I have bipolar disorder. Bipolar has a variety of symptoms that show up differently in different people. My symptoms began to show up around 20 years ago, which means I have 20 years of experience on dealing with moments of acute mental health crisis.
I’m probably going to do two blog posts: one that details general mitigation techniques on how I manage my mental health overall and this one, which will cover what I do in specific moments of crisis.
A “moment of crisis” refers to not a general life condition, but a specific moment of experience that is a crisis. This can be an internal or external crisis. While we might be in a moment of crisis as a society, you as an individual are in one when you are overwhelmed, experiencing trauma or the memory of trauma, or having a panic attack, for example.
Now that we have some background out of the way, here are some very specific things I do – tools in my tool belt – for managing moments of crisis.
The best thing to do is, at a point when you’re calm, make a list of healthy things you can do to distract you. There are two types of distractions I want to cover here: actions and activities.
Actions are things you can do immediately, at this moment, that will refocus or distract you. They are quick responses that require little to no preparation and minimal commitment. These are useful when I am actually starting to panic. My list of these includes:
- counting down from 100
- running my hands under hot water
- splashing cold water on my face
- putting ice on my face or neck
- Peeling and smelling a citrus fruit
- Tensing then releasing my muscles, starting from the toes and going up to the forehead
- Stand on one foot and move my upper body (it’s surprisingly hard!)
- do some basic physical activity repeatedly (like squats, picking up and putting down something heavy, etc)
Activities require more preparation and accouterments. They are for when I feel unreasonably stressed, or feel panic coming on. My list of these includes
- go for a run
- play music
- hug the baby
- cuddle the cat
- pet the dog
- do yoga
- look at photos of monkeys riding dogs with little cowboy hats on (this always makes me laugh)
Find a sense of control
Many people I know feel out of control right now. Here are some healthy things I do when I feel out of control:
- take a shower
- change my clothes
- brush my teeth
- make the bed or change the sheets
- clean or organize something small
Like I said, these are just things that work for me in the middle of moments of crisis. They may not work for you, but others things will!