A Practical Guide to Surviving a Mental Health Crisis – Part 1
You’ve been hit by a mental health crisis, what can you do to survive and maintain basic quality of life?
So, you’ve read all the self-care guides including Ella’s tips and you’ve been doing everything you can to take care of your body and brain. But you’ve been hit by a mental health crisis and the well-structured routine of your life has fallen to tatters despite your best efforts. You’ve well and truly hit rock bottom.
Like many of us who suffer from crippling mental health troubles, I’ve been terrified of being judged for appearing weak or attention-seeking if I tell others I’ve been suffering from severe depression and anxiety. So I’ve sunk back into negative habits – shutting myself off and away from the world, physically, mentally and emotionally. But I promised myself that this year is the time for change, so it’s time to start sharing my experiences – all the good, the bad, the ugly.
If you’re in a similar situation to me, where satisfying the most basic human needs and interactions feels like you’re trying to get home during Friday rush hour but there’s roadworks and you’ve been stuck in the same exact spot for an hour – perhaps these tips in part 1 and 2 would be useful in making sure you’re fulfilling basic health needs with minimum effort in rough times.
Before we start, I also highly recommend Ailsa’s practical Self Care On A Budget list for really useful, quick and easy feel good tips that I found super helpful (and has stuff I won’t be mentioning).
Eat one healthy meal a day
Many of us experience some form of change in our eating habits when our mental health goes downhill. Yet food is such an integral part in building a healthy body and mind. I find myself fluctuating between extremes of starving myself one day and then binge eating anything and everything I can afford the next. What can you do when making a meal feels like building a house from scratch, or the very act of eating becomes a monster in itself?
These days, I’ve been trying to stick to eating at least one easily made/accessible and healthy meal a day. My go-to choices are:
- Natural protein bars and juices (no artificial sugars, those are bad for you – spikes your sugar levels and then the crash makes you feel even worse than before) for the really rough days when I can’t comprehend the idea of mixing different foods together to form a meal.
- Multigrain cereals with plant-based milks – breakfast anytime of the day for when turning on a stove or even the microwave requires too much energy.
- Salads, noodles, pasta or soup along with vegetables that are quick to make and only need a bit of seasoning to make a tasty dish, for those slightly better days. Here are some easy recipes.
This way you can guarantee that you are at least eating something nutritious and beneficial to your body that will help to improve your mental health overall.
Mild physical activity
There’s a lot of research about how exercise helps to improve mental health. But when getting out of bed feels like you’re dragging five tonnes of stone up Mount Everest, doing any form of physical activity is a win in my book. So I’ve discovered a couple things to do without ever leaving my room:
- Stretching – on the floor or even in your bed, which really just involves flopping one body part over another. Requires minimal effort and gets your blood circulating. You don’t have to be flexible at all to do this.
- Put on music that makes you want to have a little boogie – sometimes your body and brain just needs a bit of encouragement to start moving. So put on your favourite tunes that you can’t resist dancing to (this dance playlist keeps me going) and who says you can’t have a lip sync battle and dance off with yourself?
Natural light and nature
Vitamin D deficiency is known to impede our health. If you have a garden or balcony, or if you feel up for venturing to a nearby park, head outside for at least 15 minutes a day. If physical activity fails you, sit next to a window. I like to create a small nest with blankets for naps next to the window for optimum relaxation. Soaking up the sunshine and natural light will boost vitamin D levels, which is essential to improving your health and rebuilding that positive frame of mind.
Message one friend or family member a day
If you’re like me and your default coping mechanism is to shut down and isolate yourself, you’ll find the phrase “talk to someone” extremely irritating and unhelpful. Because what do you say and how? What if you can’t muster up the energy or courage to actually talk to someone face-to-face about it? Human interactions take an incredible toll on me during particularly tough times, but that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with the crippling sense of loneliness that mental health problems can bring.
This is where the wonderful invention of instant messaging comes in:
- Choose one person to text for the day, someone close to you who understands you
- Tell them you’re in a bad place in as many words as you’d like
- Let them know what you think you need from them, be it a conversation over messaging that’ll cheer you up, a possible phone call, maybe for them to help you with life things like house chores and reminding you to eat. Or it could be nothing at all.
Obviously, the way this works depends on who you are as a person and who you’re talking to. But I’ve found this incredibly useful in validating my experiences and how I’m feeling, as well as getting alternative perspectives. It’s also incredibly useful to those who care about you to stay in the loop and know how and when to step in and help when needed.
These simple and straightforward actions have been vital in helping me maintain some fundamental quality of life. I’ve also found it really useful to stick to roughly the same timings each day for each activity. If you’d like to mix things up a bit, have fixed times every day but allot the above actions in different order. Remember that easy is the best policy, stripped down versions of things you usually do might be just what your body and brain need, so you can rest before you pick yourself back up again.
Head over to part 2 for things that might inspire you with the getting better bit once you’ve got basic life needs covered.