1 – Chamomile Tea
Why does this top the list? It’s a stone cold lifesaver. If you have anxiety or have had one too many coffees and are in a state of sweaty, heart palpitating terror then REALLY strong chamomile tea acts fast to take the edge off.
From Medical News Today: “Many researchers believe that Chamomile tea may function like a benzodiazepine [and]… some research suggests that chamomile binds to benzodiazepine receptors” in the brain. Chamomile tea is an anti-inflammatory and is being researched for effects as broad as cancer reduction, the impact of anti-inflammatories on depression and anxiety, improvement to PMS and menstrual pain, impacts on diabetes, and a soothing effect on eczema. It delivers a big dose of zinc and magnesium (great for PMS, healing, and muscle ease), and is about as gentle as you can get in terms of interventions. I’m wary of the “superfood” hype, and its profoundly unlikely daily chamomile tea will ever turn out to cure cancer or eliminate PMS, but for something so simple, the impacts can be pretty impressive.
To make ‘medicinal’ chamomile tea: Take a small tea pot and put in about three or four times the amount of chamomile tea you usually would. In a mug this might look like three or four teabags, in a smallish/ medium pot fill almost a third of the size of the pot with flowers or teabags. Pour over fresh boiled water and let the chamomile brew for ages – until it’s at drinkable temperature at a minimum. Gulp it, sip it, or have it in little teacup size shots over several hours.
IMPORTANT – Don’t use chamomile with infants or young kids (it might have botulism spores, like honey, which fully grown immune systems can fight off), and avoid it if you’re allergic to pollen.
ALSO IMPORTANT – Be wary of anything claiming to eliminate anxiety. If you didn’t have anxiety at all that would be bad! Our goal in therapy is to become familiar with the body and brain symptoms of anxiety so they’re a part of our bigger experience of life. Taking the edge off huge anxiety and panic attacks with grounding and gentle, effective interventions (like a cup of strong chamomile or a run in the park) helps us begin to be able to engage with our anxiety feelings safely
2 – Exercise
The evidence for exercise being good for you is in.
This knowledge by itself is not enough. If ‘not knowing’ was the problem we would have no issue with quitting smoking, using alcohol or other drugs to escape difficult inner experience. The evidence itself isn’t enough to do much except make most of us feel ashamed, defensive, and occasionally to have a weird dopamine and guilt experience of watching a show like “Cheer” and thinking I’m going to go to the gym tomorrow.
So aside from the science, why would you want to exercise? It hurts, it’s awkward, you screwed up your knee last time you started running. We fear that going out in workout gear when we’re not “in shape” will be humiliating. Exercise makes you tired, sweaty, it hurts to breathe, and you can’t afford it. You did it for six months in 2021 and PUT ON 3 kilos. It’s cold outside.
But here’s the rub: “16 weeks of regular exercise has been found to be equally effective as antidepressant medication in the treatment of mild to moderate depression” (Black Dog Institute). Weightlifting has been found to have significant benefits, especially for those with anxiety or neurodivergence (Heavy Work helps us engage our proprioception – our sense of where we are in space and where our edges and body is) and process information. Have you tried yoga? (Sorry).
One of the most helpful things you might ever do for yourself is to find a kind of movement you like enough that missing out on doing it is a bummer. Whether that’s tai chi, kickboxing, swimming laps, skateboarding, roller skating, wild swimming in a lake or the sea, hiking, wheelchair basketball, running or learning to dance is up to you.
The benefits, as reported by myself, science, and many, many clients:
* It makes us feel good.
* It clears the mind and increases our ability to focus.
* It reduces stress and is helpful for deescalating anxiety,
* Is reported as being as effective as medication for treating depression by the Black Dog Institute, and
* Providing a much-needed hit of serotonin and dopamine – especially useful if ADHD or depression is a factor.
* It improves sleep, and
* Makes us feel better about our bodies – ever got really sweaty and felt like you felt cuter and more at ease in your body afterward? That’s not about how you look, it’s all about your vibe and a big hit of feel-good hormones.
*Can be restorative for chronic illness – especially if done with some professional direction,
* It provides us with time to unwind and is an excellent alternative to coping methods that aren’t getting us where we need to go. There’s a reason so many workout gurus seem to have an experience of addiction in their history.
* Research indicates that exercise not only prevents cognitive decline and increases brain volume, but also helps to make changes in the Default Mode Network in our brains – allowing us to do some beautiful, effortless problem solving or emotion processing while we get our feel-good hormone downloads and de-stress. Anyone who has gone for a long walk and spontaneously come up with the solution to a sticky problem will be familiar with this feeling.
