Self-Comforting Through Difficult Times

Therapy is not just something “delivered” by another person for a scheduled time each week. To ensure our own mental health, we need to look for opportunities to help ourselves outside of therapy sessions. Therapists realise this and often will recommend tasks to be completed between sessions. Sometimes these tasks involve reading a book – within the therapeutic relationship, this is called a number of things, including “bibliotherapy”. Sometimes, clients will be asked to watch for certain things and then make note for discussion at the next session. These can be wonderful tasks, that can be focused upon in therapy.

What about things to do between sessions or once sessions have ended? What sorts of things can you do to help yourself? Learning as much as possible can be empowering (and I will discuss that in a post soon), but second to that focus, I try to self-nurture.

Think about it like this – if you had a friend who was down, what would you do? Maybe you would take over some soup. Maybe you would buy them something nice that you thought would cheer them up. What might cheer them up? Flowers? A book? Music? A new robe? I am going to say this with emphasis – THE CARING, NURTURING, LOVING APPROACH THAT YOU TAKE WITH OTHERS, YOU CAN TAKE WITH YOURSELF. Now, I can hear responses. “That would be self-indulgent!” “I would feel silly!” Toss all of those notions out the window.

Now, most of us practice SOME aspects of self-nurturing. Who hasn’t gone on a big shopping spree to help their moods? The problem is that caring for yourself can be sporadic and tends to fail the most when you most need it. Would you be happy with a friend who was inconsistent with help and never showed up when you needed them the most? Don’t be that sort of friend to yourself!

Me? I have a lot of self-care ready and waiting. The long, wet New Zealand winters are hard to bare, so I have a stack of books I love on standby (ordered during summer) and I have some incredibly comfortable nightshirts I order from Ireland (also in summer). What else? When my moods are down, I have one of my guitars sitting next to my bed and I strum and sing to myself. I have framed art made by my son and put around the house. This always cheers me up. When dealing with bullies professionally, I have been known to buy some herbal teas during the day and come home to a movie, fluffy robe and herbal tea. When I find myself dealing repeatedly with people who lack commitment to quality in their lives (not within counselling, of course, but other contexts), I add that much more beauty, quality and intellect to my own. I have enrolled in another course to fill this current gap.

Things I love to raise my mood
Things I love to raise my mood

Today? Drinking coffee from the “Best Dad Ever” cup that my son gave me a few years ago, while I read some history (I love history) and meditating with my turquoise mala (which reminds me of where I grew up).

Yes, seek professional help when you need it, but ALSO take responsibility for yourself, as you would for a dear friend or family member. You deserve to be cared for and who knows your needs better?

World Mental Health Day 2018

It is almost the end of the day here in Aotearoa New Zealand. A decade ago, I wouldn’t have given a day highlighting mental health a second thought. I was one of those persons who spent the first four decades of his life without any significant mental health concerns. Sure, I felt a bit anxious on that sixth cup of coffee and sure I had dealt with bullies in primary school, but that was it. I didn’t realise how easy I had it. I also didn’t have much empathy or compassion for the suffering of others.

Ten years ago, my world collapsed. I experienced PTSD as my marriage ended. In the depths of despair, I decided to become a counsellor to help others.

Mental Health Day is now front and centre in my thoughts. I can imagine the suffering of others, because I have felt it myself. I have also counselled others in person and from a distance. The burdens others carry can be unimaginable and when we try to understand, we tend to pull back in fear. One of the first things I learned as a counsellor was not to be a problem-solver. People in distress get more than enough of those interactions. Sure, help, but don’t feel a need to fill every second with speaking and don’t tell them “all you need to do is . . . ” That rubbish is generally unwelcome.

How can you help? Learn about mental health issues. Volunteer to just be with those suffering. Do things to make their struggles a bit easier – be it offering them a cuppa, listening without advising, making a meal, bringing their wash from the clothesline. There are so many ways to help others in need.

If we are lucky enough not to be struggling ourselves right now, we certainly will, given enough life. Help someone up, asking nothing in return. When you someday get the same, you will savour it that much more.

For those struggling – you are not alone.

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