Pain & Illness

  • 10 Tips to Mindfully Survive a Nervous Breakdown

    written by Alexa Frey

    A nervous breakdown is defined as: “an acute, time-limited mental disorder that manifests primarily as severe stress-induced depression, anxiety, or dissociation in a previously functional individual, to the extent that they are no longer able to function on a day-to-day basis until the disorder is resolved”. A nervous breakdown can have many causes such as having too much pressure at work, overwhelming family duties, a divorce or death, being diagnosed with a terrible illness, a traumatic experience such as abuse etc. According to Helpline, the most common symptoms of such a breakdown are depressive symptoms, such as loss of hope and thoughts of suicide or self-harm, anxiety with high blood pressure, tense muscles, clammy hands, dizziness, upset stomach, and trembling or shaking, insomnia, hallucinations, extreme mood swings or unexplained outbursts, panic attacks, which include chest pain, detachment from reality and self, extreme fear, and difficulty breathing paranoia, such as believing someone is watching you or stalking you flashbacks of a traumatic event, which can suggest undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

    A nervous breakdown can last from a few hours to a few weeks. If your breakdown has been going on for a while, and you need some relief, the following ten tips are for you. They will help you not only survive this difficult time, but they might even help you grow from this difficult experience.

    Practice Meditation

    Try to meditate at least once a day. That’s if you can meditate. If you’re too deep in a hole, meditation might be impossible. Your heart might be beating too heavily in your chest, or you might be experiencing uncontrollable tremors which make sitting - and keeping your head upright - hard. If you can’t meditate, then don’t. But maybe, once a day, do try to give it a shot. Even if only for one minute. Anchoring your attention on sounds can be very helpful, if the feelings or sensations in your body are too distressing. Mindful walking too, can be very helpful, if sitting upright feels too torturous. If all this fails, you can always turn off the lights in your bedroom, and simply stare into the darkness - sitting or lying down. The sensory deprivation will hopefully help calm your mind and body. Also, when you do meditate, try to incorporate cultivation practices. Meditate on what you are grateful for in you life. When we’re in a hole, it’s good to remember the good stuff that’s still there in our life. Maybe that’s the beautiful tree outside of your bedroom window. Or you are grateful that you have best friends that support you. Also, try to give yourself compassion for what you are going through - give yourself all the love you need. Last, do practice anticipatory joy by bringing up things you look forward to in the future. Maybe Summer’s coming up and you’re looking forward to sunbathing. For more inspiration, find below a list of cultivation meditations.

    Ask Friends for Help

    One of the hardest things when having a nervous breakdown is that you feel lonely. Not because you don’t have any friends. But because we are so weak, that it can be very draining to be around people. Make sure that you do stay in contact with friends and family - even if you decide to be on your own. Use whatsapp (in moderation), if phone calls are too much and do ask your friends to come over - but let them know that they can’t stay too long. As you are going through a nervous breakdown, you will also notice which of your friends are friends that nurture you and which deplete you. You might have a friend that only texts you to let off steam. During conversations with this difficult friend use your mindfulness skills to notice how he or she makes you feel in your body. If this friend makes you feel tense, annoyed, sad, etc., then it might be time to cut down contact with him/her. As you are going through a nervous breakdown, you will also experience that some friends might just decide not to care, not to be there for you. That can be very painful, but also a great way to learn which of your friends are true friends and which ones aren’t.

    Practice Self-Compassion

    You want to get better. Every day. Obviously, nervous breakdowns aren’t fun. Also, there are many different reasons why people have nervous breakdowns - as mentioned above. Some nervous breakdowns like the one due to a work burnout, will most of the time, pass. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. However, other nervous breakdowns, might not pass as easily. Especially if the origin of the nervous breakdown stems from a chronic mental health disorder such as major depression, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Not only do such mental health disorders deplete and burn us out, they also often make it extremely hard to stay positive - a quality which in our society seems to be a must. However, how can one stay so easily positive if the very illness that one has been diagnosed with doesn’t allow a person to be positive or rational?

