Avoiding (or Re-routing) the Sad Thoughts
July 6, 2015 7:44 PM   Subscribe

In serious need of ways to keep myself from dwelling on recent bad news.

I've had a rough weekend. In short, I found out a friend from high school passed away, my dad is being considered for a really rare (and delicate) surgery to deal with his cancer, and I had a fight over something stupid (my fault entirely) with my partner of nearly a year, so she's taking time to mull things over. I'm honestly terrified she'll break up with me. (If it matters, the actual chronology is fight, death notice, surgery news.)

Over the past few days I've had unexpected fits of crying and I've felt a near-constant hitch in my chest. I've been trying to distract myself as best I can with other things, but, without going into specifics, I'm kind of limited in how much I can do to occupy my mind.

Assume that I can't attend therapy (because reasons). What strategies do you have for staying out of your own head long enough when you feel like you're on the verge of breaking apart? How do you keep the sadness at bay to function like a "normal" adult? Or, to borrow from Inside Out, how do you acknowledge the sadness without it overwhelming you? Thanks for any ideas and insights you have.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sure a lot of people will say meditation, which can sound daunting when you're feeling upset, but just a few minutes of sitting still, focusing on your breath, and doing a body scan helps me. Try to locate the feeling in your chest and describe it without judgement. Is it tight? Is it cold? Is it changing? This really helps ground me in the present moment and helps to keep my thoughts from overwhelming me.
posted by annabellee at 7:55 PM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

So you can't go to a therapist, but you can do your own cognitive behavioral therapy via self-help books. I recommend Rick Hanson "Just One Thing" for immediate gratification.
posted by falsedmitri at 7:57 PM on July 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

1. I say the serenity prayer even though I am not in any way religious because it helps me remember that I can only control what I can control. Which is almost nothing.

2. I allow myself to be sad. It's one thing to distract yourself and another to stuff away those feelings and try to pretend they don't exist. Seriously sad things are happening. A therapist once told me we actually have 3 choices when stressed out: fight, flight, or flow. She told me to try feeling my feelings but not to drown in them. To allow myself to be sad without going into black-and-white catastrophic thinking. As in, "It's so sad I had a fight with my partner. It's so sad my friend died. It's so sad my dad is ill. I'm feeling afraid about my relationship's future and afraid that my dad will die." Which is different than "I'm so sad! I'm so afraid! My gf is going to dump me, my dad's going to die, my friend just died, shit, life isn't worth living, I'm useless, yadda yadda." Please note: This is not easy.

3. Create a self-soothe kit (or list) of a music playlist (with songs that make you feel good), videos/TV/movies that help distract you/improve your mood, and activities that do the same (cold shower, warm bath, fluffy pillow, pretty coffee table books, whatever). And use it to help pull yourself out of the undertow if you feel like you're drowning.

4. Notice is anything makes your mood worse and avoid it. I just started using SelfControl again, an app that blocks websites, because I've been depressed and going on MetaFilter and some other favourite sites early in the morning actually worsens my depression. So now I'm staying away except for the hours of 4 to 8 pm. It's an experiment.

5. Any exercise whatsoever (jumping jacks for a count of 25; walking down the street, whatever) almost always improves my mood. There is science suggesting it's not just me. So try it.

6. Experiment!

So sorry you are facing all of this. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 8:00 PM on July 6, 2015 [11 favorites]

Journaling really helps me with this. I find it best to do it first thing in the morning. I start writing and I don't censor myself at all and I keep going (usually a page or two) until the well just kind of runs dry. Days when I manage to do this go so much better.

Be kind and patient with yourself. That's a lot to deal with over just a few days.
posted by dawkins_7 at 8:20 PM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Music, deep housecleaning, Netflix binges. Not necessarily in that order.

I'm sorry you're having a rough go of it. Hugs to you!
posted by cooker girl at 8:36 PM on July 6, 2015

Lots of little personal check-ins. Are things unusually shitty for me right now? Yes. Am I handling these things to the best of my capabilities, which may be lessened given the shittiness? Yes? Onwards!

I do not mean to diminish any of your pain, but the terrible part is that shittiness is somewhat routine. People die, people have medical traumas, they have fights -- it's all part of the human parade, and you can't get the good parts of that without the awful parts.

There's no way to live a good life without dealing with some horrible, awful, traumatising filth. It's part and parcel of being human.

Acknowledge the pain, let it wash over you, cry, and right yourself and press on with being the best human you can be.

Concrete distraction/being a good human things might involve seeing what practical things can be done for the people closer to the dead one, helping out with purely practical matters for your dad, and being a good boyfriend even if you're not sure where it's going right now. When everything is horrible for you, try to help others -- it will take your mind (momentarily) off your own horrible, and it's the thing to do. That it will help you is a happy side effect.

I am not religious but the secular equivalent of 'vaya con dios' is a good one, I feel. Know that you are not alone in suffering, hope for protection and healing for your loved ones -- and for yourself. Go forward with the awareness of your own humanity.

One thing to focus on during your current storm might be that you will learn new skills, and that they will almost certainly be very, very useful ones -- you will be able to help friends and loved ones in the future from having done that, been there, and got the t-shirt.

I hope things work out well for you and yours.
posted by kmennie at 8:45 PM on July 6, 2015 [10 favorites]

2nd kmennie. Some things are just sad, OP, and you've just got to feel them.

