When you’re in the process of recovering from or managing a mental illness – or even when you’re not – a bad few days or a bad few weeks can leave you feeling pretty defeated. (A bad month or more means it’s definitely time to ask for help). You start to question whether you’ll ever get back to ‘normal’, and whether you should even bother putting in the effort just to try and fail. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. I recently had a tough few weeks; feeling particularly on edge, barely sleeping, either forgetting to eat or eating way too much, skipping exercise, drinking too much…and so the cycle goes on. It’s so easy to be super hard on yourself for ‘falling off the wagon’ but I recently learned a great way of thinking about these blips – a lapse versus a relapse. In Dr. Christine Carter’s book, The Sweet Spot, she explains the difference:
If you imagine yourself climbing a hill, a lapse is a little trip, or maybe a trip and a fall. It might hurt, and you might want to stop climbing. A lapse becomes a relapse when we actually do stop climbing…It doesn’t matter if you have a lapse, or even a relapse, but how you respond does matter.
Dr. Carter is actually talking about breaking/forming habits, but it 100% applies to what we’re talking about here, and has really helped me change the way I think about my bad days or weeks. As well as this different way of thinking, here are 3 other ways to get back on the right track after a bit of a bad time.
1. Feel your feelings. We have a tendency to run away from negative feelings (and sometimes even positive ones!), preferring to ignore them or push them deep down within ourselves. This is the worst possible response. Ignoring our feelings doesn’t make them go away, no matter how hard you try. Feelings of stress and anxiety when ignored simply manifest within your body through panic attacks, insomnia and physical pain. A study from UC Berkeley found that “people who accepted their unpleasant emotions, rather than feeling bad about them, experienced greater well-being, less distress, and fewer symptoms of depression”. If you’ve been having a bad few days, chances are there are some specific reasons that you could identify if you gave yourself the space and the permission. There’s no need for judgement – of yourself or others – just figure out what it is that’s got your knickers in a twist so that you can…
2. Let it go. Once you’ve unleashed your feelings upon yourself, it can be difficult to see them for what they are – temporary. For example, if you tap into your feelings of sadness, it can be easy to start ruminating on what has made you sad, the fact that you feel so sad, and the idea that you may never feel happiness again. It sounds extreme but we do it all the time! Have you ever been so mad that every little thing pisses you off, you get to the end of the day and you’re fuming…but you can’t actually remember what kicked off the anger in the first place? This is partly due to brain chemistry – once we feel a certain feeling, we recall memories which can perpetuate that feeling causing a bit of a snowball effect. But we can train ourselves to get out of this cycle – Psychology Today recommends a 2 step process. Firstly, as you’re taking a trip down memory lane anyway, why don’t you think of all the times that everything turned out okay? If guilt is the feeling you’re dealing with, try and remember some other times you felt really guilty about something…but it all turned out fine. You didn’t lose that friend, your parents never found out, nobody got hurt etc. Remembering that you’ve made it through the other end time and time again will help to stop ruminating but also help you figure out what to do next. Which brings me on to…
3. Be selfish. Psychology Today states the second step as making an action plan. While I agree with this, I think it’s important to make a plan for you. What do you need at this point in time to feel better? Being selfish has got a bad wrap – but how can you do anything for anyone else if you don’t look after yourself first? I got to a point last week where all I needed was to be non-contactable. So I turned my phone off, locked myself in my room, watched Netflix, read for a bit and then went to bed. It was awesome! It was exactly what I needed at that point to move on from my feelings of anxiety. If I hadn’t have done that, I wouldn’t have been a fun person to be around then next day – so was it really selfish? Or was it a public service 🤔 If you’re looking for some tips on how to recharge your batteries but you’re not really down with the whole ‘self-care’ scene, check out some of my ideas.
How do you recover after a bad day or bad week? Feel free to share in the comments!