Everyone has problems in life from time to time and may find difficulty in coping with everyday living. Some people may, for example, have experienced or be experiencing trauma, abuse, relationship breakdown, bereavement, illness, depression, anxiety, - which are just some of the issues which can make it hard for some people to cope and lead to anxiety and depression.
Every individual has to take responsibility for their own emotional and physical wellbeing. Unfortunately nobody can waive a magic wand and make it easier for a person to cope in the world or make a person happier or less depressed. Counselling and having the right kind of support can assist in a person’s journey to healing and recovery but the person also has to do a lot of work themselves. Making small changes in behaviour and thinking can make enormous differences in our ability to function and cope and feel less stressed with life, which will ultimately lead us to feeling happier.
If you are reading this now because you are finding it hard to cope and feeling unhappy, there are things that you can do to help yourself. I hope the following will be an aid to anyone who is struggling with life at the moment:
Taking Responsibility/Being In Control
You may be finding it hard to cope and be depressed and possibly self harming in one way or another (cutting, eating disorders, drug, alcohol addictions, etc.) because of some trauma or unhappiness related to the past – perhaps even in your childhood. Taking responsibility for your own life is recognising that yes, what was done to you was wrong and has resulted in you being unhappy but you cannot use being hurt in the past as a reason for staying unhappy and self harming.
Taking responsibility is recognising that you are now responsible for your own happiness and choices – you can choose to stay where you are and do nothing and stay unhappy or you can choose to try and help yourself to feel happier and to cope more easily with life.
You may be in an abusive relationship where you are not in control of your own life. You can choose to stay in that relationship and go from one controlling relationship to another or you can choose to walk away from abusive relationships and be your own person, making your own choices and decisions and only having healthy positive relationships where you are valued and in control of your own life.
You may have come out of a relationship and be blaming your ex partner for your unhappiness now – taking responsibility is recognising that your partner may have contributed to your feelings of unhappiness then but he/she has no control over you now and you are now responsible for either staying in that unhappiness blaming other people for how you feel or choosing to move on from that, putting the past behind you and doing everything you can to help yourself to a happier present and future.
If you find it difficult to take control of your own life and to assert yourself many local colleges run Assertiveness or Personal Development Courses and details of local, distance and online courses can be found by contacting Learn Direct 0800 101 901 www.learndirect-advice.co.uk. A useful book for helping with self confidence is “The Confidence To Be Yourself” by Dr. Brian Roet ISBN 0-7499-1926-4 Judy Piatkus Publishers. There are many other books relating to confidence and assertiveness available from DABS Mail order Book Catalogue 01255 851115 www.dabs.uk.com. See also Sections on this website on Assertiveness and Self Esteem for more resources.
Moving from Victim to Survivor
The word ‘victim’ conjures up images of weakness, helplessness, not in control. The word ‘survivor’ conjures up images of strength, determination, in control. Yes, you may well be, or have been, a victim but to move towards healing, recovery and a happier life – you need to become a survivor. To be determined that the person/s who may have caused you pain and unhappiness are not going to destroy and mess up the rest of your life and that inspite of what may have happened you are going to move on with your life and be a stronger person because of it.
Accept Yourself Unconditionally
We can all be very judgemental and critical about ourselves and we receive many calls from people who say they hate themselves because they may be too fat, too thin, too short, too tall, not clever enough, not outgoing enough etc. Accepting yourself unconditionally is accepting you as you are including all the things you may not like about yourself and all the things you may want to change about yourself.
Nobody is perfect and if you think about members of your family and friends I am sure that none of them are perfect with perfect figures and perfect characters. I guess there are things about them that might irritate, things about them you may not like too much, however, you still love them inspite of the fact that they are not perfect. Therefore you are loveable inspite of all the things that you may not like about yourself – they are part of you which makes you a loveable person so learn to like and love and accept yourself and focus on your strengths and not your weaknesses.
If a person judges you or only wants to know you for the way you look then that person is not worth knowing. You want healthy positive people in your life who are going to value you and want to know you for you and ultimately your character and the kind of person you are is more important to people than a person’s looks alone.
It is important to remember that pictures of models and celebrities in papers and magazines are often touched up, airbrushed to create an illusion of a perfect person. In reality most models and celebrities have bits about themselves they don’t like, have spots, have wrinkles, have flabby bits just like everyone else so try not to compare yourself to other people. If there are things you don’t like about yourself it may be possible to work towards changing the things you can change and making the most of your good features and character and accepting that which you can’t change.
Accepting yourself is also accepting that you are special and unique. It is not helpful to compare yourself to other people because other people may not have been through what you have been through and if they had been through your experiences they may also find life difficult to cope with. Nobody can be perfect and if you set yourself the goal of being perfect you are always going to be down on yourself for falling short of that goal – instead of striving to be perfect make your goal a realistic one – try to do the best you can and nobody can ask for more than that.
