Feelings Rookie: Coping Skills

We woke up in a different world on Wednesday.

It may have looked the same, but in the familiar hustle and bustle of a city stirring from sleep, there was an undercurrent of fear, as clear and unambiguous as the theme song from Jaws. America has elected to the highest office a man who regularly spews a wide breadth of bigotry, someone who intentionally creates fear of the “other” to bind his own followers together. And unless you’re in his followers’ group – which apparently includes half of America, but it’s important to remember it doesn’t include the other half – you’re likely stressed out and scared.

That’s what this election season was designed to do to us – to empty our gas tanks, to wear us down until compliance, to prey on our basest fears of losing our lives and our liberties.

I woke up at about 7 a.m. that morning after, when the dogs needed to go out. I thought I’d go back to sleep, but instead I lay there, staring at the ceiling, wide-eyed and motionless. It scared my wife. I kept saying, “People of color don’t matter. Women don’t matter. That’s what this taught us, people of color and women don’t matter.” (That was before I knew how the female vote, especially the white female vote, broke down. But I still posit it’s possible to be a woman and not care about women, not really.)

It seemed there was no way out, no way to avoid what’s hurtling toward us. It feels as though we’re self-aware dinosaurs, watching the asteroid flicker and spark its way toward annihilation.

That’s OK. You are allowed to feel however you feel, for as long as it takes for that feeling to work itself out. But even so, it’ll likely mean having to pull ourselves out of our emotions to continue existing in our everyday lives; I can’t go to work and stare dead-eyed at the wall and expect to keep getting paid.

So we have to cope. Coping is a huge part of our lives anyway, and we all have our schemes, whether they’re conscious or not. I’ve become more conscious of mine in recent years, and I’d like to share what I call My Arsenal. I’d also invite you to share your coping skills in the comments.

If your situation is looking too grim and you’re considering hurting yourself or others, please reach out, there are people who can help you.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255, also has online chat options

Crisis Text Line: Text “Go” to 741741 for trained crisis counselors, 24/7. Free and confidential

The Trevor Project, for LGBTQIA people, 24/7: 1-866-488-7386, text and online chat options also available


But I’m Panicking Right Now?!

OK! That’s OK. Breathe in through your nose for three seconds. Count them. Put a hand on your abdomen to feel your breath. Your chest should remain mostly still with these big, belly breaths.

Exhale through your mouth for three seconds. Make it loud, a big sigh breathed out and extended.

Follow the instructions in this gif:

breathing gif

There’s also the practice of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) that is designed to alleviate distress, especially in cases of PTSD or traumatic memories.

Here’s a gif harnessing this theory, all you have to do is follow the paintbrush with your eyes. Don’t move your head, just move your eyes, over and over.

And if that panic attack hits you anyway, the Anxiety Coach has a nice system of steps to help yourself out of it.

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Remember: a panic attack is a fight-or-flight response and can’t always be trusted as an accurate representation of your situation. It might make it seem direr, more life threatening than it reall is. There’s no shame in it, and it won’t last forever. Breathe. Just breathe.


Substances

Do you know what I miss the most about drinking alcohol?

The ease of it all.

Do you know what scares me the most about drinking alcohol to mask my pain?

The ease of it all.

More than three years ago, I gave up booze cold turkey because it wasn’t working for me anymore. I was using it to cope with a life that seemed to be falling apart, when my dad was ill and dying and my partner and I weren’t clicking. It was easier to twist the caps off a few beers and forget for a few hours than to face my emotions head on in the light of day. So instead of feeling, I drank. And drank. Then, to switch things up, I drank some more. It started affecting my personal life; it made it hard for me to keep a train of thought for more than a day.

Me giving up booze doesn’t make me believe alcohol is bad for everyone. Just because I abused it doesn’t mean everyone else has such a tenuous, painful relationship with it.

So I’m not going to tell you not to drink away the sorrow or don’t take that shot to numb yourself to the pain. I’ve been there. I get it.

