I find that the most important thing when living with a mental disorder is stress management. Stress is something that can affect anyone working under too much strain for too long. The more strain we live under already the less we’re able to deal with unexpected events and emergencies. You might recognize when you’re having a bad day, your mood is already bad from the moment you drag yourself out of bed, and after that, every little thing that goes wrong just stacks up until you reach a point where you just want to give up on life, go home and bury yourself under your comforter for the rest of the day and possibly the next too.
Each little thing that goes wrong could be packed into a box and labeled as “a stressor” and each new box stacked on top of your mind represents the strain on your psyche. Balancing one box on top of your head is obviously a lot easier than balancing five or six. At one point or another, you will reach a point where even one more tiny box might send everything tumbling down over your head. Some people might naturally be able to balance more boxes than others, but we all have a breaking point.
My psychologist explained stress to me with a model similar to the the cute drawing above. I think the model was developed to help people with ASD and their families understand what causes meltdowns and how to manage their lives in a way that minimizes chances of such things occurring. But I think it’s an excellent model to explain stress and burnout as well. For us living with a mental disorder simply managing day to day life is already a strain and so it takes less boxes to push us to our breaking point. Luckily, we can make use of our symptoms to gauge where we’re at on the scale. Typically, symptoms worsen the more stressors we’re dealing with.
So, the first step in stress management is to sit down and try to identify the stressors in our lives. These are the things that drain our energy, that cause frustration, or put pressure on us. For instance, as an introvert social interaction tends to drain me, so I need to make time for myself to spend on my own in order to recharge. Even having to manage chores and deciding what to have for dinner can become draining when I’m already bogged down by other things. Another thing that puts a strain on me is uncertainty. Especially if I know there’s a chance something unpleasant is going to happen. When I worked for this grocery store delivering wares from storage and various providers to the two stores, I found I started to increasingly dread when we had to deliver to one of the stores in particular. Because there was a chance we would have to park the van on the opposite side of a busy road from the store and there was no crosswalk where we had to cross. I was always scared to death crossing the road, afraid of getting run over. The more times I had to deal with this unpleasant situation, the more I sought to avoid it until I stopped working for that company altogether.
One thing I was a little surprised to realize was that one of my favorite hobbies: gaming, actually contributed more to my stress. This is because games are typically goal-oriented and having to overcome challenges tends to encourage adrenaline production, which is very detrimental to getting your body to relax. I even had to quit playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons because the time-locked nature of the game stressed me out so much. I did not deal well with having to play the game on certain days in order to participate in events and gain items and recipes that I wanted for my island. Oftentimes, the events unfortunately often coincided with periods where I was too busy with other things to even think about spending hours playing Animal Crossing just so I could look for the recipes I wanted, which would appear at random – which was incredibly frustrating. Having to participate in combat is obviously also detrimental to getting your body to relax and most games tend to have some kind of combat element.
Rather, activities that are actually relaxing can be quiet, creative hobbies such as knitting, painting, or reading. Even just sitting on youtube just watching cute animal videos for a while is quite relaxing. Apparently, looking at cute fur-babies doing cute and funny things makes our brains produce the happy-relaxy juice.
Some might also find journal-writing quite relaxing with the added effect of putting your thoughts and emotions into words to help offload worries. Exercise is another thing that can help the body relax better and lower blood pressure. Obviously, doing the exercise itself might feel awful and straining, but it does help in the long run. One could even use the exercise as a way to channel anger and frustration in a healthy way. For an extrovert, something like going out to a dance club might be considered relaxing. But if so, one might consider holding back on the alcohol consumption.
Speaking of alcohol, certain foods and drinks might put more of a strain on your body, which in turn puts a strain on your psyche. For my own part, I have a couple of food intolerances which causes my intestines to protest quite painfully and often times even keeps me awake at night.
Sleep is another important thing to consider, which is quite a problem and a source of worry for an insomniac like myself. Stress management blends neatly into managing your sleep cycle as things that stress you out often contribute to terrible sleep, which in turn adds even more to your stress.
So, once you’ve identified the things that put a strain on you and the things you find pleasant and relaxing, the challenge comes in successfully balancing the two. You can’t simply remove all your stressors, but making the effort to reduce them will in turn reduce the time you need to dedicate to recharging. When you know what activities put a strain on you, you can take steps to plan some especially pleasant activities to balance things out when you know you have to do something particularly strenuous. Or when you have to deal with an unexpected stressor, taking steps to decompress afterward will help lessen the impact quite significantly.
Once you start to successfully manage your stress levels, your symptoms should also lessen. Perhaps even to a point medication is no longer necessary. Although your symptoms can return as soon as you’re put under more strain again, so you might have to make permanent concessions in your life in order to stay healthy and happy. Prioritizing is an absolute necessity.
For my part, there are jobs I’ve had to realize I can’t ever do as they’re simply too stressful. I’ve also had to change my diet quite a bit, of which the hardest part has been having to go without my favorite treats and snacks. In turn, I haven’t had to cut down on my gaming too much, which is nice.