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Heart advice for difficult times?
May 30, 2013 8:46 PM   Subscribe

Looking for ways to soothe oneself during especially trying times in life. One day at a time is fine and dandy but its the hours and minutes that get excruciating, especially when everything seems void of joy and meaningless. If you have gone through some truly rough times, how did you soothe yourself in the moment? While many have family and friends close by, I have neither so I am looking for ways to manage my pain myself. Any tips and tricks will be much appreciated. Thanks!
posted by xm to Grab Bag (20 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
I used OhLife, a (zero cost) online email-based journaling service. It send you a reminder that you just reply to with your daily entry. After you've built up a few, it starts including snapshots into your daily reminder. (e.g. "Seven days ago you wrote" "30 days ago you wrote...")

Those looks back are golden for seeing what you've come through and how you've handled it.
posted by unixrat at 9:00 PM on May 30, 2013 [14 favorites]


Chekov says, "Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out."


Which, I don't know, at least one of the great chroniclers of the human heart understands your suffering. That helps me.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:04 PM on May 30, 2013 [13 favorites]


Follow the comfort. Do what feels good in the moment, because you need it right now. For me that's eating delicious (sometimes unhealthy) foods, biting my nails, taking naps, and marathoning funny television. Talk to the people you love, lean on them. That's why you have each other. Spend time with animals - your own or others'. Take long showers and sleep a lot. Go outside when you feel like you can. Be social when you feel like you can. Take time to wallow as hard as you can with no guilt. Talk to a therapist/counselor if it is at all feasible for you. Treat yourself the way you'd treat a dear friend in your situation. That is, be loving, be patient, be gentle, be kind.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 9:17 PM on May 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


There have been times where I've found retreating into old childhood pleasures helps me get through difficult grown-up things. Coloring in coloring books, listening to old Disney records, reading favorite childhood books (seriously, Harriet The Spy can get a person through just about anything). Try eating spaghettios and frosted flakes and other kid-food treats.

Also, be around dogs as much as possible. Cats are warm and fuzzy, but dogs...man, making a dog smile is one of the greatest feelings in the world.
posted by Brody's chum at 9:33 PM on May 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Escapism and catharsis through movies has been awesome for me lately while I've been dealing with some difficult stuff. I'm not ashamed to admit that I've worked my way through most of the films of Robert Downey Jr. that I hadn't already seen in just the past few weeks... I highly recommend taking a journey through the work of an actor or actress you like. Google Play, Amazon Instant, and Netflix have been great for this, especially for watching stuff on my phone with headphones on in between things.
posted by limeonaire at 9:37 PM on May 30, 2013


Follow the comfort. Do what feels good in the moment, because you need it right now.

This. I'm going through something right now, and "what feels good in the moment" has been watching all the Doctor Who episodes starting from the series prior to David Tennant's arrival, getting on an organized bicycle training regimen for the first time, and going out of my way to indulge strangers who try to start up conversations with me. When you're not feeling good, it's okay to indulge yourself a bit, provided that indulgence isn't (too) harmful and some of it gets you out of the house.
posted by davejay at 9:41 PM on May 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, be around dogs as much as possible.

Oh, yeah, and that. Definitely that. This would be a great time to volunteer at a rescue or shelter, because dogs need attention and people who work with animals regularly tend to be patient and empathetic.
posted by davejay at 9:42 PM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm assuming from the title of your question (which is a reference to one of Pema Chodron's books) that you are open to to Buddhism. In the moment of very challenging times (for example, I still occasionally experience some painful side effects from my cancer treatment a few years ago), I try to meditate on the mantra om mani padme hum, which roughly translates as "the jewel is in the lotus." Its meaning for me is that no matter what is happening and no matter how difficult and painful it may be, it is always essentially okay. Not "okay" as in it doesn't matter or isn't a big deal or shouldn't hurt, but okay in the sense that yes, it DOES matter (and that's okay) and it IS a big deal and it DOES hurt (and all that's okay, too). Or, to put it another way, just because something hurts doesn't necessarily mean anything is wrong; it is just the way of living. In this way, I find that I can sort of breathe into the pain/suffering/fear/anxiety in a way that helps me detach from it, enough to allow it to dissipate, even just a little. (Another way of looking at it is to think "whatever happens, I can handle it.")

