Six-minute read. Guest post by Jessica Thompson, Counselling Psychologist in/from Kingston, Jamaica.
Happy Monday everyone, this very informative and engaging #mentalhealthmonday post comes courtesy of Jess whom I was delighted to meet two weeks ago vis-à-vis JAMHAN. We’re both passionate about eradicating the stigma around mental illnesses so I asked her to do an article for the blog which I’m pleased to share today. I hope you’ll learn from it, enjoy reading it as much as I did and hopefully be inspired to tell others. #mentalhealthmatters! — Tami
Therapy is an interesting and helpful exercise. I think it’s a way of personal growth, which, though tiring and difficult, can be beautiful in its own way. In fact, part of what drew me to pursue Counselling Psychology is my passion for facilitating personal growth in other people. That being said, therapy is also challenging. It makes you think about, analyse, pick apart, then put back together all of the difficult thoughts, emotions, and events in your life, and can be a massive undertaking when done wholeheartedly. Part of what makes therapy successful is whether or not you use the skills you learn, so what makes it “stick” is a commitment to facing every day challenges with the (hopefully helpful) therapeutic techniques your counsellor suggests.
The biggest part of what makes it successful, though, is whether or not you actually go to therapy. As a counsellor, and as someone who has also been through counselling on multiple occasions, I recognise that not everyone is in a position (emotionally, financially, etc.) to pursue therapy, so here are five suggestions for doing therapy on yourself to cope with difficult emotions:
- Recognise that emotions are normal. Negative feelings can be tough, but they are a part of human existence. Everyone feels them. Allow yourself the luxury of being human and just feel what you’re feeling. There is a culture of badman-ism in Jamaica which prohibits emotion in a way that, quite frankly, is very unhealthy and is likely perpetuating the stigma of mental illness in this country. Emotions do not make you weak. They make you a person, which I think all of us can attest to being.
- Challenge yourself to think positive thoughts. That sounds so clichéd and simple, I know, but it truly does make a difference (this is especially key for those experiencing depression, since your brain gets used to being without the ‘happy’ neurotransmitters and begins to produce/receive less of them). Challenge yourself to counter every negative thought with two positive ones, especially in times of self-doubt. This is a great way to steer oneself away from the inevitable snowball effect of negativity; but since I just told you that it’s okay to feel what you’re feeling and sometimes you’ll feel negative…
- Limit your wallowing time. Sometimes it becomes necessary to wallow. It can be therapeutic to ruminate on your feelings and therefore gain a better understanding of them. This is perfectly alright and is actually part of being authentic to your emotions, but do impose a time limit on your contemplation. Once your time is up, do something deliberate and counteractive (e.g. if you’re sitting down, stand up and walk around) to interrupt the thought patterns that are governing those feelings and move on with your day.
- A great way to end your wallowing session is to turn your focus outwards. This is actually a therapeutic technique from Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (which is very practical and accessible for controlling intense emotions, Google it if you’re interested). Part of what keeps the cycle of negative emotions going is our tendency to think about ourselves all the time. In times of prolonged distress, distract yourself by doing something for someone else, like calling a friend and asking how they are, or doing a favour for someone. Negative emotions are okay (and inevitable), but they don’t have to control your day.
- Lastly, find a way to let them out. When my mind is in a frenzy, I like to write down free-flowing thoughts on a piece of paper then tear the paper up. I don’t even re-read it because that could easily lead to a cycle of negativity. Some other suggestions for ‘letting it out’ include: writing in a journal, talking to someone you trust, creating art, or doing vigorous exercise. Practising a safe way of expressing your emotions is a crucial point in therapy which you can do any time you want or need to.
These are some concrete, everyday strategies that I have used for myself and my clients to manage difficult emotions. Please also try to seek professional help if you feel that your emotions are impacting your life in greater ways.
I hope they’re helpful!
About the author: Jessica Thompson holds a MSc. in Counselling Psychology from Northeastern University in Boston, MA, USA with a deep interest in normalising mental health care and making it more accessible. She has provided counselling and psychotherapy in a variety of settings, including a college counselling centre and a program working with chronically homeless, mentally ill young people. Click here to see her online resume and feel free to contact her for job opportunities via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.