* Exercise increases energy,
* Enhances healing
* And is super useful for those of us trying to self regulate -symptoms related to overwhelm in PTSD, ADHD and ASD all respond really well to exercise and especially to “heavy work” – a term from Occupational Therapy that just means using resistance to get the body’s proprioceptors working to help us feel oriented. Yoga or Pilates are good examples of Heavy Work, but so is using resistance bands for a quick stretch or just doing something like pressing and holding your palms together quite hard.
Notice that none of those reasons have *anything* to do with the way we look?
Doing lots of exercise is likely to change your body over time, but it doesn’t result in weight loss or getting ripped for all of us. Motivations like feeling more energetic, sleeping better, having access to a guaranteed mood-boosting stress-buster, being capable of doing things like picking up kids or walking up stairs comfortably, and feeling better in general meet needs that are the exact opposite of superficial. These deep motivations and satisfying payoffs are so much more energising than trying to make our bodies look some ideal way.
So, what might work for you?
- Do you like noise, stimulation, and lots of interaction? Try a class – but it needn’t be a gym class if that doesn’t suit – a dance class (a partnered one if you have a mate who is up for it), something like No Lights No Lycra if you just want to dance in the dark, or try Parkrun (where they have dedicated walking volunteers to set the a slow, friendly pace for anyone not into the running).
- Are you into green places and having time to think? Try going for a swim in a river, the bay, a lake.., having a hike or just a ramble in a bit of reclaimed bush or a park near you, join a tai chi or qi gong group (there is almost guaranteed to be a park group near you somewhere after the lockdowns drove us all to find new ways to be near each other but far apart), or try just plain old swimming laps in an outdoor pool (Fitzroy is heated 😉 ).
- Need a cognitive challenge to keep you interested? Try starting a gymnastics or circus arts class, try a dance class where you have to focus on learning steps or dancing with someone else, or just learn a dance from YouTube in your loungeroom!
A final note – walking has been described as being as close to a perfect exercise as exists in nature. If all else fails, go get your comfy sneakers, put on a podcast, and walk around your neighbourhood, walk to work, walk to the shops, or just ramble. Borrow a neighbour’s dog to walk, walk to the café in the morning for a coffee, walk to a nearby hill to watch the sunset.
3 – Writing things down
When we try to articulate our experiences, thoughts, and feelings it slows our brain down and helps us to organise or make meaning out of our inner world. If you’re in a huge spiral of rumination, try taking a notepad and writing it all out – it will help you to expend the energy of the anxiety driving your mental whirlpool, help you organise thoughts, and even to identify what familiar types of “unhelpful thinking” you’re engaging with – like catastrophising or thinking in absolute black and whites.
Two key things to keep in mind while you’re doing a brain dump onto paper is that:
1) Rumination itself is your brain trying to avoid feelings of anxiety (i.e., whatever uncomfortable things are happening in your body). Try not to let yourself use writing as a way to stop your unpleasant feelings, but to acknowledge that they are difficult. It’s okay to also recognise you really don’t like them!
And 2) Including your experience of real-world actual events (rather than only focusing on expressing your worries, fears, and uncomfortable emotions) has been found to be better for our mental health as it helps us to make order and process what has actually happened, even if what ‘has happened’ is that you have just lived through a day in which you felt horrible and don’t know why. Because our thoughts are made up of a tangle of facts (they haven’t called) and guesses or fears (they secretly hate me), it’s important to stay alert for the brain’s tendency to mistake our best guesses or fears for facts. When journaling, try out also including an exploration of possibilities that don’t come naturally to your ruminating mind, wondering about someone else’s point of view, or brainstorming alternate outcomes
4 – Get a routine (BACE planning)
When life gets weird humans have a habit of withdrawing. It feels safer to stay away because we wonder what we have to offer. What would we even say? Sometimes we really do need some time away to process big stuff. It can be weird to be in a difficult emotional place and to try to get interested in a friend’s chat about her brother’s partner or what colour to paint the kitchen.
Cognitive Behavioural treatment for depression frequently includes something called “Behavioural Activation”. This is a fancy name for basically going out and doing things – even though you don’t want to – and the science behind it is solid. It may even be more effective than medication. On a ‘common-sense’ level, if we stay withdrawn, we stop putting ourselves in the way of the experiences we need to generate good brain chemicals, opportunities, connections, and life experiences.
