Mind your mind: What helps when you're feeling low?

A conversation I had with a friend recently prompted me to write this week’s article. I was feeling weighed down by some unwanted human emotion hitching a ride on my shoulders, so my friend asked me, “What helps you when you’re feeling low?”

Thus began a journey down a winding path of self-analytical thinking — particularly about the things that are able to give me relief, if not joy, for my negative emotions. I’ve always been a restless person. Not just physically, but in my head too. My thoughts are always taking a walk in “Dreamland,” and how far they go depends on the day.

This restlessness results in finding a form of coping that comes more with doing than simply talking about my feelings. Don’t get me wrong, talking about how I’m feeling is helpful for me to work out my emotions and it’s comforting to talk to someone who cares, but I’ve learned through trial and error that talking isn’t enough.

For my friend who I was talking to, however, talking to people has always been a constant source of relief and help for her. Letting out her emotions in conversations held in a safe place with understanding people is what soothes her.

This idea of talking out ones’ emotions is commonplace on the modern day mental health front. “Maybe you should talk to someone about this” is a piece of advice that has constantly been thrown at me, as I’m sure it has been with many, many others. But I want you all to know — or at least, remind you — that that’s not the only way to deal with how you’re feeling.

This week’s article is dedicated to reminding all of you that you have options.

When you are in a rough spot and feeling low, it’s easy to feel trapped by your emotions. Maybe it’s nothing to do with how you’re feeling internally, but you feel trapped by your environment or a situation you feel helpless to control. Whatever it is, just know that there is a way — but no right way — to cope with your emotions.

What works for one person doesn’t have to and might not work for another. If talking to someone doesn’t help, and you don’t know what to do to pick yourself up, here are some things to consider.

The first and most important piece of advice I can give you is probably something you’ve already heard before: listen to yourself. Pay attention to your mind and your body. Get to know their patterns. In my experience, it’s the best way to give myself the care I need depending on how I’m feeling on any given day.

Sometimes your emotions demand to be let out in a physical way — now, I don’t mean smashing dishes (shout out to my coworkers at the Boulevard, you know who you are) or obliterating other innocent inanimate objects. For me, exercise is usually enough to dull whatever emotional edge is holding me hostage. A gruelling workout at the gym or a long run outside allows me to work off any restless energy I have, providing the balance I need for my body when my mind feels overworked. It doesn’t have to be just a workout — dancing, martial arts, competitive sports, recreational sports, hiking and even walking might help burn off negative energy.

Sometimes, art can pierce through the numbness you may be feeling, especially on days when you can’t bring yourself to care about anything.

Music. Painting. Literature. These things remind me what it’s like to feel something good, to feel alive. I know this rings true for many of my friends as well. Maybe seeking these things out will also help you on days when all else fails.

And sometimes, maybe you just need to go out and do things, with or without company. Sometimes you need to see new places and try new things to remind yourself there are better things outside your room, the library or campus. Sometimes you need to surround yourself with people who care about you to remind yourself that you are loved and important. Society and the academic system already effortlessly make you feel bad about yourself. You don’t need to do that to yourself on top of that.

Once in a while, you’re going to need a breath of fresh air. Whether it comes in the form of being outside by the ocean or in the mountains, surrounding yourself with good friends, losing yourself in art, or working your body until it’s exhausted, it’s entirely up to you. It can be hard to make the effort, but you won’t see the change you want unless you work for it.

The authors of this column are not mental health professionals. If you need additional support, please contact Student Health Services, Sexual Assault Support Centre and/or the Wellness Centre. In case of an emergency call 911.