One common concern that I hear from clients in the mental health field sounds like, “That doctor, therapist, counselor, or case-manager has no idea what going through this actually is like.” This may be true in some situations, but many mental health professionals know firsthand what having symptoms of mental illness, suicidal thoughts, addiction, trauma, grief, or a disability feels like. They may also know secondhand from being a support for a loved one with mental health issues. Trauma in my childhood led to anxiety, severe enough at times that I would faint giving speeches in school. As I grew older and pushed this issue down rather than try to understand it, my anxiety in part led to gastrointestinal issues, as it does for many others. It was not until repeated loss of loved ones who struggled with mental illness, alcoholism, and suicidal thoughts that I began to research how to treat mental illness. It would be years of studying psychology that I began to understand how to go about coping, or alleviating symptoms of mental illness. For my doctoral dissertation I conducted an experimental study where I researched and observed the benefits of mutual-help for individuals with mental illness. I was trusted with a private look into one of the first national mutual-help support groups online, “Broken People; A mental Health Peer Support Group”. The results of my experiment showed that people who are in mutual-help groups online can see benefits that exceed that of in-person groups. In a brief description, it is a focus on the subconsciousthoughts we have when we self-disclose or give information about ourselves. Participant responses showed that anonymity from being in an online mutual-help support group can curb self-monitoring or altering what we disclose due to anxiety and allow for more honest group discussions, which increase positive treatment outcomes.
When it comes to mental illness, anxiety is like the spark to the flame. Anxiety gives the everyday challenge a burning hoop to jump through first. I have found, and I cannot stress enough, that the simplest of things can sometimes make the most profound effects on anxiety. Deep breathing can be the literal catalyst that blows the flame out. With my clients, I teach the importance of “being your own best friend” (insert eye roll from them). However, this term is just the catchphrase to remember the deeper meaning. Often, those with mental health issues are harder on themselves more than anyone else is. We get stuck in our minds, a constant worry plagues us, negative thoughts about ourselves get stuck on replay, and this gives anxiety something to do. Somewhere along the line worry and anxiety helped you, it was your friend and kept you safe. Without notice, anxiety becomes a bad habit, a bad friend, and begins to take control of your life. Your mind and body become affected when anxiety takes over. Some folks require medications, which can help when things are very much out of your control. Other options that are available for treatment are cognitive behavior and other types of therapy, support groups including online groups, and inpatient or outpatient hospitalization. An essential aspect for following through with your recovery is having support. If someone does not have outside support, it’s imperative to be your own support. You can be your own support, your own best friend. What does this look like? It’s giving yourself a break, reminding yourself what you would say to someone you loved if they had been through what you have. It consists of taking yourself on walks for fresh air, making your favorite healthy dish, taking yourself out for fro-yo, a massage, or a movie! If you can do these things with others, even better! Keep track of doctor’s appointments then reward yourself for remembering!Start a craft, join a gym, take a long shower, paint your nails, give yourself a good shave, and listen to your favorite music, audiobook, or podcast while you do it. But most importantly,being your own best friend means being easy on yourself, because you must be the one that breaks the cycle. You can break them, the cycle of anxiety, of addiction, of self-harm, of over-eating, of toxic relationships, of not loving yourself. I actively work on the anxiety cycle for myself, and it requires continuous evaluation of how I feel and what I should do to help myself. It requires persistence, practice, and patience. What works best for me is deep breathing and mindful meditation when I feel anxiety creeping up. Journaling is the best tool for identifying issues and planning to-do lists. Others may find grounding, exercise, practicing a hobby, or prayer to be useful in coping. It may take time to find what works best for you. You may find that self-care looks different for you at various times of the year or in separate phases of your life. Help yourself cope with daily small tasks of support, it’s the greatest thing you can do for your new best-friend.