Tried and true resources on emergency coping skills?
November 11, 2017 2:55 PM   Subscribe

So my life has had a big, ugly, bad change in the last 24 hours, for reasons that are unambiguously my fault, and I'm in the level of emotional crisis that makes people ask if you're safe being alone. (I am safe, no worries there - please assume this is true.) I need more ideas than I currently have about how to cope with this in a healthy way. What resources on emergency coping skills for big crises have worked for you and yours?
posted by centrifugal to Human Relations (27 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
This is strange, but it is genuinely meant:

I cry. There’s nothing materially wrong with crying, it doesn’t harm anyone or me, and it makes me feel much much better to cry, wash my face and take a nap, in that order.
posted by tooloudinhere at 3:03 PM on November 11, 2017 [18 favorites]

I'm so sorry. If you just mean emotional coping strategies, like how to sit with big, horrible feelings, what often helps me is remembering that tomorrow will exist, whether my life is a mess or not. The sun will come up, people will go about their business. I will continue to exist. If things are lousy for me, it will not change the turning of the earth or the fact that other people have their jobs and their lives.

I will also say that sleep is something I do when I'm emotionally struggling--this might be biological, though, and not something you can choose. But I often sleep when I'm miserable and wake up--sometimes I don't really wake up for a couple of days--with a duller pain than I started out with.

But at the beginning, when things are fresh, you sometimes just have to feel the pain.

Depending what's going on, your loved ones may be more or less helpful to you, but if there are people you can reach out to who will support you, that can also be a big help, at the very least as a reminder that you are not alone and abandoned--there is still something positive in your life.

I hope this helps a little.
posted by gideonfrog at 3:08 PM on November 11, 2017 [5 favorites]

Exercise. Wearing myself out makes me less likely to stay awake and fret at night, and long walks feel good.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:12 PM on November 11, 2017 [10 favorites]

Ugly cry while driving somewhere deserted (but safe) so I can just sit in my car and scream at the Universe for a while
posted by Hermione Granger at 4:33 PM on November 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

I downloaded an EMDR light therapy video this afternoon.
It just gave me eye strain.
Next I'm going to try watching a video.
This is my new normal. You just have to ride it out, like surfing a wave.
posted by Salvation at 4:37 PM on November 11, 2017

I watch Stargate, read metafilter, eat, and hide inside, until I feel a little better. Then I cry and write in a journal, or tearful or angry draft emails. Then I talk to friends and set up therapy, if it looks like it'll be long haul. These things are not discrete and I go 'backwards' as needed.
posted by Salamandrous at 4:55 PM on November 11, 2017

Crisis helpline.
posted by charlielxxv at 4:59 PM on November 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had a really bad thing happen to me a week ago, and I could not agree more: crying. Really hard, full-on, loud, ugly sobbing. I found the shower a particularly good place to do this...something about the running water let me really get going, and like kanata said, you can only do it for so long. By the time the hot water ran out, I felt utterly wrung out, but also clean and warm and ready to move on with another form of gentle self-care...reading, journaling, therapy, funny movies, good food, talking with friends, etc.
posted by anderjen at 5:01 PM on November 11, 2017 [11 favorites]

If I can, I sleep - sometimes it doesn't work if the crisis induces anxiety/adrenaline.
posted by Pax at 5:03 PM on November 11, 2017

Four things are important to me in these situations:

1. Feel my feelings
2. Give myself a break from feeling the feelings (so I'll set a timer for maybe 10 minutes and cry, mope, etc then go do something really distracting)
3. Keep contact with other human beings since isolating myself leads to bad things
4. Take care of myself (shower, eat well, go for walks, sleep, keep a consistent daily schedule)

And, finally, when it all feels just overwhelmingly, impossibly bad, I do my best to breathe. Just fucking breathe and make it to the next minute.
posted by mcduff at 5:14 PM on November 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

When you are crying, screaming, and swearing, don’t forget to occasionally have a huge glass of ice cold water. Feels great. Rehaydrates you, soothes your strained membranes, and halts the worst of it.

Let someone take care of you in some way—a call, a visit, an errand, whatever. You won’t want this, but it will help.
posted by kapers at 5:59 PM on November 11, 2017 [5 favorites]

The above advice is rightly targeted to your immediate crisis situation, but if you are an anxious person, I would personally recommend the book "SOS Emotions" by Lynn Clark for later.

