Self Care Survival Tips For Mental Illness

self care is necessary care print

I recently shared more information regarding my depression and PTSD on instagram stories.  I mentioned that I have a self care list for when I am experiencing a significant episode or triggered state.  I would like to remind every one that self care is NECESSARY care.  It is not a buzzword and not a day at the spa. Many of you asked what I do, so I compiled a list and some graphics that I hope help.

I have discussed many self care items over the years and my coping list for depression.  These coping skills are different than my triggered state self care items.  You can find my depression coping skills here. These are daily or weekly activities that I do to keep my mental health stable.  If my daily self care is not taken care of, I am more than likely going to find myself in a bad state. That list is more applicable to all individuals as a means to keep us mentally fit, for example- working out, gratitude list, eating right

My self care list I write about here today is for a severely triggered state or depressive episode.  When creating the list, I realized most pertain to my PTSD symptoms and not necessarily my depression. Many of these items are still applicable to anyone.

With the state of the world right now, more trauma is being introduced everyday with experiencing & seeing violence at protests, losing loved ones to COVID, being alone at the hospital during COVID without support and many more reasons beyond my understanding.  It is my hope that some of these trauma & triggered coping skills can help you.  Remember, if we become debilitated we are useless to everyone.

Note: My depression energy levels range from mild to severe, so what I can do varies on my energy level during the episode, do not feel bad if you are incapable of doing some of these things, sometimes I cannot do anything.  

When I am triggered by a nightmare or flashback I am in freeze, flight or fight mode.  I have a desperate need to feel safe again.  Not all these will work for you because of your individual experience and preference.  Some might not work because it reminds you of your trauma.  

PTSD & Triggered & Depression Self Care  

(I call it this because I am sharing what has worked for me and that is my official diagnosis, I do not want to claim it works for anxiety or other mental illnesses as I do not have that experience) I am not a mental health professional, I am sharing my experience. Many of these were learned in therapy and by reading trauma books) 

Grounding Technique- engaging the 5 senses with the 5-4-3-2-1

grounding technique worksheet

5 things you see? 4 things you Touch/Feel? 3 things you hear? 2 things you smell?  1 thing you taste? 

Sometimes I am incapable of doing all these because my brain is far too gone, so I’ll very literally say/think what I see (it would be very weird to be an outsider to hear this lol)

“The couch is blue and has three cushions and the floor is brown blah blah” When I do this, it helps disrupt the loop of thoughts.

Bath– the warmth makes me feel safe 

Get Outside- being outside and feeling the warmth of the sun and just looking at nature calms me, Nick has a 50-50 chance of convincing me to go on a short walk so I do that if I can but just sitting outside can help.

Punch a pillow – lol, it sounds silly but anger is a component of PTSD and depression.  I punch a pillow, there are other methods to vent anger that you can try, but whatever it is is preferred over punching a person.  Anger is NOT a bad emotion, it is our behavior when angry that can be bad.

Snuggling and hugs– Sometimes I do not like to be touched when triggered, sometimes I do.  When I’m depressed I usually want the physical touch.

box breathing technique

Breathing exercises–  I do not have panic attacks, but I get panicked breathing when triggered.

I do both simple deep breathes until I am calmer and box breathing (also called square breathing) you imagine a box and you breathe in for a count of 4. You hold your breath for a count of 4. You exhale for a count of 4. And you hold for a count of 4.  

A partner can help with this by using his finger to draw the lines of a box as you do the steps.

Gratitude– I do it daily, but it is a short list to start my day.  I write another gratitude list in moments of distress to help turn my brain to positive thoughts.

Humor– I watch fav parks n recreation episodes or jimmy fallon hashtags. My therapist, suggests I don’t do these lying in bed, I can do it for a little bit but must get up.  However, I do typically lie in bed for this and it usually means my state is pretty bad because it is all I have energy for.  I want to say if this is you, I consider it still fighting.  I am trying not to succumb to the thoughts and I still am fighting by trying to make myself laugh. Give grace to yourself.  The alternative (for me, anyhow)  is no humor and laying there crying with an endless loop of thoughts.  However, if this were to last for hours or days on end, more support is needed.

Reach out to a friend/family member who is in need- thinking about someone else’s needs helps.  I self isolate and I rarely reach out to a friend in a depressive state, so if I think about their needs, instead of my own I will start a conversation.  I recommend reaching out to say you need help.  It is a detriment and bad behavior of mine that I do not reach out.

Wear my touchstone & touch it lol- I do not know if touchstone is proper term, it is a term that a trauma therapist used.  It is any object that can make you feel at peace, calm or safe. (mine is an inscribed necklace nick gave me during a bad time & I feel safer with it)

Listen to my spa meditation soundtrack- this is SO SO relaxing

Request a massage from nick

Arrange flowers This is a v calming exercise for me, I am unable to create typically, so this is a small way to get creative that I found doable for me

Take a nap (different from excessive sleep and not just lying in bed)

I can say taking a nap is one of the ones that consistently improves my mood. I will still be depressed but a nap pretty much always helps.

This may be cuz I’m perpetually sleep deprived w three kids and work lol.

Listen to my favorite podcast. I can’t do this if I am too fuzzy brained though.

Create a peaceful sanctuary within your home- Obviously the sanctuary needs to be made BEFORE a depressive state.  My bedroom is my sanctuary (which is not a great idea considering us depressives end up in bed a lot) but again, three kids, and it is the only space that is Nick and I’s.  I splurged on comfy, pretty bedding, calming art, etc… Keep candles, diffuser, lavender (whatever little items you may need) stored in your peaceful sanctuary you make, so that it is simple to access when you want to be in there.  I feel safe, calmer and safe (yes, I said that twice) and I get my snuggles and it feels peaceful. 

Things my therapist has suggested but I either do not enjoy or it did not have an impact on me but may work for you!


Butterfly hugs

Stress rock, ball

Yoga (I do want to do this, but haven’t made time)

Calm meditation app

Wow, that was a super long post and I am amazed if you made it this far.  I hope it helps and please send it to anyone who may need it!

Although it does not feel this way, the feeling is temporary and you can overcome the bouts of depression.  You cannot will your way out of depression or a mental illness, these are coping skills and self care treatments to help ease the symptoms.  Mental illness needs a doctor’s (or multiple in my case) care.  These are simply tips, please seek a medical professional if you have ongoing symptoms.

Also, If you are having suicidal thoughts OR think your friend is please call 1-800-273-8255- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Suicidal thoughts need to be taken seriously, they are not attention seeking

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