Have you ever had a day when things were going relatively well and then life decides to throw a surprise bout of stress at you? The feelings that come with unexpected setbacks and obstacles can be emotionally and mentally overwhelming. If 2020 has taught me anything at all, it is that life will always try to build some kind of barrier in our paths and the fallout from being stonewalled can be completely debilitating, especially if there’s no plan for protection set in place. Today, I wanted to chat briefly about how to create some self-care plans and intentions for those sorts of stress days that bitch-slap us when we absolutely least expect it or want it to.
One of the most important things that I did when the new year began was to sit down and create an Emergency Stress Day Intentions Package. The name is not the most creative thing, but it’s straightforward and is pretty much exactly as it sounds. It’s a little box with intentions, activities, and emergency goodies to help me on the worst days imaginable that have sprouted up from seemingly nowhere. It’s a way to ensure that I’m not mentally and emotionally drained to the point where I cannot take care of myself or my loved ones who may be depending on me during times of crises.
To better discuss each part of the package, so to speak, I’ve broken down this post into separate categories for each one. Now, the stuff I’m going to be talking about are things that are unique to my own brand of self-care and include activities and practises that help me and the way that my brain processes highly stressful situations. Since everyone is different, if you decide to craft your own little care gig, I’m sure you’ll probably have different methods and items in it. The point is to give you a basic idea of how to get started at the very least. Like my Bhaiya (brother) used to say, “Having a rat’s ass of a plan is better than having no plan at all, most of the time.”
A List of Intentions
This portion actually has two parts: a small questionnaire of sorts and then a list of four or five intentions for me to practise in order to help calm myself from the intense emotional plight that comes with unforeseen circumstances.
Creating a questionnaire to gauge the depth of my emotional turmoil is something that I learned in therapy. By asking myself some simple questions it can help me to look past the glaring red of anger, sadness, or paranoia to better understand what it is that is causing me to feel so immobilised in the moment. Also, recognising the specific feelings that are controlling me shall assist me in creating a more specialised plan of action in taking control back from said feelings if that makes sense. So, if I discover that I’m unfathomably furious, the way that I would cope with that is going to be vastly different than how I cope with extreme fear and paranoia.
Here are examples of the questions that I ask myself to better gauge my mental state:
- What do I feel inside my body? (Literally, am I feeling cold, chills, hot and feverish, etc.)
- Can I think clearly at all? (Think rationally versus feeling like my brain is filled with white noise)
- What is the strongest impulse I have? (Do I want to throw things, scream loudly, or hide in a corner, etc)
- When was the last time that I felt calm in my day? (Helps pinpoint the trigger for my mental state)
- Who was I with when I began to feel differently? (e.g.: being alone while receiving bad news has a stronger/worse influence on me than if I’m with loved ones)
- Name the stresser—source of my stress or frustration—out loudly five times in a row. (Accepting it helps me understand it rather than cower from it or be in denial about it)
- Why am I feeling this particular emotion? (After naming the stresser, understanding why it’s making me angry, sad, etc. is important, even if it feels redundant or silly; the act of naming it is a way to take control of it)
When I am doing this questionnaire, I tend to do it verbally while I’m sitting on the ground in a room or area of my home where I feel safest (I’ll explain why a little bit later). I understand that just because my home is safe to me, that may not be an option for others. My recommendation in that situation is to get to a safe place for you immediately. For my nephews who are far away from home, they go to their favourite places to study or read (a bridge for one of my nephews and a subway station for another; whatever works for you is best!).
After I am able to ascertain the specific emotion(s) that is crushing me, in a manner of speaking, I focus on intentions. The point of an intention is to give myself a small goal or purpose that shall help veer me away from thinking about the stresser. In some instances, I need to talk about it with a loved one in nothing more than a venting fashion. While that can help me with some quick and short-term relief, it’s not going to help resolve the anxiety and strife of whatever is going on in the long-term.
Here are examples of the intentions that I give myself when I need to refocus my mind:
- Name three good things that happened in my day, one of them after the arrival of the stresser (Even though I’m filled with negativity, this helps me to understand that the little moments are what shall help me get through whatever is to come)
- Verbalise what I need the most in this moment, no matter how selfish/ridiculous it may sound (By saying what I need out loud it helps me feel calmer and it also makes me more capable of asking for help; most of the time, I get some funky food craving, or I’ll admit that I want to punch something/someone; at the very least, I get a chuckle and it breaks the tension; my best friend always wants to have sex when they’re stressed out and this definitely makes me laugh if I’m with them while they’re trying to calm themselves because it’s outrageous to me; again it’s about finding calmness so whatever works for them!)
- Think of another awful time when I felt completely hopeless and the things/people that helped me through it (Remembering difficult eras from the past remind me of my inner strength and puts into perspective that life just happens sometimes and I need to be patient, or it’ll show me that current circumstances may not be as incorrigible as my brain thinks)
- Name two reasons why this emotion(s) is unhealthy for me, whether physically (can give me a heart attack) or mentally (can trigger a very depressive, PTSD, or Schizophrenic episode)
- Say out loud five times in a row: Whatever it is, I will get through it. I will survive this.
As I mentioned above, the point of these intentions to help recentre my mind away from the thoughts and feelings that are causing me to feel so cornered and incapable to dealing with life in the moment. The sooner I that I can restrict my mental impulses from conquering me, the quicker I can tackle the stresser that has popped up before me.
