It’s strange to think that I finished my CBT sessions around two years ago now (why is time speeding up the older I get?!). As clear as day, I can remember walking out of my final session and thinking to myself “what the hell am I supposed to do now?!”
It was a bizarre situation of feeling like my anxiety had improved over the course of the 12 weeks of therapy – which it certainly had – yet still feeling like I had quite a way to go before being ready to deal with my anxiety with no professional help whatsoever. It was almost like I was a half-healed cut off of which a plaster had been pulled far too early, exposing fragile tissue that could either carry on healing or reopen at the first sign of pressure (I think that metaphor worked…).
But of course, it wasn’t like I’d been thrown out in the cold. On the contrary, I’d been given an arsenal of CBT techniques to combat anxiety should it arise again. The still-feeling-a-bit-emotionally-fragile part just meant I could put these techniques to practice. And to this day, I still use them, challenging negative and nonsensical thoughts when they arise and using them to pull myself back to reality.
That isn’t to say anxiety isn’t still an issue. As indicated by my last post, I still have those days when I slip back into my old behaviours and utilising CBT techniques to their fullest potential can seem almost impossible.
Over time though, I’ve pinpointed certain things outside of CBT that can also prove therapeutic. Things that I like to call “safeguards” – activities that can help put things back into a ‘normal’ perspective.
Hitting the weights
Anyone that’s had mental health therapy is not going to be surprised when I reveal my first and biggest safeguard: going to the gym.
Now, I know gymming isn’t for everyone. A lot of people I know think of going to the gym like a chore and like it’s the last thing they would want to do with their time.
But for me, going to the gym makes me feel like I’m regaining some sort of control of my life. I know that working out is giving my body the chance to improve and when I’m hitting weights a bit heavier one day than I did the last time I was in the gym, then I feel like I’ve accomplished something. It reminds me that I can do some good even when my mental state is pretty shit.
To me it’s like a reminder that if I set my mind to something and focus on improving, I can do it, therefore, theoretically (and I say ‘theoretically’ because it’s never quite as simple as this) if I focus on improving my mental health, I can.
Returning to my bookworm roots
Something I have always loved doing is reading. Even when I was young and I was a pretty slow reader, I used to sit and read my newest book religiously until I finished it. I remember one time, having taken a copy of Goosebumps: Monster Blood IV out from the library when I was about 8 years old, I literally read it from the point I left the library to when I finally went to sleep at four in the morning.
There’s absolutely no way I could do that now (I cherish my sleep too much) but I am still quite obsessive about reading. The Game of Thrones books, for example, I absolutely rattled through those thanks to hours of commuting to work.
Personally, reading helps me forget about time. That might sound a bit odd, but a big thing that contributes to my anxiety is the feeling of constantly running out of time, like I need to be doing something for every single second of the day until I go back to sleep.
For me, when I start reading, I become absorbed in the story to the point that I’m no longer focused on what I could be doing with my time but instead just enjoying my book.
Training my mind
This one might feel a bit of a stretch for some so please bear with me.
When I was at my old job (the one that led to my diagnosis in the first place), I was told about an app called Headspace. It focused on something called ‘mindfulness’ – a technique that helps you become more attuned to how you are feeling, both physically and emotionally.
Being from a family that regards stuff like this almost like pseudo-science, I wouldn’t usually give something like this a go. But seeing as I didn’t have anything to lose, I decided to anyway.
Even in the space of 10 days (the app’s free period), I could feel that by the end of it I was starting to be more aware of my body, identifying any aches or strange sensations in my body physically, and being more aware of my mental state in certain situations. That, in turn, helped me understand when perhaps I should go to bed a bit earlier or give my body a break from the gym as well as understanding my emotional state a better in certain situations.
After giving the free version of the app a go, I’m now a full member and use it as often as I can to keep on top of things.
Now, my safeguards are by no means going to work for everybody. The chances are that you’ve got your own in some shape or form.
I’m also guessing that my own selection of safeguards will change over time because I’m pretty certain I’m going to experience mental health issues for the foreseeable future, meaning I’m going to have to keep adapting to try and keep on top of my mental state. And that’s the most frustrating thing about mental health issues: there isn’t really a “cure” to any of them, so the best you can do is find ways to try and deal with them.
But the key to all of this is not exactly what your safeguards are. It’s the fact that you’re willing to try and positively change the way you feel.
These safeguards help me. Hopefully they will help someone else too.