All I’d say about alcohol – and weed and whatever other substances you may imbibe – is that your problems will still be there when the haze recedes. I would regularly ignore that fact, and then, because my anxiety and depression were unchecked, I’d freak out in the mornings because I either felt terrible physically, or I wasn’t sure if there was someone I needed to apologize to.

When I thought I was helping myself by giving myself a mental break during those drunken hours, I was actually hurting myself because I didn’t have the emotional buttresses in place to prevent a collapse the next day.

I also think it’s important to remember that while fun and an easy way to let loose, alcohol is a depressant. That’s just chemistry. So if you’re headed into it with a sad, upset mindset, it might just magnify that.

The only time I get I get angry about other people using alcohol and/or substances is when they get behind the wheel of a vehicle. Don’t drink and drive, please. We need you around.


Mindfulness/Meditation

Now that you know how much I loved to drink, I bet you can guess how thrilled I was to try mindfulness and meditation (reader, I was NOT thrilled).

Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment, not thinking about the future or the past, just existing as you are now. Sounds simple, but it’s really hard when you don’t like the now you’re existing in.

But I have to admit it works. When I feel overwhelmed with anxiety, I make myself go outside and pay attention to my senses. What does the air feel like on my skin, what color is the pavement, can I smell the snow on the horizon, what are the sounds of my neighborhood?

There are no less than a billion mindfulness meditations you can find, but I really love this morning wake-up routine from Mindful.org.


Happy Place

In times of trouble, I find myself either running to or yearning for the outdoors. I feel more whole in nature, and my problems feel like they’re in the proper perspective.

Nature is my happy place, because I feel like I can say anything to the trees and they’ll absorb it and continue on like I should, my roots strengthening all the while. This is my Happy Place, and I can visualize my favorite sitting rock next to a great lake up here.

My real happy place on Stanton Lake, Montana Photo Copyright: Molly Priddy

My real happy place on Stanton Lake, Montana
Photo Copyright: Molly Priddy

Where can you physically put yourself to affect your mood? Is it in a cozy living room, feet up while you recline on a couch? Do you find solace in the activity and buzz of a shopping center?

Wherever it is, if you can get yourself there, do it. My Happy Place recharges my batteries, even when I thought I was doing fine.


Therapy

I love and hate therapy; love it because it’s truly changed my life, hate it because it’s a lot of work and I sometimes I just DON’T WANNA, you know?

Talking it out to a professional, though, helps me so much. It connects dots, it allows me to verbalize the hubbub floating around in my head. When I’m particularly anxious, my brain feels like it’s going a million miles an hour in a circle, and can spiral into a full-fledged panic attack.

This isn’t a good feeling!

Therapists and mental health professionals of all stripes can help you understand what’s happening in your body and brain, though it’s important to note not all therapists will be a good fit. Shop around a bit, find someone with whom you connect.

I also know I’m privileged enough to have health insurance that covers my visits to my therapist, and that not everyone is in the same boat. Here’s a resource from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America for finding low-cost treatment, and a guide from CareForYourMind.org about what to do when you can’t afford therapy (a big key is knowing it’s OK to talk about cost with a potential therapist! They understand!)

There’s no shame in my game about getting help. And if you’re on the fence about therapy, I wish you bravery and honesty in your journey (oh man, that’s the most therapy sentence I’ve ever written).


Find Your People

Surrounding yourself with Your People is important in times of big emotions, whether the feeling is negative or positive. I capitalize Your People because I think of my chosen friends and family as My People, a group of human beings who mesh and know me and still love me.

I don’t know many of the people on Autostraddle personally, nor do I know you, reader, but I know just from the fact that you’re here and reading that you could be some of My People.

Find the humans who will support you, who build you up, who meet your despair with an open heart and strong shoulders, who don’t make you feel small for expressing yourself, who actually listen to what you’re saying.

Don’t let anyone tell you your people have to be your friends in meetspace. Online friendships are just as legitimate and real; some people might not agree, but I feel confident in saying that’s wrong. If someone is giving you guff about this, send them to me. We find love and friendship where we can, so to ignore any of it is to salt the soil of that garden.