Some people will find this morbid, but I also try to meditate regularly on the fact of my own mortality, and to think about what it would take to die with as little fear or regret as possible; this always takes me back to the idea of how to live a good and meaningful life, based on who and what I really have in my life right now, and how I can connect with them (and myself) lovingly and compassionately. This is something that also gets taken up in Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (this is the translation I prefer), who was a Stoic philosopher (and Roman emperor, on the side!) and whose work contains some surprising parallels to Buddhism and which has given me a lot of comfort and insight, too. (Oh, and In the Face of Fear is a collection of shorter Buddhist writings that has been useful as well.)

It helps to have comforting rituals or actions associated with all of this -- I have a plush throw blanket and a heating pad that are never far from the bed or the couch, for example, so that I can curl up and make myself as physically comfortable as possible, which helps get the breathing slowed down, which is the first step to being able to sit in the moment with whatever's going on.

I also second the suggestion for easy, low-pressure, pleasurable diversions, like coloring or re-reading favorite books from childhood.
posted by scody at 10:15 PM on May 30, 2013 [14 favorites]


A few years ago, I thought I would never, ever get through my tough times. But I did, in the end, despite major setbacks. You will too. Be kind to yourself in the meantime.

I had a few things that really helped. The main thing was writing - move some of those thoughts away from your head and into a journal. It was a lot easier to sleep when I'd spent some time pouring my anger and sadness into words on a page first, so I didn't have to dwell on them over and over. Second was also to allow myself to feel bad and to treat myself if I felt like it. Marathon TV nights (Dr. Who, Torchwood, and bad cop shows for me), favorite foods, re-reading favorite books, walking in the woods and taking photos, whatever felt good. Also allowing myself to not be perfect. You're having a tough time - it's OK to let the laundry slide for a day or two.

But I think the thing that really finally allowed me to move on was learning to say "Yes, I will" to things, even when I was having almost crippling social anxiety issues. I forced myself to be social and to go out and DO stuff even though I didn't feel great about it. It made a huge difference in a "fake it 'til you make it" kind of way. I didn't really have any friends left at that time, and no family nearby. But I learned to say yes to invites by colleagues and acquaintances, went to concerts by myself, attended seminars, saw movies, visited museums and National Parks, went to sporting events, tried out new restaurants, etc. Doing so kept my mind off things because I was busy, and led to loads of new experiences too. It also netted me some time with people who are now good friends. Staying busy was key for me, even though I mostly really wanted to lay in bed and cry.

Just know that you can get through it, even if it takes distracting yourself a minute at a time.
posted by gemmy at 11:16 PM on May 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


I used a variation on progressive relaxation/deep controlled breathing for pain management during my first labor/delivery (the Bradley Method), and I've found it useful ever since as a way of riding out times of intense physical and emotional pain. If you Google the terms "progressive relaxation" and "abdominal breathing" you'll find lots of descriptions, scripts, and guided audio resources to help you practice (some examples here). Once you get down the idea by practicing for longer sessions, you can do mini-relaxation exercises just about anywhere. I've found it helpful not just with stressful/anxious situations but also when feeling overwhelmed by feelings of sadness: I find that when I stop "fighting" the physical manifestations of emotion and instead just relax into them they are able to pass over much more quickly.