The key to Behavioural Activation is scheduling, and a fantastically helpful tool for doing this is the BACE Planner
Start by writing down the essential things you need to do to stay physically and mentally okay. You might write in when you’ll take your meds, book in a visit to a naturopath or your GP for a medication refill or update or when you’ll go the shops for food. Book in a time to cook a pot of soup or prep veggies for the week so cooking is more likely. If it’s a really rough time it’s totally reasonable to schedule in a time to have a shower, wash your clothes, or do the dishes. This is the “B” part of BACE planning – your Body/ Brain care.
Now write down a list of basic things that you need to get done that will give you a sense of “A” for achievement. This is the A in BACE. Think small. Rather than saying “finish my thesis” it’s probably more helpful to note down a plan to go to the library or even to pay a late fine so that you CAN access the library again next time. Doing the dishes and having a shower are also legit achievements at some points in our lives. If you do something small you value or have been putting off WHILE you’re feeling shitty you get double brownie points.
Now schedule in a third layer of tasks – this is the “C” is for Connection part.
This part can be confronting. I get it. Sometimes you really have nothing to say to your mates, or you’re feeling that they aren’t a good match for you anymore. Maybe leaving the house feels agonising. It’s worth keeping in mind that you don’t have to do the kind of things you usually do for Behavioural Activation to be effective. If going to a party or trying to have a conversation feels unreachable, it might feel more possible to go to a stretch or gym class, or even just to leave the house to read in a café. Weirdly, it’s not actually essential to have a big conversation with anyone to get some social benefit if you’re in a bad place. Just nominating a place to go with other people around has some inherent cognitive benefits. If you enjoy the thing you’re doing (like people watching in a favourite café or being talked through a big stretch in a fitness class) that’s an excellent bonus and motivator. If you’re really stuck to think of things, try doing a brainstorm – taking this park of the task to therapy can also be useful if you’re really out of ideas or low on confidence.
Now consider E – What is it that gives you pleasure or makes you really genuinely relaxed? Do you like fresh flowers, nice smelling soap, candles, watching the birds in the park, a hot bath, sunshine on your skin? Eating ice cream? That amazing cake from your local cafe? The smell of gum leaves in the park after rain? Playing with a dog? A cuddle? What is it that gives you a buzz? Write it in. “Wednesday morning leave early – café for tea and Danish” or “Give brother’s new baby a cuddle”.
When you have a rough list of your Body, Achievement, Connection and Enjoyment activities, it’s time to get yourself a planner. You can print this one – or even draw columns on a piece of paper to make yourself a weekly routine if going out to buy a calendar is a roadblock.
This Thing That Helps is listed with many thanks to Jennifer Wong at the ABC News Everyday section, as I have shared her article and tactic more times than I can count.
5 – Figure out your sensory profile
This is an absolute game changer. Initially I started researching sensory profiles and sensory modulation to support neurodivergent clients and clients working through recovery from (C)PTSD, burnout or emotional overwhelm, but it has become apparent that anyone can benefit from understanding how they respond to their sensory environments.
The essence of the Sensory Profile is that everyone responds to the information we get from our environment differently, and that adjusting small things to meet your sensory processing needs can make a big difference to your experience of the world. For example, when I did my own profile, I found that I am very sensitive to sensory input but also what is called “low registration” – that is, while my brain gets overwhelmed by trying to process sensory input really easily, I also actually need a ton of the kinds of sensory stimulus I do like in order to “fill my cup” and make me feel alive.
What does this mean in practice? For me it means I now understand why being in a loud venue late at night makes me grumpy and exhausted but sitting up talking until late after dinner is invigorating – my brain just can’t handle processing lots of noise! To manage this, I might ask that we sit in an outside courtyard if we go to a bar, helping to limit my overwhelm and stay lively and good humoured for longer. Wearing noise cancelling headphones on public transport and putting lots of rugs down in my home can also reduce my overall need to process sound – leaving more in my emotional and sensory reserves for important things.
I also know now that while the cognitive effort of processing a lot of loud sounds exhausts me, I’m invigorated by visual stimulus, and making an effort to keep flowers around the house, go to art galleries, or explore new visual environments like unfamiliar towns or areas of natural beauty stimulates my senses and cognition in a way that makes me excited about life.