Find the love out there and revel in it (animals count!). The world may feel like a nightmare, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have pockets and bubbles of dreams here and there.


Reach Out and Help

Sometimes the only way I’m pulled out of a depression or anxiety funk is to see the same fear and stress in my friends and/or wife and try to help them feel better. It might seem like I forget my own to focus on theirs, and that’s probably how it worked for me in the past. But now that I’m more honest about my emotions, I see that my pain and fear makes it easier to relate to others in my situation, and we can actually help each other.

It’s so comforting to say, “I’m scared,” to someone and have them say, “I understand, and I know how you feel. It sucks.”

Talking to each other destroys the barriers of isolation we may build in times of terror. Reach out to the people around you, Your People, and open the communication lines. It can have the same effect as therapy, because you can bounce your ideas off another brain.

Say it, write it, paint it, scrawl it in sidewalk chalk in front of their home, I don’t care. Just offering that branch can help remind you of your strong trunk, your roots, your strengths and your purpose.

And if you’d like to reach further and help more, if having that sort of purpose gives you peace. Here’s a list to consider.


Self-care

Probably the best advice I’ve received from my therapist is this: When you want to be destructive or mean to yourself, be gentle instead.

Sounds simple, but it hits at the core of my previous coping skill methods, which were to internalize the pain and inflict on myself, whether through drinking or bad decisions that messed with my life.

Instead of wishing someone would punch me in my face to knock me unconscious so I don’t have to be awake right now (a common thought running through my brain when I’m really far gone), I do a breathing exercise or look at photos of my dogs. Or pet my dogs. Or take myself on a walk to photosynthesize about the problem. Or watch any of the Real Housewives series.

Whatever your most indulgent self-care is, do it, and do it shamelessly and religiously.

I usually appreciate the posts on TinyBuddha.com for their simplicity. That link will take you to a list of 45 simple self-care practices; if it seems silly or stupid to do, swallow that pride and do it anyway. You may feel like you’re doing something silly and therefore vulnerable, but you’re helping yourself. Go all in. Nobody has to see.


Disconnect

It can be tough not to stare at the horror show unfolding right now, but it’s also not necessary. You don’t have to witness everything, you don’t have to keep reading and watching.

It’s OK to take a break, to turn off your phone for a bit and put your brain somewhere else completely. The world won’t stop being bizarre while you’re focusing on yourself, there’s plenty to gawk at when you get back. Give yourself permission to distance yourself from the news and social media, for at least a little while.


Connect

You have a safe place at Autostraddle. The good humans here know and see what’s happening, and they are ready to help you get through this, help all of us get through this.

Isolation is the enemy here, even if it feels comforting at first. It’s natural to want to hide away while you lick your wounds, and I support that. Take your time, but remember to come back.

I’m here, Team Autostraddle is here, and half of America is here. You are not alone, and I won’t stop fighting for you.

Absorb the connections you have, tend to them as you would a plant. Some don’t need water every day, but some might. It may just surprise you, and shoot straight to your heart, when that care is reciprocated.

It will be, here.

Molly Priddy is a writer and editor in Northwest Montana. Follow her on Twitter: @mollypriddy

Molly has written 43 articles for us.

21 Comments

  1. Thank you for this. Last night I made a decision to remove myself from Facebook because I could feel myself backsliding into a hole of depression that I wasn’t sure I could easily come back from. Everything feels overwhelming and out of control and I feel like everything I expected out of my life for the next few years has been ripped away from me. Everything is unstable.

    We have to take care of ourselves and we have to take care of each other. This is going to be hard but we have to carry on.

  2. Thank you, I really, really, really needed this today. Also, bookmarked for the many days I’ll need it again. Honestly, even just reading this, not even doing any of this stuff made me feel a lot better already and it’s an incredibly helpful and comprehensive list. And sometimes all you really need is to know that other people feel this way, too. Really glad this place exists 🙂

  3. Thank you. I wish I had this six months ago. “Now that you know how much I loved to drink, I bet you can guess how thrilled I was to try mindfulness and meditation” is an attitude I can relate to. I found this meditation video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92i5m3tV5XY helpful when my friends were all “just breathe deep and imagine yourself as a grain of sand in time” and I was like EVEN SAND MAKES ME ANXIOUS. Thanks for your honesty.