A List of Mental Relaxation Activities
This list is mostly just a reference guide for me that I crafted via many therapy sessions with various psychologists. I’ve learned during my time in therapy that each counsellor and doctor has their own techniques for tackling things like anxiety, anger, paranoia, panic attacks, and more. Over the years, I’ve collected them and like to use these various tactics as I need them. By mixing it up, it satisfies my ADHD which ensures that the tactics shall actually work as they need to. If it’s the same thing every single time, then I can get bored and the effectiveness would diminish quickly.
Anyhoo, I keep a copy of this list in my care package. Here are some of the activities that I have on it:
- Grounding exercise: I sit on the ground with legs crossed and back straight (usually up against my bed or a wall), close my eyes, and take breaths slowly while keeping my hands flat on the ground with my fingers splayed. I press my fingers into the ground and just feel the texture of the carpets while I practise deep breathing. This helps me feel literally grounded. Plus, the feeling of something steady beneath my hands helps me concentrate on steadying my thoughts/feelings in the same manner.
- Textured stimulation: Once I’m a little bit calmer, I change up the textures that I’m feeling. More often than not it involves a cat. Whenever I’m troubled, Kheb is always by my side. So, I’ll start to pet him slowly with my eyes closed. I’ll focus on the softness of his ears or the coarseness of his hair and whiskers. I’ll try to feel this throat gently while he purrs, which always makes me smile. Other ways to change up the texture include textured rugs and blankets and stuffed animals or throw pillows. Something that isn’t too big and has a softness to it. Harsh textures tends to have the opposite impact on my brain.
- Breathing exercises: My cousin is respiratory therapist and a self-care coach, so she taught me breathing exercises to complete whenever I start to have strong feelings of anxiety or paranoia. I always do them while I’ve grounding myself as the combination works best. However, I also practise them in the car or on campus (when school was in-person) if I feel a supremely bad panic attack coming on. Most of them can be found on the University of Michigan’s website. The ones that work best for me are belly breathing and focused breathing through my nose, which I practise during meditation.
- Meditation: As a Buddhist, Meditation is a huge part of my day-to-day, however, I admit that when life gets super busy, I’m not able to do it regularly. Even so, it’s an imperative part of my self-care routine whenever I’m having a particularly difficult time dealing with stress, tension, or anything else that’s bringing me discomfort. Meditation is something I resort to in particular if the grounding exercises aren’t working. I also like to put on headphones with sounds of a gentle rain or some soothing cinematic musical scores.
- Sense Transportation: The final activity that I partake in is complete transportation away from my environment, but without actually leaving. So, I’ll put on a blindfold and then my headphones and wrap up in my favourite blanket, then turn on classical music, or if I have my tablet, I’ll listen to a feel-good show that’s my absolute favourite (GTO or Ouran High School Host Club along with F.R.I.E.N.D.S. or beloved episodes of Stargate SG-1). I also like to sit in a smaller room where I can be left alone to completely check out for a while. I only do this if Gabbie is home though. It’s imperative for me to have some kind of close supervisor as my mental health conditions can get a bit tricky with too much total isolation.
The Emergency Self-Care Package:
The final thing that I have is an emergency package of goodies that I can pull out whenever I need to rejuvenate my psychological well-being, especially if I’m limited on time. This shall definitely vary from person-to-person, but having a little stash such as this is imperative for me, particularly after I do all of the stuff mentioned above. It helps lull me into great relaxation and can even helps me unwind enough to catch a few hours of sleep.
My most current care package has the following items in it:
- Word search puzzles with vibrantly coloured highlighters
- Scooby-Doo, Game of Thrones, and Cat Shapes colouring books with coloured pencils
- Pads and pencils with a list of math problems and prime numbers for me to break down
- Hacky sacks that I can throw against a wall (usually reserved for strong bouts of anger)
- Rubik cube, squishy bean bags or stress balls that I can squeeze and toss around, and a charged Nintendo 3DS (great for stress-induced ADHD)
- Calming salts or incense sticks (certain smells have an almost instant-calming effect)
- A small pile of candy, usually hard candy such as peppermints, butterscotch, Sweeties, Skittles, and Life Savers.
- Chess set (same reason why I do math, distracts my mind in much needed intellectual ways)
Each of the items in my care package brings me comfort in their own styles. Since I’m a huge fan of sweets, the sugar gives me endorphins that help to complement the other acts of self-care that I partake in. Everything else has been briefly explained or can be self-explanatory.
I know that this plan may not be perfect. It shall work for some and maybe not so much for others. But it’s important to have some kind of preparation handy for emergency moments of stress or unforeseen circumstances. The past year has shown me that being unprepared to handle even the most grievance of situations can be utterly devastating on the mental health. When that happens, the ability to deal with the problem properly and rationally becomes extremely diminished. The problem could be something that we can easily resolve, yet our emotional states may prevent us from doing so. My main goal here is to inspire a pre-emptive desire to take control of one’s mental health and well-being.
I’ll admit that my emergency plan is something that is still new and relatively fresh. I’m sure I shall have a lot of trial-and-error with it myself as I move forward in life. Nevertheless, I hope that this can inspire you and give you some hope in dealing with a future that shall never cease its unexpected trickeries.