For many of us too much cognitive and emotional energy spent processing sensory stimulation is likely to be a contributing factor to our overwhelm. If you’re someone who habitually gives themselves processing space by numbing out with gaming, streaming TV, scrolling, alcohol or weed, it might be worth considering whether buying some noise cancelling headphones, buying clothes that meet your comfort needs (underwear I am looking at you), or talking with your partner about how to adjust the bedroom so you have a quieter space might make all the difference. Knowing our sensory profiles can help us to understand the previously weird reactions of people we love, as well as to feel more understood.
If this is something that interests you, I can strongly recommend the book Living Sensationally by Dr Winnie Dunn – which unpacks the idea of Sensory Profiles in simple, clear language and offers lots of examples of how to get active about using sensory info to improve our wellbeing.
6 – Get a checkup
There are so, so many reasons to do this if you have experienced impacts to your mental health. Here are a few.
- Changes to hormones can radically impact your sense of self. If you’re out of sorts or experiencing moods or energy changes that aren’t normal for you, get your levels checked. Changes to Androgens can affect both men and women, but low levels have been linked to depression in men, while perimenopause is known to make many women acutely anxious and depressed. If you’re not into synthetic hormones a dietitian, naturopath or similar kind of registered allied health worker will be able to support you to feel more like yourself, and if you’re okay with conventional hormonal meds, then HRT is NOT CHEATING.
- Zinc levels are strongly correlated with depression (note: correlation is not causation! But if you’re depressed, and your blood test shows low zinc levels, it’s worth adding zinc rich food to your diet).
- Having a sluggish or non-functioning thyroid can lead to depression.
- Low levels of vitamin B12 and vitamin D are known to be linked to feelings of depression and brain fog.
- Vitamin C is an evidence-based, proven stress buster. It’s ESPECIALLY useful for those deliberately encountering stress – like when we go to therapy and do the work of healing and growing. If your blood test says you’re low, this might be worth considering!!
- Lots of prescription medications have depression or anxiety as side effects! Often you doctor won’t tell you about this! There are even some antidepressants that have a side effect of auditory hallucinations like hearing music that isn’t there! If you’re chronically depressed it may be your birth control, it might be related to beta blockers or other health meds. Ask for a medication review with a specific focus on mental health side effects. It’s worth it!
IMPORTANT – don’t just start talking big doses of anything without checking you’re safe to do so. For example, taking zinc if you’re not processing it properly can land you in hospital with organ failure (a true event that happened to a loved one) … so really do go get a blood test first. If in doubt, take your blood test results to your trusted, registered naturopath or dietician rather than the GP – they may be more comfortable telling you that while you’re technically in the “normal range” for some minerals or hormones, you’re actually so low that one less ‘point’ on your score would meet the criteria for clinical deficit (another true story from both friends and loved ones).
7 – Learn some grounding and emotion regulation skills
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone”~ Blaise Pascal
The root of so many of our struggles is just how difficult it is to tolerate our unpleasant internal experiences. Feeling hurt can whiplash us into attacking first and thinking later, being anxious can see us reaching out for reassurance that neither fills our need nor makes us feel that we are behaving in a way that is true to ourselves, and loneliness can (ironically) find us pushing others away so that we can stay safe from further loss.
The tricky thing about our emotions is that although it sometimes feels as though we may go crazy in the moment we’re experiencing them, the opposite is true. Severe psychological dysregulation can be the result of an inability to tolerate the body feelings of our emotions. This is where learning some ways to ride out the storm can be helpful. If practiced over time skills that help us safely feel our feelings can be profoundly transformative. In fact, this is the whole basis for Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), a form of therapy originally developed to help people with chronic suicidal urges recover and live well.
So, what is a grounding exercise? Dropping anchor or grounding simply means deliberately tuning in to our senses and using proprioception to feel like we’re present in our bodies in real time – rather than swept away on a flood of rumination, catastrophising and impulsive emotional actions. When we can feel our feelings and also be present and whole, in the moment, then we’re capable of navigating through even quite big disruptions or problems just by using our own self-knowledge.
2 – Sighs – For this one, click on the first exercise – Sensing Safety – and practice the big sigh that the instructor walks us through at the start of the meditation. Sensing Safety is a happy 4 minutes long 🙂 – not too overwhelming if you’re new to this! Once you’ve got the hang of that sigh, try doing it three, four or five times in a row, breathing out slower and longer each time. See if you can count the sighs. Tune in to the sensations in your body. Practice this a couple of times when you’re feeling okay, so your body remembers it more easily when you’re anxious. That’s it! Sighing hacks into our autonomic nervous system, reducing heart beat rate and helping our body down-regulate if we’re panicking – a helpful, immediate way to reduce stress when we’re in need.
