Getting Through a Bad Mental Health Day

We have all been victims of a bad day. You know what I’m talking about…from the moment you wake up, nothing seems to go right, and repeatedly, you think, “I just want to go to bed and start over tomorrow.” 

However, as adults, we don’t usually have that opportunity, and we have to slough through the day, often sinking deeper into the depression or anxiety or a thousand other emotions that run rampant in our bodies. 

Well, you don’t need to settle for discomfort any longer. I’m going to give you a few tools to use when that next bad mental health day or week comes. 

But first, I want you to take a moment to consider how your mind and body react to these days. 

Why is this important? 

Often, our bodies try to warn us of danger, but we are so caught up in the moment that we don’t notice what our bodies are telling us. So, let’s start there…

Physical Signs of Stress in the Body include drastic temperature changes (suddenly sweating or feeling like you are plunged into cold water), shaking, acne, tiredness, weight fluxations, headaches, dizziness, jittering of a leg, twitching in the face or body, upset stomach, frequent illnesses (weakened immune system) and aches and pains.

I want to linger on two of these physical signs to give you more perspective on how the body reacts to extreme stress levels. Our stomach is the body’s emotional brain and directly affects the stomach and intestines. Many issues with the body often present with stomach pain. A good example of this is when someone is having a heart attack, which often presents as an upset stomach. So the popular saying, listen to your gut, has much more significance. 

Another is aches and pains. How often do you feel tight in the shoulders and neck after a long day? Or when you feel like everything is caving in, you have a sharp pain in your solar plexus or back? This is the body’s early warning system saying. STOP! Whatever you are doing is bad. STOP! 

Mental and Emotional Signs of Stress in the Body include the inability to concentrate and make decisions, racing thoughts, forgetfulness, moodiness/irritability, panic attacks, and the inability to feel or process. 

Now, take a moment to review the lists again, and write down YOUR most common symptoms. Open the notes feature on your phone or get a piece of paper or post-it note (however you remember best) and write down your most common signs of stress. Put it somewhere you will have easy access to it. 

Before we go over some tools for managing these symptoms before they push us over the edge, think of some of the unhealthy ways you have dealt with stress in the past. Be totally honest with yourself. You don’t need to tell anyone or feel shame because you aren’t alone. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has dealt with their stress or anxiety in some unhealthy way in the past, and many others will continue to do these things in the future. But you don’t have to be one of them. 

Unhealthy Ways of Dealing with Stress: 

  • Gambling
  • Alcohol and Drugs
  • Self Harm
  • Binge Eating or Undereating
  • Nervous Habits (nail biting, knuckle cracking) 
  • Neglecting Responsibilities
  • Sleeping too much
  • Isolation
  • Impulse Spending 
  • Excessive Screen Time

In this moment, promise yourself that you will improve your ability to recognize stress in your body and avoid unhealthy coping strategies. We will often bend over backward to help those we love, often at the expense of our own needs. This must stop because how can we help someone else if we are too sick? We can’t. 

Instead, don’t push through when we feel these things; stop and try one of these techniques. 

3Ws: Walk, Water, and Window. Walk—get up and walk around the house and office. Movement forces stress out of our bodies. Drink Water—if we are dehydrated, our bodies are strained and can become stressed or edgy. Look out the Window— or, even better, step outside and breathe some fresh air. Listen to the birds. The body is hard-wired to relax when experiencing nature. 

Take a Walk. When we move forward, we move away from our problems and towards a solution. The movement increases endorphins, which help lift our mood. If it is sunny, the vitamin D will help boost your mood. Birds sing when they feel safe and happy, so when we hear them, we can tap into those feelings as well. If possible, go to the park, but if not, a walk on your own or with a beloved pet in your neighborhood will still do the trick. 

Breathwork. Our breath is a powerful tool that we rarely tap into. When we experience a stress response, we are in our sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight). However, just 90 seconds of focused breathing brings us into our Parasympathetic Nervous System (Rest-and-Digest). There are a lot of fancy breathing techniques. But sometimes simple is better. Try counting your breath. Breathe in for a count of 3-5 (whatever feels comfortable) and breathe out for longer than the inhale. So if you breathe in for 3, breathe out for 5. The more you practice this technique, the quicker it will work, and eventually, your body will start to do it naturally. 

Count your Blessings/ Bathe in Gratitude. The world can be a horrible place, but despite all the misery and suffering, there is so much beauty and strength around us. Notice it and bathe in it. Instead of thinking about the things/people that are bringing you down, name all the things/people that hold you up. Speak them aloud; there is power in verbalizing. Or, write them down and put them in your pocket. Pull them out whenever you need them.

Listen to Music. Find a pump-up song. A song that whenever you hear it, you feel better. Maybe it’s the song you danced to with your father at your wedding. Or a popular song from high school that you memorized and still know the words to. Mine is “She’s a Rainbow” by the Rolling Stones. If you like the Stones, feel free to borrow mine. It’s a good one! 

Create a Win Folder. A Win folder is a place where you put all your accolades and successes. Our mind remembers the bad stuff well, and the good stuff…not so much. So, whenever you get a nice text, snap a picture and save it to your Win folder. If your boss sends you a nice email at work, save it to your Win folder. Whenever you feel like a failure, open up that Win folder and bask in the glow of your accomplishments. 

I suggest trying them all. If you are trying one that isn’t working, switch to a different one. You are not the same person today as you were yesterday or will be tomorrow. So choose a method that will meet the you—you are at that moment.