If you want to get a VERY condensed summary he has a free resource (single page PDF) here which is linked to from the Free Resources site here. The focus is on managing our own self talk to avoid or deal with anxiety, fear and anger. I have seen how changes in my self talk have changed my perceptions and (to some extent) my reactions to unexpected problems and stress.
posted by forthright at 6:16 PM on November 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have been known to sit in bed crying and eat all the icing off a McCain Deep and Delicious cake. Then I read a fantasy or horror novel (usually Stephen King or Game of Thrones). The problems the characters have (red weddings, ghosts), are always worse than my problems, and it just lets me sort of downgrade my consciousness of my own feelings. Hope you feel better soon.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 6:17 PM on November 11, 2017 [8 favorites]

I go into the bathroom and I talk to myself in the mirror. It forces me to look into my eyes, gesture wildly, and do something besides stew and get lost in my hate-spiral. Sometimes this self-talk stuff gives me ideas on how to get out of the situation I'm in and sometimes it is just really reassuring to hear my own voice and feel my feelings out loud since my tendency is to hold onto them like they are myyyyy preccccciousssss.

I also load up other people's pain on Youtube - anything about grief and loss and overcoming that. That helps me realize that my pain, while valid, has a long way to go to match up this other pain out there and if these people can get out of their horrorshow? I can do that too.
posted by missh at 6:39 PM on November 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Crying, if you can. I often can't even when I know it will make me feel better.

Journaling can be a good substitute for crying, or you can cry while you write. I hate writing by hand, and having a physical notebook makes me uptight about the possibility of someone finding it and reading all my emotional carrying-on, so I use a private online journal with a password. Just ranting on the page, getting all those feelings out there. Rant at the universe for whatever circumstances led to the current situation, rant at yourself for your part in it, rant at anyone else who had a hand in it, be ridiculous and unreasonable, be contrite, write letters you won't send. Write out your plans for moving forward, such as they might be.

Whenever I am super-upset, I find a good hot soak in the bathtub helps me to deal. Or a hot shower, hot tub, whatever. Not as a "spa day" or whatever, I'm not adding bubbles and oils and a face mask (although if that's your thing, go for it.) Just a nice hot soak or shower, hotter than normal but not punishing, seems to get me to that "wrung out" place that dulls the emotional storm for awhile.

I look to see if there is anything I can read on the topic of what is causing my upset. Self-help books, how-to-fix-this books, real accounts of people who dealt with this thing and came out the other side, message boards... anything that helps me to figure out what my next move is, and also not feel so alone with whatever is going on.

Distraction. Cleaning, organizing and decluttering is good, it's useful and it helps with those feelings of helplessness. It satisfies that urge to DO something, when there isn't really anything you can do about the actual thing that is upsetting you. You can ruminate while you clean and the physical exertion helps to release the emotions you generate; or you can listen to an audiobook or podcast to escape from your thoughts for awhile.

Or, if you are finding it hard to get out of bed or off the couch, funny movies or videos can give you a little lift. One thing I like when I am really down and can't focus on a book or a movie is reruns of older comedy shows such as I Love Lucy or the Andy Griffith show. Simple plots, familiar characters, unsophisticated humor, happy endings. I find it very soothing, even if I only have it on for some background noise.

I hope you start to feel better soon.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 6:41 PM on November 11, 2017

Just in case your reaction tends towards freezing/paralysis and you find that you're numb or can't cry, I have a few suggestions:

1) My therapist shared a grounding exercise that helps me recognize I can cope with the world and with my feelings. Basically find something small to engage all 5 senses - I'll usually look at cute animal photos, smell perfume or vanilla extract, taste a spoon of honey, wrap myself in a soft and fuzzy bathrobe or sweater and then stroke it for a few moments, and listen to ocean sounds or the tap in the bathroom. The order doesn't matter and it's not meant to be a perfect or long exercise. There have been days when I ran through this cycle a few times. It may seem strange doing it, but as someone who dissociates, it's been immensely helpful in keeping me present (your mileage may vary if you don't experience dissociation).

2) This website: (first heard about here)

3) Licking my wounds with comfort tv/movies but then leaving the house after a few days. Going grocery shopping, sitting by the water, driving, plans with friends, all are good ways to get in a different mindset.

4) Believe in your ability to cope.
posted by A hidden well at 6:51 PM on November 11, 2017 [7 favorites]

Nthing just lie down and let yourself feel the excruciating pain.

Before that, do the absolute minimum of what you need to survive: make sure that your garage door is closed, there is toilet paper in the bathroom. Then go lie down and let the feelings wash over you. Because the longer you try to push those feelings aside, the longer they will stick around.

And then you will be able to get up again, eventually. *hugs*
posted by Melismata at 6:55 PM on November 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

For me - yes to the crying. Then I run. I wasn’t a runner the last time I really was knocked off my feet, and I don’t mean the exercise kind. I mean run across a park like I’m running away from everything until my lungs are burning and my eyes sting, fall down, do it again crazy running. Cemeteries are weirdly good place for this.

