SELF – 11 Little Mental Health Tips That Therapists Actually Give Their Patients
Who can’t use a few extra mental health tips? Therapy can be a critical tool in improving well being and happiness, and yet so much of the change process happens outside of therapy sessions. And while there are many strategies that can help with specific growth areas, there are a few key ones that are generally helpful for most of the clients I work with.
SELF asked me to weigh in for this great roundup. To read the full post, click HERE.
“Most of the work of therapy happens outside the consultation room,” licensed clinical psychologist Alicia H. Clark, Psy.D., tells SELF. “The best progress happens when you apply what you’ve learned outside that setting, in your real life.”
When you’re super stressed and overwhelmed, see if there’s any way to put a positive spin on it.
Stress happens, and it always sucks on some level—whether you’re overworked or overbooked or both.
Still, Dr. Clark says you can take those moments when you’re totally overwhelmed and try to look for the good in them. For example, if you’re stressed because you’re up against an intense work deadline, think about how that stress is actually helping to push you to get it done. “The sensation of pressure doesn’t have to be negative—it can be a positive challenge and motivating,” Dr. Clark says. Or, if you don’t have a free weekend to yourself in the next two months, consider how it’s pretty great that you’ve got such a rich social life these days. In many cases, it’s all about how you view it.
And, of course, if you’re chronically stressed and there really isn’t an upside, consider viewing that as a welcome warning sign that you need to find ways to scale back before you burn out.
When you’re stuck in a negative thought spiral, write down two good things.
It’s hard to think of anything else when you’re really upset or frazzled, so this exercise is mostly about hitting pause and broadening your focus.
Just think of two or three positive things in your life in this moment—something that brings you joy, something you’re proud of, someone who loves you. This can help ease your feelings of angst and frustration, Dr. Clark says. “Gratitude is something I work with people to cultivate especially when life feels overwhelming and negative,” she adds. Even being thankful for a hot shower can help you reset.
Ask yourself “and then what?” when you’re stuck on an anxious thought.
Ruminating over something that’s making you anxious isn’t going to achieve anything. But you can help push your thought process forward by forcing yourself to think ahead, Dr. Clark says. “This helps elucidate thoughts that are reasonable, probable, or sometimes even rational,” she says.
For example, if you keep worrying that you’re going to lose your job, ask yourself what would happen if that were the case. That might seem terrifying at first (you’d be strapped for money, you could lose your apartment, it could impact your relationship, etc.) but then follow those thoughts—what would happen next? Maybe you would look for a new job, find a cheaper apartment, take out a loan. Eventually your thoughts should come around to reasonable solutions to your biggest worries. You might even realize that these scenarios—while certainly anxiety-inducing—are highly unlikely to come to pass.
Think about your alcohol habits and whether you could stand to cut back a little.
Your alcohol intake doesn’t just impact your physical health—it affects your mind, too. So it’s important to consider your drinking habits when you’re aiming to improve your mental health, says Dr. Clarke.
If you find that you’re typically drinking more when you’re feeling depressed or anxious, or that you end up feeling worse whenever you drink, try cutting back on how much you have and how often you have it. Keeping a log of your drinking and your emotions before and after might also be helpful.
Have a bedtime ritual.
Quality sleep is a crucial part of your mental health, but it can be especially hard to come by when you’re struggling with anxious or depressed thoughts. So do everything you can to try to quiet your thoughts before you get into bed.
Since it’s unlikely you’re going to solve anything overnight, Dr. Clark recommends pressing pause on your thoughts and trying to get a solid night of sleep before diving back into things. That might include writing down anything you’re worried about so that you can get back to it tomorrow—and stop thinking about it now.
You can also look for winding-down activities that won’t work against you (the way staring at your phone or Netflix might), like coloring, journaling, or reading (as long as you set a stopping point in advance).