    Whether we are in a breakdown due to a work burnout, a chronic mental illness, a death of a close one or another chronic illness, we can choose to treat ourselves with self-compassion. To be patient with ourselves, to allow ourselves to be angry, anxious or depressed and to give ourselves all the love that we have.

    Common Humanity

    When we’re going through a breakdown, we might feel very lonely. Alone in our room, we might feel like we are the only one that’s going through a hard time. Especially when we look through our window onto the street, and everybody else is going about their day you might feel like life is passing by you and you’re missing out big time (Facebook newsfeed will be the worst!). In those moments, remember that you are not alone. There are many other people out there, right now, who go through a difficult time. Even though it seems like you’re alone, you are not. Search the internet for stories of other people who have went through hard times in their life. Read their words and find out what deep wisdom they have learned by surviving such a difficult time. Ask friends and family for their stories. Remember: you are not alone. We are all in this together.

    Listen to your Body

    When we are in the midst of a nervous breakdown, it is important to listen to our body. We may feel very sad or even depressed and that can make us feel sleepy (especially if we’ve been prescribed tranquilisers). Many people experiencing a nervous breakdown can also feel extremely exhausted. It’s important to give our bodies the rest they need. However, do listen to your body for signs of oversleeping. Too much sleep can cause dizziness and brain fog, which we want to avoid at all costs. Also, make sure that you go outside once a day if possible, for a walk in nature. However, do make sure that you choose a path that’s not too steep or too long and always be aware of how far it is to get back to your home. You don’t want to end up exhausted in the woods. If going for a walk seems like too much, try some YouTube exercise videos. Yoga with Adriene has a few easy and relaxing ones.

    Reduce Technology

    Having a nervous breakdown, we often feel like everything is too much. Sounds are too loud and laptop screens might feel too bright. This is why it can be helpful to keep technological use to a minimum. Order a hard copy book and immerse yourself into a story, which will make you feel good inside. The pages - just black and white - will help calm your mind. Audiobooks can also be great (look for “Catcher in the Rye” on YouTube). Close your eyes and listen. Just listen. You will notice that when your mind drifts off, you will quickly come back to listening - after all, you don’t want miss the plot. This will give you a break from the endless ruminating and worrying. Also, try to use Facebook and Instagram as little as possible. The endless scrolling won’t make you feel better, and trust me, if you see all the oh-so-happy lifes of your friends, while you can’t get out of bed, will not help. If you do watch a movie, choose one that doesn’t make you too anxious or sad. Instead choose something calming and/or happy!

    Communicate your Needs

    Going through a nervous breakdown, we don’t have the energy that we usually have. It might be hard for us to pay those bills, clean our home, and complete other important tasks. In times like these, we need help from our friends and family. However, not all of us are good at asking for help, and not all the friends that we have are selfless enough to offer help. During a breakdown we already feel fragile enough, so having to feel disappointed because a friend lets us down, should be avoided at all costs. Thus, go through a list of all your friends in your mind and pick the ones you think, will be willing to support you. Let those angels one by one know about your situation and kindly ask for their help. Also, if they say or do things that might hurt or annoy you, do let them know in a gentle way. Not everybody knows exactly how to deal with someone in such a difficult situation. But most are willing to listen and learn.

    Dropping into the Present Moment

    During a nervous breakdown, we spend a lot of time worrying about the future. Will I ever get better? What if things get worse? Or we ruminate about the past. Why did I not take better care of my health? I should have eaten healthier. Why didn’t I go see the doctor earlier and ignored the all the signs? It is natural to think about the future and the past. But especially during a nervous breakdown this tendency can deplete and exhaust us even more. Apart from that, if you pay close attention there are actually some positive, or at least a few emotionally neutral moments, even during a breakdown. Try to become as present as you can in those moments by connecting with your senses. Say you’re having a bath, notice the warm water touching every part of your body. Notice the scent of the bath oil. Turn off the light and simply listen to the sounds that emerge out of the silence. Become present and know, that in this moment, everything is ok. In this tiny moment, nothing is wrong. It’s just you in a warm bath tub. That’s it. Everything’s ok. Now.

