A big part of being human is running into things that make us feel sad, angry, helpless, betrayed, guilty, or any of the rich spectrum of the so-called “negative” emotions. Sometimes it’s Seriously Bad Stuff that would shake up even the most centered Zen monk. Sometimes it’s just mildly annoying stuff that throws us off balance because it’s that kind of a day. (Perhaps you’re cranky because you didn’t get enough sleep, or the weather has been horrible for 10 days in a row.)
Shit happens. We may “rate” our shit with other peoples’ so we can feel better about having it worse (or vice versa), but that’s pointless. Other people apparently having it worse is no reason to think we’re just supposed to magically feel good all the time.
Sometimes, things are just not good. And you’re allowed to not feel good. At the same time, we also don’t want to not feel good forever. We want things to get better. We want to get better. This is what this post is about – all the things I do to make myself feel better.
I’ve been into personal development since I was a teenager, and in these long years of actively searching for stuff to make me feel good, I’ve tried out a great many things. Some of them worked better than others, and some work better in certain situations. Some of my methods are mildly esoteric, so not everyone will be interested in trying them out.
The point is not to convince you to try any of the given methods, but just to lay them all out, not hiding anything (even if some of my skeptic friends will think I’m insane), and giving you a starting point in forming your own first-aid kit for when things go bad, or you're paralyzed by fear of putting yourself and your work out there.
If even one of these method happens to work for you, that’s a bonus.
The trick to making meditation work for you is to do it regularly. It works better as a preventative measure than as a quick fix, because meditation is a skill you need to train before you can effectively use it. Our way of living isn’t conducive to cultivating a meditative mind and being present in your body, so to be able to take a step back from the mind chatter any time you want, first you need to get ready.
This is the reason why it has taken me so long to get into a regular daily meditation practice. I’m impatient and prefer quick solutions to long-term ones, but the benefits of having a calm, clear mind have just been so impressive, that I’m happy to sit still for 10-20 minutes every morning.
There are many forms of meditation, and anyone can find one that works best for them. If sitting still isn’t your thing, you can do a walking meditation. If keeping your mind quiet is too difficult, you can focus on a mantra. Try things out. Here are a few of my favorite types.
Mindfulness is your regular “sitting quietly and observing” type of meditation. It’s about being completely present in your body, and not getting lost in your thoughts. As a chronic worrier, I love this type of meditation because it gives me respite from the thoughts that are bugging me.
Mindfulness meditation is about focusing your attention on something that is going on in the present moment: your body and bodily functions (like breathing), observing your surroundings, or being completely immersed in an activity (like walking, creative practice or household chores). The point is to not allow being pulled into streams of thoughts. As a thought arises, you let it go and focus on whatever you’ve been focusing on.
After a while, you can let go of the focus altogether and achieve a completely clear mind. This doesn’t last for long, and don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do it at first.
Yoga nidra is also a type of mindfulness that focuses entirely on the body. It’s done lying down on the floor, and circulating your attention through different parts of the body, relaxing each one.
I especially love to do it using a guided audio, so I don’t have to think about anything. There's lots of audios on offer on YouTube and SoundCloud, it depends on whether you prefer to listen to a deep male voice or a gentle female voice (or anything in between), whether you like background music or silence... Try out a few and see what you like.
Guided meditations are audio tracks that other people have recorded for your convenience. There’s a lot of free guided meditations available on YouTube, and you can also buy some from different media stores.
Guided meditations are often focused on an aspect or a quality you want to bring into your life, or eliminate from your life (like self-love, peace, acceptance of pain, wealth mindset, physical health etc.) and sometimes they instruct you to visualize scenes in your mind. You can do these meditations even if you’re not that good in visualization yet – it’s a skill you can train like any other.
I usually reach for guided meditations when I feel too exhausted to do anything on my own. This gives me the feeling of being taken care of by someone who wishes me well. When things are crappy all around, feeling supported by another human being, even if you just have their voice to hold on to, means a lot.