3 – ACE (or ‘Dropping Anchor’)
4 – Heavy Work (the info on the linked page is written about helping kids get grounded, but is just as useful for adults)
5 – Brief Body Scan
7 – 54321
8 – Learn how to get in touch with your feelings:
At the absolute outset, It’s worth noting that for some of us tuning in to our feelings and bodies is more frightening than for others. People who have experienced trauma or who have emotion dysregulation disorders might experience extreme discomfort or fear in relation to feelings and body sensations. For these folks getting in touch with your feelings is still necessary in time, but we want to start with the grounding and proprioception skills above so that when emotions crash in on us, we have a rudder to navigate with. For folks with trauma or emotion dysregulation disorders, using grounding deliberately and consistently can make us feel skilled-enough (or ‘safe-enough’) to start to experiment with getting to know our feelings. If you’re a person with trauma, severe and chronic rumination, or emotional processing struggles the first, best thing, is just to make a list of things that help you feel more regulated in general. Exercise, healthy distractions (like crafting, podcasts, a hobby) and sensory strategies such as weighted blankets, hot water bottles or a hot or cold shower can be a good groundwork of resources to lay down before you even get to grounding! If this feels like you, please don’t try the techniques below just yet! Instead make that list of regulating activities, and get familiar with Sensing Safety, ‘Heavy Work’ and the ACE technique above.
For readers who are curious and not distressed by body sensations, read on 🙂
- First just try to tune in to what’s happening in your body rather than what you’re thinking. Our brains love to come up with wild schemes and ultimatums to make our body feelings go away, but the first and most basic step to regulating our emotions is to actually get familiar with them.
- If you find yourself caught up in thinking don’t actively try to stop – just bring your curiosity back to your body. To begin with you might simply notice that you’re thinking a lot and feeling really uncomfortable. That’s okay – you’re on track.
- A weird and cool thing is that if we stop trying to figure out what it is we’re feeling and what it means – instead just paying attention to the sensations – we get a much clearer picture of what is actually going on. The body and brain are wildly clever at this. If we can let our bodies know we’re paying attention, they start to speak up. Imagine looking at a view through a telescope with a transparent film negative taped over the glass at the far end. You could probably tell there’s a landscape out there but your brain is ‘reading’ the image on the negative much more strongly than the view. Our thinking is a bit like the film negative – a pre-arranged image made of our assumptions, experiences and worries. If we can remove the ‘film negative’ of our thoughts from the telescope, then the landscape becomes crystal clear. In this metaphor, focusing on the sensations and emotions as they happen – without trying to name them or make sense of them using our transparent film negative of assumptions, worries and experiences – lets us encounter out emotions and body sensations just as they are. It’s often surprising and sometimes wonderful.
- An important note: You will keep thinking. That’s fine. The task isn’t to stop thinking, it’s to get curious about what’s happening in your body – your attention will drift because that’s what attention does. See if you can ‘return’ your curiosity to your body if you’ve noticed it drifting, or to kind of allow the attention to drift all over your senses, without focusing too hard – like holding bike handles loosely while you ride to allow for the changes in the road and your own balance.
- Later, once you’ve gotten used to noticing that you’re having feelings (as body sensations that speak to the brain), you might try deliberately exploring body sensations and emotions to get to know them even better. Five minutes at a time is enough if you’re new to this. Set an alarm on your phone, get curious about your body without trying to fix or solve or name things. Try to relax into just feeling. When the alarm goes off you’re done! Go and do something else for a while. Keeping a notebook nearby and jotting insights down afterward can help to make this learning more concrete.
- The second part to emotion regulation is learning to ride out your feelings as though they are waves and you’re a surfer, so that after a bit of practice you get so familiar with your emotions that you can have access to BOTH your emotions and your rational mind at the same time. When that happens, we can make decisions from a place called “the wise mind” – an idea from Dialectical Behavioural Therapy that helps us develop our intuition so that we can make healthier decisions. In order to be able to feel our emotions and also feel safe, grounding skills (or ‘dropping anchor’ skills) are very useful.
9 – Assertiveness skills (the fences around our boundaries)
It’s great knowing what you feel and having the ability to express emotions skilfully, but what happens when someone pushes up against them in a way that feels uncomfortable? Or when you know you want to say ‘No’ (or even ‘Yes’) but doing so will feel uncomfortable to the point it’s easier to give in, give up, or not say anything at all? At that point we have ignored our boundaries – the limits we would feel best about setting around our feelings, needs and values – and we are venturing into the territory of resentment, self-blame and that spooky, shameful feeling that we are not being authentic. Stay tuned for a whole post about boundaries but in the meantime, for the curious, here’s the best resource ever.