    Seek Medical Help

    In the midst of a breakdown, all we want is to just stay in bed (and sleep). We want to hide from the world. We might feel physically really weak, we might experience awful social anxiety which prevents us from leaving our house, or we might just feel too depressed to leave the bed. We might hope, that if we just give things a bit of time, that we’ll feel better soon. While for some of us that might be true, most of us will need professional help. Your doctor might prescribe you Xanax to help you get you out of the worst anxiety, anti-depressants can get you out of the depression and a therapist can help you through speaking therapy (try to find one who incorporates mindfulness). Know, that you do not need to get through this in your own. There’s plenty of help!

    Self-Care

    I wish to end this article with something really legit positive about going through a breakdown. Now is the time, to indulge in self-care. Try to let go of guilt, and just give yourself everything you need. If you can afford it, order a massage therapist to your home as often as you can. Buy yourself fresh flowers once a week to put next to your bed. Go on Youtube and listen to your favourite teenage songs and sing along if you have the strength for it. Watch all the movies (in moderation) that you’ve always wanted to watch but never had time to. Have as many warm baths as you can. Meditate and use cultivation practices to feel good inside. Grab a pen right now, of all the good stuff that you can still do and go for it!

    MEDITATIONS:

    Gratitude Meditation

    Love Meditation

    Animal Affection

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Cultivating Happiness Workshop

    Self-Compassion Workshop

    8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course

  • Allowing Ourselves Time to Recover

    How often do we recognise (on some level) that we are feeling unwell, yet push ourselves to carry on regardless? Whether it’s with work or social commitments, many of us have the feeling that we simply can’t stop, even when we’re feeling physically or emotionally drained. When we’re feeling low, it can be hard to imagine that we’ll ever feel better, and so it may seem that taking time out to recover won’t do much good. Yet, in time, we will feel better again, and taking a break from our hectic schedules may be just what we need in order to find health and clarity once more.

    Allowing Ourselves Time To Recover

    Listening to Our Experience

    We’re constantly receiving signals from our bodies and minds about our current state of being. If we’re feeling good, we may experience a lightness in the body, or a clear mind, more optimism, greater resilience, etc. When we’re not feeling good, for example if we’re becoming physically unwell, we might start to feel tired, or parts of our bodies might begin to ache; we may feel irritable or tearful, seemingly for no reason. Yet there is always some reason behind how we react to life.

    These negative experiences are all indications that we are struggling. In the absence of mindfulness, we might ignore these signals. Eventually these signals will worsen until we can’t ignore them anymore, by which time we find that we are forced to rest because we simply can’t function any longer. Yet if we become mindful, we can learn how to give ourselves the care we need, before we reach breaking point.

    Tuning In

    Mindfulness is the practice of noticing the present moment with compassion and non-judgement. This isn’t just applicable to outside situations, but to our inner experience too.

    Practicing mindfulness helps us become more in tune with our bodies, and helps us realise that we have the right to stop and take time to heal. Rather than being a sign that we’re weak or incapable, allowing ourselves time to recover, either physically or emotionally, is a sign that we respect and care for ourselves.

    We’re so used to thinking of what other people need from us, many of us find it uncomfortable to put our own needs first. We’re so aware of our responsibilities, it may feel impossible to say, “Hey, I’m going to take a few days just to look after me.” Yet self-care isn’t selfish. Allowing ourselves time and space to recuperate is our way of honouring our existence. Besides, if we’re rested, healthy and calm, we’re sure to be of more benefit to those around us.

    Honouring Our Bodies and Minds

    It’s important to take time to really listen to how we’re feeling. A great way of doing this is with a Body Scan Meditation. During a Body Scan, we go through the process of focussing attention on each part of the body, noticing any feelings, sensations or even emotions which might arise. It’s a way of taking notice of ourselves, just like how we might sit down with a friend and listen to them speak about how they’re feeling.