In a related vein, I find guided audio meditations and visualizations very calming, relaxing, and uplifting. I prefer ones where there is flexibility to imagine myself in a safe, cozy place or a tranquil woodland meadow and not the proverbial "on the beach" because I really hate the beach :-)
posted by drlith at 3:24 AM on May 31, 2013


This is probably terrible advice, but I have gotten through some of the worst times in my life by smoking marijuana.
posted by corn_bread at 4:10 AM on May 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


talking things out helps. Since you mentioned having no friends and family near by, open any video program you have and talk things out to yourself for 5-10 minutes every day (and upload to a private video blog, like tumbler). Treat yourself as your best friend and don't look at these videos to criticize yourself. This helps me air out things more than writing does.
posted by mirileh at 5:00 AM on May 31, 2013


I use Klonopin and Tylenol PM.
posted by jen14221 at 5:52 AM on May 31, 2013


Fiction, especially mysteries because the problems get solved in the end. Exercise, walks in nature. I'm particularly fond of woods and beaches. Yoga, zumba, whatever feels good in a class with other people. Food: for me that means splurging on pricey fresh fruits. Getting enough sleep can be hard for some people. I discovered a couple of years ago that plain old benadryl (the PM ingredient in Tylenol PM) works great for me, I sure wish I had known that sooner.
posted by mareli at 6:15 AM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I tend to lean heavily on my hobbies during bad times. Working with miniatures of any kind reduces stress for a lot of people--dollhouses, model cars whatever--as does fine hand work, like embroidery or crochet.

Nthing movies/comfort TV. It really helps to get out of your own head for a while.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 7:27 AM on May 31, 2013


As the hurt is in the mind so must be the cure.
Music and / or Meditation can be great helpers.
Some people use a mantra or inner chant for when times get really rough to help ground themselves.
posted by adamvasco at 7:35 AM on May 31, 2013


I got through a tough time by listening to many episodes of the Mental Illness Happy Hour podcast.
posted by Asparagus at 8:58 AM on May 31, 2013


It took me a long time to learn that feelings don't always require action. I can be angry, frustrated, sad, and the feeling will not damage me permanently. I can wait it out, at the very least. Feelings are real, valid and important, but you don't have to engage every emotion. Yes, I'm aggravated that my car battery dies because I left a door open. I have this feeling of aggravation, anger, frustration and stupidity; these feelings will melt away on their own, especially after I get a battery charger.

Remember that you are loved, lovable, valuable, important, and other fantastic descriptors. Post a list on the bathroom mirror, car dash, on your keys, and 10 other places if it will help you remember these true things.

Meditation of some sort helps manage stress. So does exercise, even if it's a 10 minute walk at what should have been lunchtime.

Get good nutrition, and probably take a multi-vitamin. Get some sunshine and fresh air every day, maybe as part of exercise.

My favorite self-soothing methods are: long bath, with candles, bath crystals, a cup of tea, and a book; non-exciting television - nothing suspenseful, just an hour or 3 of mindlessness; engrossing easy-read books like mysteries, light fiction, light biographies, etc. When I'm stressed, I don't sleep well, and reading helps me get my brain off the stress loop, and I usually get back to sleep after a bit.

As others have said, be kind to yourself. You deserve compassion from others whether you get it or not. You deserve it from yourself as well.
posted by theora55 at 9:23 AM on May 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


So lets say you have an hour. First, short walk with a camera. Twenty minutes or so, set a goal to take ten pictures. Really look around you and just snap whatever looks interesting. This is a good way to live in the moment AND distract yourself from your stress at the same time. Then home for a hot bath or shower to relax you. Then another twenty minutes in bed with your feet elevated, burning a candle with your favorite scent, possibly adding some kind of targeted meditation to help you focus.

I promise you will feel better. And this will pass, time is a wonderful healer.
posted by raisingsand at 9:54 AM on May 31, 2013


It's such a small thing, but if I'm having a genuinely terrible time because of anxiety or depression, I've found that taking a few minutes to play a Boggle-style spelling game on my phone can help me get through the four minutes it takes to play. There's something about shifting gears to a system of small rewards--even if it's for a very short amount of time--that can make some unbearable moments bearable. The phone is also helpful because it's portable, and unless I'm driving I can take a few minutes to play wherever I am (even if it's in the bathroom.) And at times when it hurts to even breathe, a low-effort game works better for me than the walk I would take if I could only get this fifty-ton stone off my heart.
posted by corey flood at 9:49 AM on June 2, 2013


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