My classic first assignment for clients with boundary or assertiveness struggles is: Send back the next coffee you get that is prepared wrong. For some of us this is a no brainer, but for others there have been a lot of lattes when there should have been flat whites. You can use your grounding skills to help you feel solid enough to do this (a big sigh and some ACE practice are both helpful), but here are some really essential parts of assertiveness:
- Be prepared ‘enough’ – it’s likely you’re going to feel uncomfortable – maybe even ashamed – when you send back that first coffee or say ‘no’ to a romantic advance you don’t really want (even though you’re lonesome). Although none of us will ever be ‘perfectly’ ready to set our first boundary strategising with a counsellor about what you’ll do if there is push back or uncomfortable feelings can be helpful. So can actively exploring how to identify a boundary or value. It’s easier to tolerate difficult feelings if we are clear about our motivation and strategies. If counselling isn’t for you at the moment, then I highly recommend Faith Harper’s small, info-packed Unfuck Your Boundaries.
- Use your grounding skills to help you tolerate the difficult feelings – this helps us to stay centred and gives us something to do to prevent giving in just to make ‘ick’ feelings go away.
- Assertiveness strategies are the best. Here are two of the most famous:
- BIFF: Brief, Informational, Friendly, Firm. This is great for emails, texts, or prepared responses (like in a formal meeting). An example? Someone has written you a ridiculous email and you want to just fix the situation by doing the work yourself, but it is NOT YOUR JOB and you’re going to feel resentful and crappy if you do it. A BIFF response might look something like:
You’re right in thinking that ‘Project’ is due on Thursday and that it needs to be addressed quite urgently. I wanted to make sure we’re on the same page, so I had a quick look at the schedule – Nadine, Xosha and yourself are listed as the team for ‘Project’. Nadine can be reached at XXX@ and Xosha at XXX@.
All the best…. “
Brief – no more than a few sentences,
Informational – you’ve provided some backup for yourself by giving Josh a very brief pointer to the existing, relevant info,
Friendly – Keep the swearing and muttering to yourself and be polite – think of this as putting your own wellbeing (and professionalism) ahead of Josh’s pettiness.
Firm – there are no apologies, assurances ‘Josh’ can ask further questions, or opportunities for Josh to wilfully misread the email as a claim that you were going to do the work if no one else would.
If ‘Josh’ comes back with more annoying insinuations that you should do the job, you move to step two. This is also a useful technique to use if you’re trying to be assertive in an unplanned, spoken interaction with difficult people. It’s called…
- The Broken Record Technique. This is exactly what it sounds like: Repeating the same information in various ways until (hopefully) the person gets it. As kindly as possible.
An example of a broken record technique starts by acknowledging what the person is asking for:
My sense is that you’re feeling a bit under pressure with the project being so close!”
Then you repeat the previously given information:
“The meeting notes do indicate that ‘Project’ was assigned to Nadine, Xosha and yourself. Please reach out to those folks as I’m not able to help you with this.”
Be firm, be friendly (or at least civil) and continue to offer the information you’ve already repeated. Rephrase it as needed and acknowledge the other person’s distress or reasons for wanting a different outcome, but don’t offer new information or back down. Don’t apologise, don’t hint you might give in (unless this feels genuinely appropriate or someone has offered a compromise that solves the issue). It’s perfectly okay to say thanks to someone who has got the message and to be compassionate or kind while upholding a boundary. The point is simply to support yourself to say no to something that isn’t right for you, or alternately to allow yourself to accept and fight for something you want.
So, that’s the end of the first round of ‘Things That Help’.
Doing these things isn’t easy, but we don’t have to do them all at once. Trying out a new skill in real life or going outside your comfort zone can be awkward and tiring, so be as patient and as gentle with yourself as you can. Using new skills and tactics also won’t change the realities of being alive: It’s often messy and sometimes painful and sometimes we will still need a hug, a big cry or a sleep. Frequently we won’t get what we hoped for. Some things in life will continue to be really, really unfair.
But a world in which we are safe enough to acknowledge and feel our emotions, can give ourselves support or comfort when those feelings seem too big to manage, use deliberate strategies and skills to navigate rough times, learn to express our needs, uphold valued boundaries, actively check in on our health, and feel some agency about the experience of the body and mind we have been given – Even if IS sometimes still messy – I reckon that is a world worth working for.