(I’ve written more about meditation in my post 5 ways to use meditation as a productivity technique.)
Several years ago, a friend told me about the Serbian psychologist Živorad Mihajlović Slavinski who developed methods for treating severe emotional, as well as physical issues (like addictions) in a matter of hours and minutes, instead of years of therapy. As a very impatient person, I was intrigued.
Mr. Slavinski’s work was influenced by Eastern and Western spiritual and occult traditions, so if you’re a hardcore skeptic, this might pose a bit of a problem for you. However, the methods do not require you to believe in anything, or do anything weird. There’s no talk of “energy” or hand waving involved. A PEAT healing session resembles a regular psychotherapy appointment, only with less talking about a problem, and more experiencing the problem.
I’m a trained facilitator of PEAT and other Slavinski’s methods, but at the moment I mostly just use them on myself and my close friends. With these methods, I’m able to quickly clear any emotional reaction that comes up in any situation, and it has also helped with some long-term issues. If I write more about my experiences, I’m going to start sounding like an infomercial, so I’ll just stop here.
If you want to learn more, the best source in English language is this online book store. The books alone won’t make you proficient (because you can’t be sure you’re doing it right unless someone experienced can see and correct your mistakes), but you can give some of the simpler methods a try.
If you’d like to work with a trained facilitator, I recommend my friend Claire Fortune who offers this service over Skype. If you want to become a facilitator, look up if there’s a certified PEAT trainer in your area, or contact Vladimir Stojakovic who does training seminars over Skype.
So there you have it – my ultimate secret self-help weapon that makes everything better. With that kind of method, you may be wondering why I even bother with anything else? Frankly, because I like having a variety of options I can choose from.
You’ve probably heard of EFT, and if you haven’t, you can read more about it here. I’m not a trained EFT practitioner, so my only experiences were using the free YouTube guided sessions.
While EFT is far less effective than PEAT in my experience, I enjoy it for the same reason I enjoy guided meditations – when I’m tired, exhausted and unmotivated, I like to rely on someone else to help me do my practice, even if that means watching a recorded video. And surely, you can’t beat it being completely free.
My favorite source for EFT videos is Brad Yates, but there are thousands of people publishing videos on YouTube, so just go look it up and I’m sure you’ll find a practitioner that suits your style.
Writing in my journal
For me, writing is thinking on paper. It forces me to slow down and articulate my thoughts and pay close attention to what I’m thinking. Sometimes when I write, it’s just stream of consciousness “what happened today” stuff. Sometimes I ask myself questions and try to answer them. Sometimes I try to come up with an action plan to solve the problem. Sometimes I dig up crap I didn’t even know was there in the first place. Sometimes I just write a letter of support for myself and remind myself of good things in my life that I’m grateful for.
Journaling is a part of my daily morning ritual, so I do it even if I feel fine, to keep notes on the patterns that emerge in my life. When I feel down, I’ll reach for my journal at any time of day.
Before I’ve learned about the other methods that I’ve mentioned here, this used to be the only way I knew how to process my emotions. My sketchbooks were not so much a place to practice drawing skills, but to lighten the load of heavy thoughts that bothered me (I wrote more about it in my post Why is my art dark and morbid?)
Since I’ve found other ways of expressing difficult emotions (see above), I no longer feel the compulsive need to create as much art for this purpose as often as I used to. Now I do it to get a different perspective on the issue, or if I'm having trouble defining the problem because it's slipping my conscious awareness. The creative process can sometimes reveal connections we were missing, and symbolically allude to something we may not want to admit to ourselves.
Focusing is a newer addition to my repertoire. Compared to many other techniques this one is quite simple. I know that the Focusing Institute recommends doing this with a trained practitioner who will ask you questions and reflect your answers. Since I have a wealth of experience in doing various self-therapy practices, I was able to apply Focusing on myself on numerous occasions and it really helped.
Focusing is very interesting in tandem with art making, which is described in the book Focusing-Oriented Art Therapy. I was floored with the clarity of emotional and sensory content while examining some of my intuitive abstract drawings using this method. It's more powerful than it seems at first.
