How To: Help Yourself When You’re Sad

Gooooodness me, it’s been a hot minute.

I was recently reminded by some friends of mine that I hadn’t written a post in a while. This is clearly code for “Lily, your fans need you”, right? Sorry I’ve been a bit AWOL but life got in the way! And by life I mean medical school, church, my recent (and potentially short-lived) yoga hobby, friends (did I mention I had friends?) and a whole host of other meaningful, life-giving* activities.

*Does anyone else hate this term but also use it a lot? No? Just me then.

And in the midst of all that busyness (I didn’t realise that was how it was spelt either), I have neglected this “paper bag into which I can scream and vent all my feelings”, as 15 year old Lily once elegantly articulated. But no more! I’m back! Once I’d realised how long it had been since I last wrote on here, I decided to have a look at my draft blog posts to see if any of them were worth reviving. The most recent (but not that recent due to the aforementioned busyness) three posts are titled “Crying”, “How To: Carry On When Bad Stuff Happens” and “How To: Help Yourself When You’re Sad”. So…cheery topics. Past Lily clearly was clearly going through something! And I was, and still am.

Having difficult life-events happen is not something anyone can really prepare for. Although we can surround ourselves with good people and go on journeys of self development (you know, gap yahs and all that jazz), at the end of the day you have to just take what life throws at you and carry right on. I’m no expert in the field of “something sh*t has happened and now you need to cope”, and many other people have had harder and more difficult lives, but I’ve gathered a few bits of wisdom along the way.

So, here are some ways you can help yourself. Not because we all need to be super independent but because sometimes it will just be you, alone. Sometimes, it will be you in a busy market feeling your stomach drop with the realisation that you’re about to cry in front of a lot of people (I did this several times and it never got less embarrassing). Sometimes, it will be you alone in your house struggling to convince yourself that you’re alone, not lonely. Sometimes, it will be you lying in your bed screaming at God.

Right. Here we, here we, here we go!

1. Get into meditation, mindfulness or yoga. Yes, it looks cheesy. Yes, it is cheesy. But it also works. Getting yourself out of your headspace will not only potentially make you feel more peaceful but it will also use a bit of time up which, when you’re feeling anxious or depressed, is a blessing. If that’s the place you’re in, try doing an hour long yoga video. An hour is long enough for you to feel some time has passed and it’s also long enough to switch your gears a bit. I found long meditations quite emotionally difficult when I was really going through it though so tread lightly there. If you’re reading this and you don’t understand this desperation for time to just go quicker, then you’re lucky (and you’ll probably be okay doing a shorter video!).

2. Write lists. When I was in peak struggling-with-mum-having-cancer mode, and still now when I’m feeling anxious, I make tonnes of lists. Whether they’re about “my reasons to be happy” or just plain old to-do lists, I find a lot of catharsis in getting all my thoughts out. It’s almost like when all the information is in my head, I can’t process it or decide what to do with it. Writing it all down helps me with that. Most of the time, my to-do list will comprise of small things like “eat three portions of vegetables”, “clear out bottom drawer” or even “write to-do list for tomorrow”. Maybe it’s a personality type thing but it helps me so it might help you.

3. Read a happy fiction book or watch a happy film. There’s so much snobbery these days about books and films but I will always tell people my favourite book genre is dystopian young-adult fiction and I like any film with a happy ending. It always gets a laugh because people don’t expect others to be honest about what makes them happy. When I’m feeling anxious or sad, I abandon whatever interesting-but-depressing memoir I’m reading and I always, without fail, return to my favourite novels as a teenager. I give up watching the harrowing documentary and I re-watch my favourite films. Go live your best life and pretend you’re living in a future where you are the only answer to humanity’s curse (whilst also getting the guy).

4. Go for a walk. If you need a destination, find a supermarket or a park you can walk to. If not, just go. In my experience, half an hour was the minimum time needed to really “feel it”. Try and notice the things around you, all the little things you don’t see when you’re in a haze of anxiety.

5. Ask for help. Perhaps this one doesn’t count but I don’t care. I am a huge advocate for dependency, and not forgetting that humans work best in community. I struggle so much with asking for help. Maybe it’s a pride thing, or not wanting to inconvenience my friends, but it’s not helpful. Text your friend, parent, cousin, mentor and tell them how you’re doing. If that’s not an option, get other help. If you’re a prayer, pray. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable is a crucial part of getting better and being able to rediscover who we are when we’re at our best.

That’s it, folks. Here are some links to some of the things I’ve mentioned:

A (fairly) short yoga practice. Don’t let the weird name put you off.

A longer yoga practice. With a fitting name!

A meditation app you’ll all have seen before but I really would recommend.

A list of happy films.

A list of up-lifting fiction books. Disappointed The Host isn’t at the top, though.

A brilliant charity for if you’re struggling with your mental health.

hey! i'm an 21 year old medical student (currently intercalating in anthropology) living it up in east london! i spend my spare time playing dixie chicks on guitar (badly), attempting to do yoga and turning it up at my church.

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