mental health

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How to cope when your world’s been turned upside down

Feel like the rug’s been pulled out from under your feet? You’re not alone. Here are some tips to get you through this (or any other) challenging time.

mental health

Image supplied

Life’s curveballs come in all degrees of severity and destructiveness, and no one really escapes their impact. They can be the death of a loved one, or the breakup of a marriage or relationship. It could be a financial catastrophe that leaves our future security compromised.

Recently it has been the pandemic that has cast its long shadow over our lives. It has brought stress and insecurity in its wake, with the loss of jobs and income. It has to a large extent deprived us of our normal sources of comfort and reassurance as our familiar daily routines have been disrupted.

Here’s some advice from experienced mental health experts, counsellors, and therapists as to the best ways of dealing with trauma, heartbreak, and stress when these dark times inevitably roll round.

Face the reality of your feelings, and acknowledge that you may not be behaving rationally

Stress affects different people in different ways. What holds true for everyone is that under the influence of strong emotions, we’re unlikely to behave 100% rationally.

Once you face the reality of this fact, you will find it easier to acknowledge that your judgment may be impaired, and that you should avoid making life-changing decisions while in this state. With this insight, it will become easier to cope with the harrowing (and often contradictory) emotions that you are experiencing.

Focus on the things you have control over, and cut yourself some slack over the things you don’t

We are unfortunately conditioned by the world we live in to assume that somebody has to be blamed when catastrophe strikes. And all too often, we end up berating and blaming ourselves for what has happened. This may even be the case — but far more often it will be an unfortunate set of coincidences that conspired to create the current situation.

In any case, what’s done, is done, and endlessly rehashing in your mind what has happened will be fruitless. You can, however, try to control what happens from here on in, and try to steer things in a positive direction.

There is help out there, so find the support that you need

Many of us are conditioned to soldier on grimly on our own, but there are many organisations and people who can help. The most important step is to acknowledge to yourself that you need help, and that you don’t need to go through anything alone.

The South African Depression and Anxierty Group is an excellent place to start for advice, support, and guidance. There are also many churches, religious and other spiritual groups that can help you if you feel drawn to that approach.

And remember that if you are dealing with financial hardship as a result of the coronavirus lockdown and its impact, there are measures in place that you can access for advice and assistance.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself

This is particularly relevant if you are one of those people who takes care of others, while forgetting to look after yourself. It’s crucial that you extend the same loving care that you would give to a loved one or family member who is in pain, to yourself.

Have you heard of the “oxygen mask rule”? (You’ll need to cast your mind back to the days when aeroplane flights were a thing!) Basically, in the event the plane cabin depressurises, you’re instructed to put your own oxygen mask on before you help others with theirs.

The idea behind this is that you can’t help others effectively when you’re disregarding your own needs. To quote a phrase from the famous poem Desiderata: “Be gentle with yourself”. Your pain and your emotions deserve as much validation as anybody else’s.

Work on your head

It’s natural, when going through a bereavement or dealing with a disaster, to rage at the universe, demanding to know how this could happen to me, and why life is so terribly unfair. After all, what could I possibly have done to deserve this?

But this kind of thinking — whilst completely understandable — is also completely futile. Life throws us these undeserved curveballs, and bad things simply do happen to good people. You have to counter these negative, pointless, and often exhausting thoughts that churn around in your head.

Try to replace them with more rational ones, like:
I know that I am in great pain at the moment, but I also know that I will get through it, and it will get better over time.
I know that it won’t be quick, and it won’t be easy, but it will happen. I don’t have to deal with it all on my own.
I have the will power, resilience, and strength to get through it, and I will.

Book some quality time for yourself

This is an especially important point, and be warned that you’ll probably have to draw on some will power, because you might very well not feel like it. Make yourself do things that you enjoy.

Read a favourite book, pick up that musical instrument, or get back to that painting you had such a clear vision for once. Cook a delectable meal, even though it takes what seems like such an effort. Plant some seedlings in the garden that will literally bring some beauty and colour back into your life. All these activities are affirmations that life does go on, and that you will get through this.

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