Image for How to support your mental health during a crisis, according to you

How to support your mental health during a crisis, according to you

We asked Positive News readers what advice you have for coping during difficult times. This is what you said

We asked Positive News readers what advice you have for coping during difficult times. This is what you said

How do you cope mentally during life’s inevitable troughs? That’s what we asked Positive News readers ahead of Mental Health Awareness Week, which begins today.

As always, we were inundated with considered responses, and moved by some of the difficult experiences that readers had gone through – and your wise strategies for bouncing back. While we read each one, we were unable to publish them all, and we’re sorry if yours doesn’t appear below this time. 

How to support your mental health when times are tough, according to you

“At my absolute worst last year, when I couldn’t get out of bed, my dad dragged me out of the house and made me plant sunflowers. At the time it seemed completely pointless to me, but putting my hands in the soil was hugely cleansing and watching them grow and flourish soothed me deeply. Since then, I have regularly planted new wildflowers in that patch of ground and tended both them and my mental health together.” – Pax, York, UK

“I had a very difficult postpartum, feeling lost and disconnected from the world (a common feeling among fresh mums). I constantly felt anxious and even blamed myself for feeling that way. [So], I started to focus more on the present and even prayed more, which I see as a meditation. I started visualising all the outcomes that I want in my life and giving myself small goals. Social contact is very important but prioritising time with people who make me feel good and in a way are increasing my energy levels. Observing my mind without judgment was also one of the best pieces of advice my therapist gave me. I started noticing unhealthy patterns and each day I tried to find a new healthy focus. I started to be more conscious of what is entering my mind, what I eat, think, what books I read, and what news I read. This is how I discovered Positive News.” – Tihana, Croatia

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“I lost my soulmate of 58 years – 55 of them as my husband – nine months ago. I kept up all my usual routines such as attending the gym and pool each day alternatively in the early morning. I also continued with all my volunteering and the clubs and societies I already belonged to. Within a fortnight of his funeral, I joined two new groups, one folk dancing and the other a practical philosophy course. Above all I prayed and remained thankful for all that had been.” – Jennifer, Oxfordshire, UK 

 “I try to go through difficult times – actually, the loss of my husband after a long illness – by staying close to nature at all times. I never feel alone when I’m surrounded by greenery and animals, and I live close to the elements.” – Marianne, Basque Country, France 

 “It’s a bit businesslike, but planning for the inevitable mental health downs needs to be during a mental health up. So, I have a strategy list. Several lists – but it’s the same list in several places, so I don’t have to search for it when I need it. Everyone’s list needs to be their own, and to contain a range of whatever strategies that you know helps you. And it needs to be UPdated (in those UP times). Ideally, it contains low-cost or free, easily accessible ‘tips and tricks’ and (very important) names/numbers of special people or organisations you know from experience will give you some support. My ‘tips and tricks’ list has things like a short breathing exercise, eating a treat food, reading a favourite poem, looking at my ‘comfort scrapbook’ etc.” – Daphne, Yorkshire, England  

Mental health awareness week

Many of you drew strength from being around nature and uplifting people. Image: Matheus Ferrero

“I started reading various authors from Buddhist and secular backgrounds during an extraordinarily difficult time last year, which led me to meditation. It has transformed my life. It helped me emerge from feeling submerged with anxiety and stress. I know that I will continue to practice so my mindfulness continues to deepen and expand. There is a better way to live, and meditation is the key.” – Rick, Canada

“As soon as I feel depression descending, I go out into a natural environment and look at something beautiful. Then I look at the sky and back to the earth. There is always a natural cue, a bird or cloud. Then I find another person to give a smile to. Breathing slowly and thinking of all the positive energy helps.” – Victoria, Swannanoa, US

“Following the breakdown of my relationship of 20 years, I experienced huge levels of stress – emotionally and financially – and guilt for how it affected those around me, specifically my children. However, I was determined for it to be a positive turning point in my life. Despite a lack of sleep and appetite, I maintained a daily routine of working, and familiar routines for my children that helped us feel safe. I reached out and asked for help when I needed it, which I’ve never been very good at. I actively built up social connections, reconnecting with friends, saying ‘yes’ more often to socialising than I had for a long time. I put together a list of new hobbies to try, and experiences I’d like to have. These things gave me a huge positive strength enabling me to get through a very traumatic time. I later attended therapy sessions to process what I had been through, which was very helpful.” – Emma, Dover, UK

With help from counselling, I learned to create healthy and respectful boundaries

“My world was shattered when my first pregnancy ended in stillbirth. I’d already been struggling with stress and burnout, and I now developed full blown anxiety. Aside from the devastating grief, I faced a daily battle of physical symptoms arising from hypoarousal and hyperarousal – on the one hand struggling to think through overwhelming brain fog, and on the other hand coping with whirling thoughts, dizziness, and insomnia. I tried a lot of things in the hope of finding a solution. At the very basic level, daily selfcare helps: going to bed on time, remembering to cook before I get too hungry, remembering to hydrate. Another strategy has been learning not to rush. Approaching my day with a slow and steady pace, taking breaks when needed, has helped reduce my symptoms of overwhelm. I try to meditate every day. I get a lot out of [the app] Headspace’s ‘managing anxiety’ programme. I discovered that tactile sensory toys help me with brain fog. Whenever the weather’s good and I have the opportunity, I get out into nature. I try to notice the leaves, the flowers, the birds, and set down thinking about my worries. I find it important, too, that if it doesn’t work not to panic or beat myself up about it. If these techniques are only helping me some of the time, that’s an improvement.” – Beth, Cornwall, UK

“I deal with depression and low self-esteem, which mainly stems from my ex-stepfather, who was present in my life since I was about three. He is extremely narcissistic and emotionally abusive, so I suffered from him. But after getting away from him, I still had many negative mental health effects. I treat these challenges by reading books I enjoy, doing gardening, and taking voice lessons. My ex-stepdad would make fun of my voice whenever I sang, so I am proving him wrong, facing my fears, and starting a new hobby at the same time.” – Jarom, Utah, US

Regular exercise was a recurring theme – and has been shown to help mental health. Image: Emma Simpson

“I was diagnosed with MS after two rounds of scary symptoms. My uncle has been living with the same diagnosis for over 30 years now and his mindset has inspired me to look for more than an acceptance. ‘You can accept the diagnosis but you don’t have to accept the prognosis’. After a short period of feeling sorry for myself, I realised I wanted to do more for my wellbeing. I adopted a super healthy diet, got into cooking from scratch and created meals I would never have thought of. Eating healthy gave me the feeling of being in charge of what feeds the cells of my body. I discovered mindfulness and meditation and over time this led me to learning reiki for self-healing and other hobbies such as outdoor swimming and yoga. One of the most powerful things I’ve done was attending a sound healing session where you just let go of everything, just listen to the vibrations of sound and come out completely rejuvenated.” – Martina, London, UK

“I’ve become comfortable with crying. As a man of middle age this was a big deal but it really helps let things out.” – Ed, Wiltshire, UK  

“I realised that family trauma was holding me back from living my life fully. I felt obligated and guilted to maintain family ties to the detriment of my own mental health. With help from counselling, I learned to create healthy and respectful boundaries. As they say, good fences make good neighbours. I am now liberated, having a tool to protect my mental health, and have given myself permission to move forward and live fully the way I always wanted.” – Caroline, Ohio, US

Main image: Kevin Young

In the UK, the NHS offers information about where to seek urgent mental health support, as well as other mental health-related organisations that can help. Find out more here

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