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Coping with Mental Illness: Self-Help Techniques

Updated: Jan 22, 2021

When you hear the term “self-help,” what do you think of? For many people, it means regular exercising, a healthy diet and maybe even a spa night. While these are all wonderful practices, sometimes they don’t quite cut it. For those living with a mental illness, more tools and strategies may be needed to truly practice and make a habit of proper self-help. The idea of trying new things is intimidating in and of itself. It also takes time to figure out what works and what doesn’t. “Finding the right coping mechanism takes time and patience, but it can enormously impact how you feel,” according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. If you don’t know where to start, try some of these techniques below.

1. Deep Breathing

Deep breathing may sound like an old, tired method, but it truly is effective. If you want more than just the regular deep breathing, in through the nose out through the mouth, give the 5-3-7 method a try. To do this, breathe in for 5 second, hold your breath for 3 seconds and exhale for seven seconds.

“This gentle repetition sends a message to the brain that everything is okay (or it will be soon). Before long, your heart will slow its pace and you will begin to relax—sometimes without even realizing it,” (National Alliance on Mental Illness.)

2. Opposite-to Emotion Thinking

This technique asks you to act the opposite of what your emotions are telling you to do. For example, say you are feeling anxious. Your immediate reaction to that feeling may be to do something like pace around and not be able to sit still. Utilizing the opposite-to emotion technique will have you try something like meditation or yoga when you begin to feel these emotions. This technique can take some time to learn and practice, so remember to be patient with yourself.

3. The 5 senses

This is an effective grounding technique that you can do anywhere at any time. To use this technique, simply run through all five of your senses. What can you feel, see, touch, taste and smell? This technique allows you to come back to the present moment and focus on what is happening right in front of you. You can use this technique numerous times and run through all your different senses as many times as you need.

4. Emotion Awareness

While our emotions can feel overwhelming and we may try to escape them, it is important to let ourselves feel them, but not stay there for too long. Allow yourself to sit with your emotions, but give yourself a time frame. Once that time is up, do something to help alleviate the emotions. This could be journaling, meditation, listening to music or simply going for a walk. Let yourself feel your emotions, acknowledge them and then take action to diminish them. Self-help can be a scary idea, but it is important to find what works for you. It takes time and practice, but it can be beneficial. Your self-help routine can help you to feel better not only physically but emotionally as well. Be sure to take youtime, be patient and be kind with yourself as you navigate this journey of discovery. For more techniques and information, visit

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