    If we’re used to rushing around and leading a busy life, this concept may seem a little daunting. If we take this time to get in touch with our bodies and minds, what might we find? It’s true that we might discover aches and pains, tightness or tension, or painful emotions that we’ve pushed down. Yet tuning into these sensations, paying attention to them, and then approaching them with care and kindness, is a way to honour ourselves. Life becomes easier when we regularly check in with ourselves, acknowledge our feelings and address our needs as they arise. If you’d like to try a Body Scan Meditation, see the link below.

    Rather than ignoring ourselves, and storing up pain, illness or discomfort, we can make a more conscious decision to treat ourselves with as much care as we might treat others in our situation. If we’re sick, we can put ourselves to bed and give ourselves the rest we would insist that our loved one’s take. If we’ve overworked ourselves, we can take a few days off to re-balance, in the same way that we would take time off if we were physically sick. If we’ve become exhausted through stress or anxiety, we can care for ourselves by taking time to relax. And after taking this time to rest, after giving ourselves permission to feel bad, we will probably find that we soon feel much better, and can once again face each day without the fatigue or dread we had been storing up for so long.

    .....

    MEDITATIONS:

    Body Scan

    TIP:

    Why Meditate?

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Mindfulness for Anxiety and Depression

    8-Week Mindfulness Course for Depression

    Self-Compassion Workshop

    8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course

  • 8 Wellbeing Benefits Of Practicing Gratitude

    Increased gratitude is a common result of practicing mindfulness. As we start paying more attention to our thoughts, we notice where we block ourselves from appreciating the good things in life. Say, for example, that you always used to get angry when stuck in traffic, but now when you bring your focus to where you are (rather than where you want to get to) you notice things such as the song on the radio or a beautiful scene beyond the car window. We can’t feel grateful for things we don’t notice, and so mindfulness and gratitude go hand-in-hand.

    Gratitude

    The Science of Gratitude

    Robert Emmons, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychology at UC Davis in California, and has been studying the effects of gratitude on over 1,000 people. The participants in his study ranged in age from eight to eighty, and were split into two groups. One group was asked to keep a journal in which they were to write five ‘gifts’ that they were grateful for each day, while the other group had to write down five ‘hassles’. Some examples of the ‘gifts’ people noted were generosity of friends, and watching a sunset through the clouds. Examples of ‘hassles’ were things like difficulty in finding a parking space, and burning their dinner.

    What Emmons found was that those who had kept a gratitude journal experienced significant psychological, physical and social benefits: a 25% improvement in overall health and wellbeing in comparison with the group focussing on what had gone wrong each day.

    Here are just eight of the many ways in which mindfully practicing gratitude can improve our wellbeing, and the wellbeing of others around us.

    Greater Energy Levels

    When we experience sadness or depression, our energy levels slump way down. Sometimes doing the simplest of tasks can feel like running a marathon. However, people who kept a gratitude journal in Emmons study reported that their energy levels improved. Many also started exercising more. People with depression are often told that exercise will help, however this study suggests it may in fact work the other way around; that being mindful of what’s good about our life plays an important role in having the energy to exercise.

    Better Sleep

    On average, study participants found that they were not only sleeping 10% longer than they used to, but that the quality of their sleep was improved. They reported waking up feeling more refreshed and ready for the coming day.

    Reduced Blood Pressure

    With our current hectic lifestyles, high blood pressure has become a common problem. However, simply taking moments to focus our attention on our loved ones or friends, or on the beauty of nature, can lower blood pressure, thus taking the strain off our hearts, brains and many other parts of the body.

    Feeling Less Lonely

    Gratitude strengthens relationships, not just with people we know, but with other people in general. When we’re mindful of positive traits and behaviours in others, we feel more supported, and that leads to us feeling more able to support others in return. When we feel safer, we become less selfish, as we no longer feel such a need to look out for our own interests above others. This leads to us feeling less lonely and isolated, as we are more able to truly connect with others.

    Fewer Physical Symptoms

    People who wrote down five things they were grateful for each day became less affected by aches, pains and other physical symptoms. This ties in with other studies which have found that mindfulness can ease uncomfortable physical symptoms, even chronic pain.