Letting Go of Pain/Expressing Feelings
Life is too short to hold grudges against other people and the people you may be holding grudges against have probably moved on with their lives and the only person it is damaging is you. Sometimes people hurt others through ignorance and lack of understanding but holding grudges will only hold you back and contribute to your unhappiness. If people have wronged you, hurt you, abused you find a way of letting go of those feelings. Nobody is saying you should forgive those who have hurt you as many people cannot forgive and there is no reason why you should forgive unless you want to, but you need to find a way of letting go of the pain otherwise it will destroy you.
To let go of feelings you first have to be able to express those feelings, through writing a letter to the person who hurt you (which you don’t have to send unless you want to) and when you are ready throwing the letter away as a symbol of letting go of the past, you can talk to a close friend or a counsellor about how you feel, you can express how you feel through painting, other artwork, dancing, exercise, self defence, hitting cushions and pillows.
It is important to express feelings in a healthy way – too many people don’t do this which can result in self harm, eating disorders, addictions etc. If you want to be happier and move on with your life you need to find a healthy positive way of expressing your feelings and not keep them buried inside you. As we said before it is important to take responsibility for your own life and to look at ways of helping yourself which includes finding healthy ways of expressing feelings which in time will mean you can let go of the unhealthy ways in which you may be coping at present because maybe that is the only way you know how.
Counselling/Support and Information
Find out as much as you can about your condition, illness, state of mind etc. This can be by contacting helplines, reading leaflets, books, research on the internet, talking to your GP etc. If you are finding it hard to cope then counselling can help some people. A counsellor can help you to look at different ways of coping, can help you to see things in a clearer light, can help you express emotions in a safe environment and can assist you in moving forward with your life. It may be useful to keep a list of helplines you can contact should you need to and some people may find it easier to talk over the phone or email or write to a helpline than talking to someone face to face. Be responsible for finding a support network which can also include self help groups, online support groups etc.
Remember you cannot force other people to change – you can only be responsible for yourself and changing yourself. For example if your partner does something which makes you angry you cannot force your partner to change that behaviour but you can change the way you react to that behaviour.
Letting Go of Old Beliefs
Many beliefs we have about ourselves may have been given to us as children. Some people have the belief they are stupid, bad, worthless because that is maybe how they were made to feel by their parents. Their parents may have made them feel that way because they themselves may not have been able to cope, they may have had addictions, and not known how to parent in a healthy positive way. If you have not been given a feeling of love, safety, self worth, as a child it is not surprising you may have carried those feelings with you into adulthood. However taking responsibility for yourself is recognising that as an adult you can choose to let go of those beliefs about yourself, to recognise that parents are not always right, just because your parent may have called you bad that does not mean you are a bad person so let go of those negative beliefs about yourself.
If you have been abused your abuser may have made you feel bad, worthless, dirty, but separate how you were made to feel from the person – what your abuser did may have made you feel bad, worthless dirty but that does not make you a bad, worthless, dirty person. Separate the feelings and the actions from you as a person. If your friend told you he/she had been abused and felt they were bad and worthless you would immediately say they are not bad and worthless so you need to say that to yourself and talk to yourself as you would a friend. Let go of those beliefs which logically you can see you no longer need to hold onto. By holding onto those beliefs you are staying a victim but remember you can choose to become a survivor.
Everyone needs to feel safe in the world and when you get in a state and find it hard to cope and feel unsafe take responsibility for trying to deal with that in a positive way – ring a friend, ring a helpline/counsellor, take out photos/pictures which make you feel happy, cuddle up with a cuddly toy, hold a shell to your ear and imagine you are by the sea, imagine you are being hugged by a loved one – find the right thing for you which makes you feel safe.
Negative Self Talk & Positive Thinking
If you want to be happier and heal from past hurt you need to stop running yourself down, criticising yourself, saying horrible things to yourself. Start by being aware everytime you say something bad to yourself and try to immediately say something nice and positive. Congratulate yourself when you do things well or things you are proud off, start to notice and congratulate yourself when you do cope with things, try and start and end the day by saying something nice and positive to yourself.
If you cannot care for yourself as an adult remember there is a little girl/boy inside you who wants to be loved and cherished and hear nice things said – so start to try and talk in a nice way to this little girl/boy inside you and that may help you ultimately to take care of your adult self in time. Instead of focussing on the negative things try and focus on the positive things in life. Everyone makes mistakes – learn from your mistakes and don’t crucify yourself for making mistakes. Learn to accept compliments from people with a “thank you”.
If you mess up on something you can say “I messed that up but I’ll try and do better next time or do it differently next time” don’t say “I’m stupid, I’m a loser, I’m a failure” – when you do things well, when someone makes a nice remark, when something works out, when you have a good day, make a note of it in a book and when you feel really down and think nothing works out right for you read the notes in the book to remind yourself of successes and achievements and the times when things are going well which may be easy to forget.
