wall, started a new project for my family, and started learning new languages on duolingo.

I had some bad days this week, when I was feeling depressed, or anxious, or triggered/flashback-y. But I also had some great days: the day I hung out with my friends, the day I volunteered, the day I went to the reunion, the day I discovered duolingo.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I felt best when I was busy doing things. I think staying busy helped to keep my mind off other things. It was good to be around people, too. I felt valued and not alone, and being with my friends reminded me of good things I that used to like and had forgotten about.

It also felt good to be productive. My repainted door looks beautiful. I did that! It took a good amount of time and a lot of help from my brother, but it’s very satisfying to have it back in my room now in its beautiful, new, sky blue color.

Duolingo is another way that I can be productive. Instead of mindlessly turning to buzzfeed, I can open the duolingo app and actually learn a new language. I can see my progress very quickly, and it’s really cool to think of the new skills I’m learning.

Yay! Now I just have to make sure I have plans for next week, too. 🙂

Coping Skills, Uncategorized

Help

Do you ever want to scream “HELPPP MEEEE” into the void? Do you ever google “help,” scribble it on the edges of your notes, or whisper it at night through tears? I do. It’s okay if you do, too. It’s okay to need help. It is a strength to know that you need help and to seek it out. Kudos to you!

If your coping skills aren’t working and you’re struggling, no matter how much, there are many resources you can reach out to. These include hotlines if you’re in a crisis or having an emergency. There are also many resources you can use when you’re not in immediate danger.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Who, or what, has been helpful to you in times of need? Who, or what, is helpful to you on a daily basis?