Then, dirty, sniveling, exhausted, feeling dumb...a bath and hot chocolate, a light comedy, or sleep.

Hang in there. It’s going to be ok for some value of ok.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:23 PM on November 11, 2017

Lots of great suggestions; I hope some work for you. I find that sometimes I forget to breathe anything more than shallow breaths when I’m in this place, and the feature on my fitbit is surprisingly helpful—it guides me through deep inhales and exhales, and when it’s done I’m in a place where maybe I can rest better, or think more clearly, and I feel a little less out of control. There may be a phone app for this, meditation or the like. Or just count yourself through the longest 10 inhales and exhales you can muster. All the best to you.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 7:52 PM on November 11, 2017

hello! seconding all of what other people wrote; also, I have a been compiling a depression cheat-sheet for several years as a google doc which is all of the handy information and tips I have come across, thought of, and compiled for times of distress, pain, and struggle. Perhaps you can give it a gander and see if anything strikes you. You are a worthy human and we all make mistakes. I also like watching this TED Talk; in short it is about a man who murdered another man in his youth and his path to self-redemption. I always think of this when I am beating myself up about a mistake I have made; it is nothing in comparison to the self-compassion journey of this man, and if he can do it, so can anyone, I believe.
posted by erattacorrige at 8:30 PM on November 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone. These suggestions are all much better than getting extraordinarily drunk, screaming and wailing like a banshee for two hours until I threw up, and then falling asleep, which was what I did last night. (None of these things are how I normally behave or respond to problems. This is the worst thing that has ever happened in my life.) I will try some of these and maybe check in with the crisis line also - I constantly refer other people to crisis text, might as well use it myself.
posted by centrifugal at 8:43 PM on November 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

I keep reminding myself that:

A. In five years this will all be past history and life will go on*, and;

B. I really have no choice but to keep moving forward, so I might as well get working on it.

Also, right before I remind myself of those things, I usually yell several loud, angry curse words into the air. Then I realize I'm scaring the cats, so I stop.

*of course, there are some situations that will end up affecting you for the rest of your life, but even so, in 5 years things will have changed and you will be coping better.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:44 PM on November 11, 2017

Compassionate touch. Warm up your hands and rub them over your face; gently rub your arms; comb your fingers across your scalp and gently pull your hair. Whatever you find soothing.
posted by delight at 11:24 PM on November 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

(None of these things are how I normally behave or respond to problems. This is the worst thing that has ever happened in my life.)

This was late last May for me. A crises level I did not know existed in me. Lasted about a week.

My solution was to actually engage with my fantasy solutions that were going to fix things. In my case moving 200 miles away was going to make everything better (it wouldn't). I drove out and spent a day getting to know the town, checking out listings, etc. I invited a realtor into my current home to give me an estimate and some ideas for improvements. I made the improvements. I committed to moving as fully as I could while keeping in mind that I might drop the whole idea shortly.

Indulging the fantasy solution gave me enough time to adjust to the fact that the situation just wasn't going to be fixed. But in the meantime I felt like I was doing something and that helped a lot.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:14 AM on November 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Sometimes it helps to write things down in paper. If I put it down, then I don't have to carry it for a little while. Typing or on the computer does not have the same effect.
I'm sorry you are going through this. It will be better someday.
posted by SLC Mom at 1:59 PM on November 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry you're going through such an awful time. I was in crisis mode for a solid month last year, and here are some things that helped me:

- You probably don't feel like eating food or drinking a ton of water, but low blood sugar and dehydration do NOT help matters, so try to make this a priority. I highly recommend smoothies -- you get calories AND hydration, plus they taste awesome.

- Don't be afraid to ask for what you need. If it would help you to sleep at your parents' house, or have a friend take a day off of work to sit with you, or to borrow your somebody's dog for a few days, then just ask.

- Echoing everyone else who mentioned crying (so cathartic!) and journaling. I have a Word document on my laptop that I use for this purpose, since my hand-written script can't keep up with my crazy fast brain, and it really helps to pour out my soul this way.

- For times that I needed to take a break from my feelings and be distracted, I found the combination of podcast + jigsaw puzzle was a lifesaver. I can't even calculate how many hours I spent doing this last fall, and it was immensely soothing to me.
posted by leftover_scrabble_rack at 5:30 PM on November 12, 2017

Have you seen this ted talk on emotional first aid?

It's given by a psychologist, and I think it basically makes 3 main points:
(i) Self-compassion - everyone screws up. You're not alone.
(ii) Distraction - focus on something else instead of ruminating
(iii) Taking productive action - if you know there's something positive you can do about the situation, wait till you're calm and then do it.

Take care friend!! :)
posted by Crookshanks_Meow at 5:38 PM on November 13, 2017

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