    Improved Attentiveness

    As we mentioned earlier in this post, mindfulness and gratitude are very much linked. Over time, those who deliberately thought about what they were grateful for experienced greater attentiveness. They felt more alert and aware of life.

    Taking Better Care of Health

    Practicing daily gratitude resulted in many participants taking better care of their physical health. Mindful individuals tend to have better self-control and are less impulsive, in many areas of life, including eating habits. Add this to more exercise and better quality of sleep, and you’ve got an all-round much healthier life.

    Increased Joy

    When we steer our attention to what’s good about the world, we naturally feel a greater sense of joy. It’s important to note, however, that gratitude isn’t about denying what’s wrong; solely acknowledging the positive and avoiding the negative can do us much psychological harm. But noticing good things, when and where they exist, takes us out of seeing the world as just being a bad place where bad things happen. In truth, life contains both good and bad, but mindful gratitude helps us appreciate those lovely moments in life, whilst at the same time enabling us to make more of those lovely moments for others.

    MEDITATIONS:

    Gratitude Meditation

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Cultivating Happiness Workshop, Self-Compassion Workshop, 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course, Self-Compassion Drop-In for Graduates

  • Not Wanting To Be Here, Now

    Many of us, at some stage of our lives, have experienced a feeling of not wanting to be here anymore. This may have been triggered by a traumatic event which caused painful feelings and thoughts we’ve wanted to escape from, or we may not be able to link it to any one reason in particular – it’s just a general sense of discomfort or pain that we’d rather not experience.

    Bringing focus and acceptance to these thoughts and feelings may at first feel counter-intuitive. Accepting the fact that we don’t want to be here, or that someone we care about has expressed such a feeling, may feel dangerous and challenging. There are certain corners of our minds which seem too dark and scary to look at.

    However, studies have shown that mindfulness can be used to not only help people after suicide attempts or suicidal urges, but can also offer significant preventive effects too.

    It’s More Common than You Think

    Despite increasing awareness and understanding of mental health issues, suicide is still a taboo subject, and many of us don’t like to talk about it. We don’t want to bring other people down or worry them, we don’t want to look like a ‘failure’, and we don’t want to look ‘crazy’.

    The truth is that suicidality affects people from all walks of life, and is increasing in frequency. It not only occurs in people with psychiatric diagnoses, but also in people with no diagnosable conditions at all. So there is really nothing ‘abnormal’ about suicide. Finding life difficult to bear is actually a common ground which many of us share.

    Experiential Avoidance

    A number of studies have directly linked the desire to avoid negative or unwanted thoughts, feelings, or sensations with suicidality. Our unwillingness to accept and allow emotions such as anger, sadness or guilt can result in us feeling we need an escape from them. A study by Baumeister (1990) found that the majority of suicide notes expressed the person’s need to escape from emotional pain as the reason for ending their life. When we don’t know of any other way to ease that pain, suicide can start to look like the only effective solution.

    Mindfulness is the antidote to experiential avoidance, because far from exacerbating difficult feelings, it helps to ease their weight. In the same way a distressed child needs a loving hug, our painful emotions need loving acceptance. Compassionate mindfulness enables us to step out of dangerous avoidance. By journeying through our pain, with clarity and acknowledgment, we stop needing to run away from it. Facing it becomes the escape we crave; only this way we are able to continue our lives.

    This principle of acceptance is just as important in the aftermath of a suicide or suicide attempt. When a loved one takes their own life, or tries to, we find ourselves dealing with a range of difficult emotions. Anger, guilt and regret are common reactions, including when it’s ourselves who have made an attempt. We may feel enormous guilt at causing pain to our family and friends, or we may feel guilt for feeling angry at someone for putting us through that pain. It’s a difficult time for everyone involved, and we are likely to feel many conflicting emotions.

    Mindfulness helps us stay connected to us each other during these painful times, provides a much-needed anchor to the reality of the present moment, and will make the healing process easier and more rapid. It doesn’t necessarily mean we share our every thought with others – that may not be appropriate – but taking the time to breathe, to compassionately acknowledge our own emotions without feeling attached to them, or creating stories about what they mean about us, will allow those feelings to arise and fade naturally within us.