Chris offers his advice on how to cope with feelings of anxiety or low mood in the short and long term.
Practise mindfulness / thought challenging
I find mindfulness activities the most helpful for alleviating anxious or low thoughts: for example, attention training, where you focus on what you see. This can be by describing it in your head, noting things in your surroundings (e.g. counting only red objects), or just exercising a general quality of mindfulness by noticing details which you would have overlooked had you been caught up in your thoughts. I also find thought challenging useful; often my thoughts are unhelpful and worrisome, so I try to question these automatic thoughts to see if they’re as convincing as they seem. Once you’ve asked yourself “how would I view someone else in my situation?” or “will this matter in a week, or a month…”, those thoughts seem less substantial. Trying to shift your perspective takes a little practice – but we know we don’t get things right all the time, and neither do our thoughts and feelings.
Always have ideas to hand
Everyone is different, so it’s a good idea to think about what things help you the best when you’re feeling that way. You could write a list of things that you can do in the moment when you’re not feeling great. You can keep a copy so that you’ve always got it with you (maybe on your phone). Sometimes when we’re feeling anxious or depressed it’s difficult to think of things to alleviate it, but having a list means you’ve always got ideas when you need them.
Think long term
I’ve come to realise recently that mental health is better considered holistically. Of course it’s important to have coping mechanisms for when you encounter distressing thoughts and feelings, but it’s also vital to examine your lifestyle so that you can minimise these feelings in the long term. So much of mental health is about your routine. Sleep, diet, exercise and caffeine all have an impact on your body – and since your mind is in your body too, it makes sense that these things affect how you’re feeling. You could try making a note of these things over the course of a week (or, if you already have a day planner/diary, add how much sleep you got or caffeine you drank) to see whether you could alter anything which might make you feel better day-to-day.
However, our routine also involves how we allocate our time. I’ve recently noticed that I’ve not been making enough time for things that I enjoy: playing music, going for walks/doing exercise, meeting up with friends, cooking and baking. Every day brings boring but necessary tasks like work or housework, so make sure you are giving yourself time to relax in the evening (or whenever), and planning enjoyable activities to look forward to. If I’m finding something really difficult – like completing a job application which is making me feel anxious – I try to give myself a break, and do something relaxing like reading, watching TV, going for a walk. When I come back to it, I try and break it down into parts, and bookend each part with fun stuff to make it less of an ordeal. Again, you can make a list of stuff you like doing – it sounds silly, but when we’re feeling low we often overlook the things we enjoy. I find that setting myself specific goals for every week is a helpful way to plan activities, and make tangible progress (e.g. “I’m going to go for a 20-minute walk three times a week throughout January”).
Track your progress
The most important thing is to check in with yourself regularly, to remind yourself about your goals, triggers, routine, coping mechanisms and so on. I frequently feel like I forget the things that I like doing, or that I’ve deviated from my goals after only a week. If our aim is to implement everyday changes with the ultimate goal of feeling more like ourselves, then it’s a good idea to check to see what progress we’re making. Be kind to yourself – it doesn’t matter much if you don’t manage to keep up with your own goals at first! You can always change them and find something that works better for you.
There’s a lot more help and advice from young people here too.
If you live in Gloucestershire and are aged 9-21, you can get support from our TIC+ counsellors. TIC+ works hard at raising funds so they can arrange for a counsellor to see you for free, all you need to do is call us on 01594 372777 or text us on 07520 634063 to arrange an appointment. We know it can be hard to take that first step but, like the other young people we’ve helped, you’ll be so glad you did.
If you need to speak to someone urgently, call Childline on 0800 1111, NHS 111 (on 111) or the Samaritans on 116 123. There’s always someone there to help, and any conversations you have with them are confidential.
For more advice check out our SUPPORT RESOURCES page!