    • hahahah omg imagining myself as anything made me anxious too, though I think more because it felt like a test/opportunity for failure. this whole post gave me a lot of feelings and I also related a lot to the whole drinking feelings, checking out approach. thank you Molly xx

  4. Thank you so much for this. I have been having an awful time the past few days and really needed the reminder that it is not necessary to be constantly connected to every awful thing that is happening all the time. As well as the reminder that far away or online support is just as valid. This was very helpful 🙂

  5. Thank you. I’ve been feeling like I’m having one long panic attack for the last few days. Full on heart racing, trembling, feeling like I could throw up or start crying at any moment. I really needed this.

  6. Please please note: not half of the US-population voted for Donald! Only about a quarter! The largest group were those who did not vote!

    (according to census numbers from yesterday: 95.2 million Americans have not voted that is 42 % of those eligible to vote. Hillary Clinton: received some 60.1 million votes (26.5 %). Donald: 59.8 million (26.4 %))

    Just had to say this, because I feel this is important – the supporters are not the majority of people in the US!!! – and I stumbled over the first paragraph.

  7. Adding to the litany of “thank you, this is exactly what I needed today.” I’ve bookmarked this, so that I can come back to it many, many times in the coming days and weeks.

    Also, I know I’ve been more of a lurker than a commenter here on AS—but if anyone reading this needs to talk, or just feel like someone else cares about them and is listening, PLEASE feel free to PM me. We are all in this nightmare together, and I am here for you.

  8. The combination of my therapist leaving her job at the end of the month, surprise insurance problems, and her center’s rules seem likely to mean that I’m not going to get to see her again.

    I just found out that she was leaving soon–we haven’t had time to make a plan.

    I really like her and I got pretty attached. I am terribly sad. This is a really bad week to be suddenly bereft of my only extra-familial local support (found out about the insurance problems the day of the election, found out I probably wouldn’t be able to solve them on Friday).

    But we’d made a lot of progress. Enough that I believe I can do this without her, or an immediate replacement (I know there are options, I’ll look into them eventually, but I really don’t want to have to change people again soon and I think my insurance is too up in the air right now to be able to start with someone I expect to be able to stay with).

    I hate that I have to say goodbye over email, or on the phone next week when the center tells her the insurance problem still exists and she calls me to tell me I can’t come.

    I feel awful, but I think I have the tools to move through that to something else and to keep doing the work I need to do. I think I have the tools to start to make something more useful out of myself and to do necessary things in this sad scary moment in time.

    Anyway, thank you for adding to those tools and thank you for reminding me that you are all out there caring.

  9. Thank you so much for writing this and sharing your own journey so honestly and beautifully. Like some others, I made the decision yesterday to way cut down my time spent on Facebook because it was limiting my ability to function and think about anything else. Having resources both for self-care and for eventually volunteering/reaching out to help makes me feel like we can do this. So thankful for Autostraddle as a whole, too.

  10. I discovered that expanding triangle-to-octagon thing on Tumblr a while back and it’s helped me so much. I keep it in my bookmarks bar and use it often. I find that when I’m anxious or panicking, it’s hard to pace myself BY myself, so I need something aural or visual to keep time for me, and that GIF is perfect.

    There’s also an app called Breathe that I’ve found really helpful. Its actual name in the App Store is super complicated, but if you search for “Breathe – 4-7-8 Method – Keep Calm,” you’ll hopefully find it. The seller is SLAY PTY LTD if that helps. Basically it counts out the seconds that you need to inhale, hold your breath, and exhale, so you don’t have to worry about counting for yourself, you just focus on breathing.

  11. thank you. truly. this sounds like my thoughts online, but the best part is that it isn’t, and i’m not alone. which i know. but this makes it more real. anyway, thank you. i wish we were friends.

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