Assemble your toolkit

This is where the work really comes in. Want to see change? Then … there’s gonna be some work. Hard work. Fun work. All kinds of work, but for the best reason: You.

I tried so many things to find what belonged in my toolkit. So here’s what’s worked for me:

TIPP skills: These are super helpful when you are in full-blown panic meltdown. But: you should practice them before you get to that point. (If you google ‘DBT TIPP skills’ you can find all kinds of good resources.)

The skills:

  • Temperature – change your temperature (i.e., ice pack on the face)
  • Intense exercise – even just 30 seconds of jumping jacks
  • Paced breathing – slow, focused breathing
  • Paired muscle relaxation – work through your body, tensing a pair of muscles (i.e., both hands) for a few seconds, then relaxing those muscles for a few seconds, before moving on to another muscle pair.

My favorite is the paired muscle relaxation. And if you find yourself getting lightheaded doing the paced breathing: breathe out just a bit longer than you breathe in. Ask me how I know.

Quit Stuff: Ok, so maybe this isn’t a tool, per se, and maybe it’s a given. But yeah, clear your plate. A lot of the stuff that is adding extra stress? Even some of the stuff that you usually love? You don’t need to do it. You need to eat; you need to sleep; and you need to shower every couple of days. I’m lucky, in that the husband was able to run a lot of interference for me.

And yeah, it sucks to quit stuff. People will ask you about it. And that sucks.

I quit teaching Sunday school. There were a lot of weeks I just wasn’t there, because, well, uh, I was too busy falling apart in my closet. But then there were weeks I was able to venture outside, so I did! And I would be at church, trying to hold it together for 2 hours … and some people told me how much they loved my Sunday school lessons! And that was really nice to hear.

But then: one Sunday, I was asked point blank: “You are such a great teacher! What happened?”

So, yeah. That … was not my favorite moment. There is stigma around mental health. And around being a quitter. And I was still a very hot mess. I smiled and mumbled something and got outta there.

But today? Today I wish I would have said: “What happened? My anxiety exploded and I needed to scale back.” Because people need to know: it’s ok to scale back when we need to. It’s ok to quit stuff.

Meditation: yup, it works. It takes practice!! If you have a smartphone, get a meditation app. And if you’ve got room in your budget for it, I highly recommend Headspace or Calm. Calm is my preferred option, but you can’t go wrong with either one. For me, the benefit of a paid app is the organization of everything. I downloaded a few free apps, but they were just sooooo disorganized, I found it stressful to dig through it all to find what I was looking for.

What it does: it helps create a distance between your overwhelming emotion (anxiety, worry, loneliness, etc) and your self. There is a huge difference between being worry, and in watching myself be worried. One is drowning; the other is awareness of a wave that will pass, and in being able to ride it vs. resisting it.

Exercise: One thing about anxiety – it can cause a build up of all those fight-or-flight chemicals in your body. And if you never fight or flee … then they just hang around creating mayhem. So exercise! A walk around the block, a full-on kickboxing class, whatever it is: get up and move.

I love the Down Dog apps – if you’ve got the budget for it, and you are a person who loves being told what to do when you exercise (fitness class junkie? fitness dvd user?), then these apps are great. I can vouch for the HIIT, Barre, and Yoga apps. One subscription gets you access to all 3. You set your workout length (as low as 2 minutes, even, I think) and difficulty, and then it just tells you what to do. Every workout is made up on the fly, so its different every time. I love living in the future!

One thing I really like doing is a workout with all 3 apps: 5-15 minutes of HIIT, 5-15 minutes of barre, then 5-15 minutes of yoga, depending on how much time I have. 15 minute total workout? Nothing wrong with that.

Yoga: this one works, too! Yoga with Adriene is free on YouTube. Or the Down Dog app, as mentioned above.

One warning: yoga brings clarity. I’m not sure what it is about all the breathing and the movements and the concentration, but doing yoga breaks loose all sorts of stuff in your head. Clarity is good, but you may need some time to work through it all. So I suuuuper recommend pairing yoga with:

Journaling: There’s just something about pounding out your thoughts, on the keyboard or on paper, that helps focus and shape everything. Some days, it feels like all my inner truths are really held in my pen, and I just need to keep moving it to get them all out. Yeah, I write a whole lotta nonsense. But there are those nuggets that pop out that really make me stop and realize I need to make a change – or that perhaps my changes are actually working.

Bullet Journaling: So along with my journaling, I’ve started using a bullet journal to track my mood and habits. It has been illuminating, to say the least. Being a hormonally-driven lady, after a few months of tracking my mood, I found that there are 4-6 days a month that are low days. And they are suuuuper predictable. So now I mark those days on my calendar, and all those horrible things I tell myself during those days? they are nonsense, I can just put those on the shelf and look at them in a few days and make my decision later. Just the awareness that I have garbage days has made so much difference. I have permission to pause, permission to ignore. And I pause! And I ignore! Mindfulness … there’s a reason everybody is talking about it. (Now I don’t ALWAYS pause and ignore; I’m still a work in progress.)

Meal planning: I have a lot of bad eating habits. But: if I plan ahead, buy food, meal prep, and the meals and snacks are just THERE? Already taken care of? Then I am MUCH more likely to make good choices. And when your body is FED, everything is just so much better. So, so much better.

Medication: The brain is an organ, just like any other, and can malfunction, just like any other. Work with medical professionals to find the right answers for you. One word of advice: if you can possibly not be alone while you work through drug options and doses, don’t be alone. They can have wacky side effects. (They can also have dangerous side effects, luckily for me I just got the weird ones.) Also: TRUST yourself. If something isn’t working, you are the best person to know. Your doctor? works for YOU. If you need to stop and try something new, then your doctor should work with you to find that something new. There are a LOT of options available. Working with a psychiatrist (they are the experts in the brain meds), I found my drug and my dosage. Will I be on them forever? I don’t know. But for now, they are a vital part of my toolkit.

THERAPY: This shouldn’t be a luxury, but … it is. I am so grateful to have access to it. How do you think I found out about some of this stuff I keep in my toolkit?? I mean, I know there’s google … but, there are also experts who can provide specialized direction for you. And also: I am a person who needs to be held accountable. If I know I’m talking to Jenn once every two weeks, then ya better believe I meditate, exercise and do yoga at least once every two weeks …

Experts: There are so many experts out there! Some of them are bound to resonate with you. Keep watching TED talks, falling down internet rabbit holes, reading books, till you find your people. Here are some of my favorites:

Self care alarm: I have an alarm on my watch that goes of Sunday through Thursday evenings at 7:30 pm. (I take the weekends off.) And yeah, sometimes I ignore it. (Sometimes I try to ignore it, but the husband doesn’t let me. Get yourself a team!!)

But: it goes off, and I have a few hours before bedtime to focus on me. Exercise? Journal? Yoga? Buy groceries so I can meal prep the following evening? Pedicure? Blog? Organize my yarn? I don’t have to do all the things all of the time. But I can do one thing, some of the time.

Because I am worth it.

YOU are worth it. Build yourself a toolkit.

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