Keeping Things In Perspective
When feeling depressed or anxious about something it is important not to let those feelings take over and dominate your whole life. A useful exercise can be to draw a circle and divide the circle into 8 sections, and in one section write down Depression, or anxiety or stress and if you know the reason add that in too e.g. anxiety about starting new job, or depressed over relationship breakdown, then in the other sections write in each section something good, positive, fun in your life e.g. family, friends, pets, good job, reasonable health, hobbies, sports, nice home, etc. You can if you like colour in the sections a different colour.
This may help you to identify that although you may have worries or depression you are more than your anxiety and depression, there are good positive things in your life to focus on, rather than focusing on one thing like the anxiety and depression and allowing that to dominate and control your whole life.
Try to spend some time each day on visualization techniques. Sit where you are quiet and relaxed and will not be disturbed. Close your eyes, and imagine a relaxing scene, could be spending time with friends, could be a lovely place on holiday, walking through the countryside, etc., Focus on that image and make the image as detailed and vivid as you can, e.g. if you imagine relaxing on the beach, imagine the warmth of the sand under your feet and how that feels, imagine the warmth of the sun on your body and how that feels, notice the colour of the sea, the sounds the waves make.
If you imagine walking through the countryside imagine the sounds of the birds you may hear, what the breeze feels like on your face, the shape of the trees and leaves, the colours of the trees and leaves, how it feels walking along in the peace and quiet.
Make the images as real and detailed as you can and imagine the feelings of safety, contentment, warmth, happiness you feel. Focus on that good feeling, how the feeling goes through your entire body relaxing you and making you feel calm and safe.
If you like while you have the image you can try a physical reminder of the image, like for example tapping your knee, or pressing your first finger against your thumb while thinking of this lovely image.Practice this exercise every day and then when you feel depressed, anxious, stressed, panicky, or having flashbacks, recall this lovely image, if you use a physical aid to help you like pressing your thumb against your finger do that to help you recall the image and let the feelings of safety, warmth, contentment, spread over you and keep focusing on that image to calm your mind.
If your room/home is filled with clutter, untidy and dirty it will more than likely make your head feel more cluttered, and make you feel more stressed and under pressure. Try and spend time each day to make wherever you live nice and tidy as far as you possibly can – if you are a hoarder ask yourself whether there are some things you can let go off. Create a pleasant atmosphere around you.
Taking Care of your Physical Health
If you are going through a difficult time even more reason why you should take care of yourself physically. When you are depressed the last thing you may feel like doing is going out in the fresh air and exercise. However if you sit in the chair all day or stay in bed and cut yourself off from people day after day how do you expect ever to feel better? If you can build into your daily routine going for a walk, ideally in a nice place like a park, beach etc., so much the better but even walking around the block on a daily basis will help if you persevere with it.
If you starve yourself you are going to feel more depressed, weak, faint, run down etc. You need to take responsibility for eating healthy well balanced diet so your body is getting the nutrients it needs. Being physically well and strong will help you deal with emotional difficulties more easily – if you allow yourself to become run down you will not have the strength to fight problems as they arise.
Try to get enough sleep, it can help having a milky drink before bed time, avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, avoid heavy meals before bed time, have the room cool, don’t work in the bedroom, try and wind down and relax before you go to bed, and try and go to bed and get up roughly the same time each day.
Find Time to Relax and Have Fun
If you are constantly rushing about, or getting stressed out or working too hard, you need to find time in the day to relax – that could be watching tv, listening to music, doing yoga, tai chi, walking, having a bath, - time which is for you when you can try and put any worries to one side and clear your mind.
Learn to have fun, laughing is good and it is ok to do things which you may have done as a child. Treat yourself to a day out once in a while, take time out of your routine to spend with friends, do things which make you feel good, which make you laugh, which make you feel happier. If you are sitting in your room listening to depressing music how do you expect to feel happier – put on happier music, watch a comedy on tv or video.
Finding a Purpose in Life
Some people feel they have no purpose in life, no meaning, nothing to look forward to. Take responsibility for finding something which does give you meaning, which gives you a reason to get up each day, which gives you something to look forward to. Take up a new hobby, a new challenge, voluntary work, anything which makes you feel fulfilled as a person. It does not matter how old you are, whether you have a disability, whatever your circumstances try and find something that has meaning for you. Other sections on this website may provide useful information and contacts. You have one life and have to make the most of it. The way you feel now is not the way you will always feel, you can make changes to improve your life.
Useful Resources (see also section on Counselling)
The following websites include details of self help, support groups, details relating to medical conditions, diseases etc. Please remember to consult medical/professional advice if you feel you have a medical condition/mental illness.
SupportLine keeps details of support groups for survivors across the country and details of other agencies, helplines and counsellors throughout the UK. You can contact us by phone on 01708 765200 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to SupportLine PO Box 2860, Romford, Essex RM7 1JA.
Useful websites -