Somehow, someway, the majority of people have coped with crises and bad feelings for centuries without essential oils, guided imagery, or inner childwork. They didn’t call a friend for support, cry on the shoulder of a loved one, or read self-help books on vulnerability. They did not just cope, but EFFECTIVELY and SKILLFULLY coped. They did not destroy relationships, start a new addiction, harm themselves or someone else, give up and wither away, or otherwise make the problem worse. I’m talking about people who may or may not be in therapy.
What a person naturally chooses to use for coping usually fits their personality. Many of the people I’ve treated who self-harm, for example, have some really great personality characteristics. They typically try hurting themselves the first time out of sheer desperation to change things quickly and feel differently. Great. In addition, they are frequently willing to accept their part of whatever the issue is…AND they are clearly able to do hard things. Perfect! Now…take that same bad-assery and convert it to something less psychologically damaging and socially alienating and you have some of the “non woo-woo” coping methods.
Distract: Dads aside, it’s hard to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time. It’s hard to bite your nails and play piano at the same time. In psychology, this is what is known as “incompatible behavior.” Do things that literallly prevent you from thinking about the issue(s). When I was stuck in a car with someone and was tempted to focus on thoughts that would lead me to confront them (not a good idea!) I made myself do long division every time my mind tried to go there. I hate long division so I didn’t have to fight it too much. There are things you can do like putting all of the states in alphabetical order, listing every breakfast cereal you can think of, doing your taxes, etc. that will keep you from getting stuck in the muck of your head. Distraction should not be a long-term strategy, but it can help in a pinch.
Do something: If you can do something about it, then do it. If you can take a step toward resolution, go ahead if that makes sense. If there is no possibility of resolution, such as the death of a person you love, then that might mean doing something to help with the funeral arrangements, for example. There’s nothing wrong with seeking a sense of predictability and control. We need that sometimes.
Contribute: One of the most powerful ways to get out of your head is to get into someone else’s problem. Now this is not in a weird way, so don’t choose this one if you are the type to get more upset because you end up getting too involved, but if codependency is not your main issue, then give it a try. Come up with some ways you could pitch in and help someone else. Write a thank you letter, bake some cookies for a neighbor, check on an acquaintance or friend going through a break up, or offer to help someone with a household chore. You could even do something anonymous like writing positive cards and leaving them around town for anyone to find. Get creative or go online and search up some ways to help out.
Get “delusionally optimistic:” I figure, if I don’t know what’s going to happen and my mind wants to play the “what if” game, why not make the story turn out ridiculously positive? In the “choose your own adventure” of life, I’m going to skip to the end and come up with as many possible positive outcomes as I can dream up. Maybe this happened so that I could find the love of my life! Maybe this happened to prevent a child from dying. Maybe this happened so I could start a new business that would change the world and save the planet! If you can get creative with the negative, you can do the same with the positive. Use your imagination to be just as irrational on the positive side. :)
MAKE it mean something (good): Instead of it being “the time that someone hit me in the rear and totaled my car,” it became “the time that the Universe showed me that I did the right thing.” I MADE it mean that. Back story: I needed a new car, but was stressing about what to do with my current one. I didn’t have the time to sell or trade it (single working mom) and it needed to happen soon because it was on it’s last leg. The accident (other person’s fault) meant I ended up in a new rental within 2 hours and in a new car days later with ZERO hassle. I decided that the universe was giving me the “thumbs up” that I did “the right thing” in a completely separate situation I had also been stressing over. I MADE it mean what I wanted it to. Yes, you can do that. No one will arrest you or take you to the psych ward. Interestingly, I don’t make negative things mean anything. I opt to consider “negatives” a fluke or something I’m just too short-sighted to understand how they are actually positives. I just wait for them to prove themselves as positives in disguise!
Be an alchemist: This is the coolest one in my opinion. This is when something bad happens, turn it into “gold.” This isn’t doing something good to offset something bad or doing something IN SPITE OF…it’s doing something good BECAUSE OF. You have to be pretty ballsy to do this and maybe a little delusional (see #4) but it is my absolute favorite. This involves taking something “bad” [person bitches you out] and you do something good that you would have never done if it hadn’t have happened [send them holiday cookies]. This can be done anonymously or it can have nothing to do with the person or situation. For example, because the person bitched you out, you will give $20 to the lady who helped you with your groceries when you would normally give $2. I love this for a variety of reasons. I love it because it feels good, because it restores a sense of control, because it is good karma (in my opinion), and because it throws people off and can directly challenge their beliefs about you, the world, and the future. This is something that I think is as close to magic as we humans can generate. We can literally create something good out of something bad! Unbelievable when you really think about it!
Now these suggestions are not to say that you can’t or shouldn’t use “woo-woo” strategies. I encourage everyone to try out the “woo.” If you can’t/don’t want to do “woo-woo,” it suggests you actually need to do just that! But then “woo-woo” would be an exposure, not a coping skill. In other words, it might crank up the discomfort—at least at first. So if you’re looking for something more active and that takes less time, the aforementioned strategies are a good start. Give them a try!
The therapist next-door, AKA Your neighbor is a perfectly fine person to discuss your mental health with. However, to really to make process internally, it is best to seek a professional psychologist or psychiatrist. Finding any new therapist can often be one of the most stressful and anxious times for someone trying to find help. As much as we love the idea of cuddle therapy, it may not be the answer you are searching for, and unfortunately we cannot supply you with a cuddle therapists at this time. It can be easy to find yourself on google, searching for the usual suspects. Searches like “find a therapist near me”, “in person therapy near me”or “find a therapist online”, can be tempting, but with the vast array of search results that come back, it can be almost impossible to know if you are finding the right therapist for you. Mental health is not a one size fits all program.