This is not my favorite method, since I don’t like to hassle other people with my problems. But sometimes, all you want to know is that someone is there for you, and that they love you no matter what. In that situation, I talk to my partner or call my friends. We do this for each other so it's OK!
The above methods all have one thing in common – they focus on the issue and your emotional state. This helps a great deal in situations when you’re reacting to an immediate situation, because you move through the “negative” states much quicker and get through to the other side.
However, when you’re dealing with a chronic issue that’s been unfolding for a really, really, really long time (like depression), constantly massaging the problem isn’t going to cut it. You get too self-involved, too occupied by your own problems, and it’s difficult to focus on anything else. In those situations, I’ve found that the opposite works best: escaping from the bleary reality into something more pleasant.
Escapism has a bad rep since it often goes in tandem with substance abuse or any of the modern day addictions (like video games, TV, porn, social media...) so naturally, we don’t want to be seen as someone who is routinely “tripping”. I, on the other hand think that everyone deserves a break.
Yes, I’m all for being present, living our life fully, taking responsibility for our circumstances and all that self-helpy stuff, but we’re not perfect and we can’t be expected to be doing that 24/7 (and no one does).
The trick is to indulge in healthy escapism – one that doesn’t disrupt your life, hurt your loved ones or makes you unable to do your job. Here are a few methods that have worked for me.
The easiest and cheapest method is right there in your head. If the day-to-day circumstances of my life had been nothing but pain and problems, I take a break and just imagine something different. It can be anything – past events, the future I’m hoping for, wild movie scenarios – it doesn’t really matter what it is, as long it makes me feel good. So, no “what would’ve happened if I’d made a different choice back in 2003” stuff because that invites remorse, and it only makes things worse.
If I’m not able to think happy thoughts about my own life, I think them about someone else’s. I'll make up an alter ego, and enjoy a day of her life for a bit.
Another easy way to assume a different identity and be a part of a different story is to read one. Fiction books enable me to see life through other people’s eyes, and lose myself in the plot. Instead of having to think up scenarios in my mind, the writer has done it for me – all I need to do is get cozy with a book and read.
My favorite genres are sci-fi and fantasy, but I’m open to reading anything. The point here is just to pull myself out from my own perspective, and see that there are many other perspectives available at any time.
Taking a break from it all
A break can look like anything, but my favorite type of break involves getting away to a place in nature and not thinking about anything related to my daily life.
I’ve taken emergency sabbaticals where I wouldn’t even turn on the computer for a week, and I just did as many self-care practices as I could fit in a day. (That’s a perk of being self-employed.)
On occasions when taking a week off seems impossible, a day off works too.
This is seen as frivolous in our workaholic culture, and admitting publicly that I take days off to recover from stress is a challenge for me – like people are going to see me as a diva who can’t get her shit together, so she just takes a day off whenever she wants to.
We take breaks when we get physically ill, when our body forces us to rest. So, taking a week off when we’re sick is not only possible, it’s highly recommended. No one thinks less of you when you get sick. Yet taking time off for mental health reasons is somehow a taboo.
Luckily, my desire to feel good is much stronger than my desire to conform to other people’s expectations. I take breaks whenever I damn well please.
Enough about me, let’s talk about you
The above are just examples of what taking care of your emotional state can look like, and it’s a pretty diverse set of techniques.
I invite you to take some time today and think of possible ways you can take care of yourself when you feel bad. Just make a list – on paper, or on your phone – of ideas that come to mind. You’re not committing to anything yet, you’re just making a menu of options you can choose from. Keep your list in a place where you can easily reach it no matter where you are (like your wallet).
Think about introducing an easy self-care ritual into your daily life that will train you to become more calm and positive. The length of your ritual doesn’t matter as much as frequency. You can also design a nice-looking Creative Wellness Toolbox you can hang up on your wall, or keep somewhere you can see it when you need it.
If you do this, next time when the shit hits the fan, you’ll be ready.