I'm sorry you're being hit with all this at once.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:01 PM on July 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

Call them.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:31 PM on July 6, 2015

Read When Things Fall Apart and meditate when you get overwhelmed, is what worked for me once. I'm sorry for all of this.
posted by salvia at 11:10 PM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is too much to reasonably expect oneself to deal with at once. Give up on expecting yourself to function like a "normal" adult, because that's a crazy expectation sometimes. Sometimes when this happens I just kind of throw up my hands and say fuck it, everything sucks right now, and I can't deal. Maybe I'll cry. I'll let go of any expectations that I handle the situation "well" or be "normal" in any way, expectations that would add to my stress and unhappiness. Keep on feeling shitty because things are shitty right now and pretending they're otherwise will prolong the agony. Sit down and feel the sadness, anger, whatever. Feel it in your body. Focus your attentions there and just fall into it. If your body convulses with crying, let it. Go deeper into the feelings & even emphasize & exaggerate them (the physical feelings, where you feel the emotions in your body - not your thoughts so much). Then, when you're worn out from that, keep shrugging off responsibility & expectation while you go outside for a walk. Get some sun on your skin. Feel the air. Do the jumping jacks that were mentioned above.

In short, accept that you literally can't even right now. Let go of everything. Then go move your body around.
posted by univac at 11:27 PM on July 6, 2015

Just this weekend? This isn't a pathological thing that needs therapy, this sounds like an actual horrible situation where quite possibly the best thing to do is prolonged crying jag, messy drunk, a sad movie evening, long slow stroll by the waterfront, whatever is culturally appropriate for you to express sadness and fear, maybe with a trusted friend.

In other words, creating some time and space to wallow in it, so you can climb out of the wallow after feeling purged, is what I recommend.

Also, if you have a best friend or worthy relative to talk to, this is the time when you are justified in unburdening on them. A lot of what therapists do boils down to listening while you talk it out.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:37 PM on July 6, 2015

Sometimes life is shitty, and sometimes life is a shit sandwich with shit fries and a shit shake for dessert.

It sounds like you are reeling and traumatized, and understandably so. Here are some things I try to do when life gets horrible.

* Seek out audio visual comfort food. Think of something from your past that you associate with better times, ideally something kind of sleepy and relaxing. A favorite childhood TV show, movie or novel is good. If there was some show you loved as a kid and it still holds up, maybe it's time for a mini-marathon.

* Indulge in some actual comfort food. Don't go on a crazy bender and give yourself diabetes, but if you are really in a bad way, maybe today is the day to treat yourself to some damn pie and ice cream.

* Turn to friends and family. If you've got some. If not, put making new friends on the list of things to do.

* Be as good to yourself as you'd be to another person. It's easy to bog down in self-pity, make excuses or be far more harsh to yourself than you'd ever be to somebody else. Consider how you would treat a friend who had your problems, and try to treat yourself that well.

* Scream. Go for a drive and scream in your car with the windows up. Warning: this will rip your throat all to hell. It also may not help much. But it's a thing to do.

* Play video games. Any game where you can mindlessly do stuff and not get killed over and over again. Playing games on "god mode" can be good. You want to be absorbed, but not stressed.

* Creative pursuits. If you can channel this energy into something creative, do that. But if you're too strung out to make anything worthwhile, don't force it. You don't want anything else to add to your stress.

I don't know anything about your relationship, but you've just had a bad one-two punch with your friend dying and your dad's surgery. It's possible that if you contacted your partner and said, "I was an idiot and I'm sorry and I've had some really awful news and I miss you badly right now," maybe she will want to be there for you. But you know her and you know the situation, and I don't.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:02 AM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thinking of something funny is easier/more effective than trying to think of something which is just happy. It sounds simplistic, but have a two or three good jokes or a good scene from a movie or something, and just drag your mind back to funnything when you start to get overwhelmed.
posted by anaelith at 5:07 AM on July 7, 2015

Exercise HARD. (But only if you already exercise--if you're sedentary you'll just hurt yourself.)
posted by mchorn at 6:55 AM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

That sucks, I'm sorry.

A lot of people would disagree but if it was me I would call your partner and tell her what happened with your friend and your father. It's times like these we need the support and kindness of the people who love us, and whether or not she decides to break up with you she'll probably put her anger on hold to help you through an emergency.

Me and my boyfriend got through something really tragic last year by getting into pyjamas, watching Netflix marathons and eating an unhealthy amount of mc and cheese- it was good to have company but you could do those things alone, too.
posted by Dwardles at 6:58 AM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Several other people have suggested that you allow yourself to experience the emotions. I think it's a good idea, but I do it in a way that seems different from what has been described.

I disassociate from my emotions during the day so I can function and act like a normal person. But when I am really sad about things, it stays with me. So I watch sad movies that make me cry. There are times when the reason I am crying comes through (usually after I have started crying from the movie) but it allows me to work through the emotions without having a huge breakdown.

I'm not sure if it will work for you but it may be something to try. 7 pounds with Will Smith is a go to movie for me. Also Home Room (2002).

Good luck working through this; I hope you're able to find something that works for you.
posted by initiavit at 10:55 AM on July 7, 2015

Cling to the present: try to realize that nothing is hurting you in the current moment, except your thoughts.
posted by macinchik at 10:51 PM on July 7, 2015

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