Learning how to take care of your mental health: It's not a one-size-fits-all solution

Yesterday, I discovered something that doesn't help my mental health. And it's something a lot of people actually swear by. Of all things, I found out that a coloring book — yes, a coloring book — actually made my anxiety worse, not better. 

I know, I know, many people find coloring with crayons or markers, like they did as a child, to be soothing and therapeutic. There have even been scientific studies done about the health benefits of coloring. That's why, when my anxiety was particularly bad last night, I thought to myself, "I should try out this coloring thing!" 

I dug a coloring book and markers out from a drawer, and for a couple minutes, I was like, "Yeah, okay, this is helping!" But that feeling didn't last. Every time I colored slightly outside the lines, my anxiety grew worse. And then I tried to mix colors, and the colors started bleeding together. Although it was probably salvageable, I went into a tailspin, started hyper-fixating, and, naturally, completely destroyed it. 

After about an hour of this, I forced myself to put that mess of a coloring book page back into the drawer. Then I proceeded to berate myself, calling myself incompetent and telling myself I was wasting my life away.  

I know it's freaking ridiculous! All over a COLORING BOOK! A coloring book that, ironically enough, is titled "Peace and Calm Coloring." But that exercise in mindfulness turned out to be an exercise in a meltdown for me. 

After taking the time to calm down (and, of course, taking a Xanax), I realized it's okay that something which helps a lot of other people doesn't, in fact, help me at all.

Learning how to take care of your own mental health is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It's trial and error, and it's a process. Writing, listening to music, dancing around the house, taking a hot bath, watching a comfort movie, and, for some reason, doing the dishes — those are the things that help me. They may not help you, and that's okay. 

The only way you can figure out what helps and doesn't help your mental health is to try it out. Buy a coloring book and try it out.  A lot of people have found that it reduces stress, stimulates creativity, and increases mindfulness. And, even though it didn't work for me, it may help you.

Also, remember that something that helps your mental health one day could not help the next. Maybe, if I give it another chance, coloring could help me like it did when I was a kid. Maybe it just wasn't helpful with this particular panic attack. Or maybe coloring with crayons instead of markers would help. I won't know until I try.

Other common activities that may help reduce your anxiety include:

  • Quick bursts of movements, like doing 20 jumping jacks or running in place when you start to feel anxious.
  • Practicing mindfulness by focusing on your senses. Close your eyes and really taste your coffee in the morning. Light a candle or use essential oils and breathe in the scents. Focus on your sense of touch by using a fidget spinner or popping bubble wrap or holding onto an ice cube. 
  • Moving your phone out of reach. If I find myself doom scrolling on social media, sometimes I will throw my phone across the room (onto the soft surface of the couch, I'm not an animal!) to make myself stop.
  • Taking a walk outside. Even if it's cold outside, bundle up and go outside, because daily sunlight and fresh air have been proven to increase serotonin levels. 
  • Try journaling. If I'm feeling particularly anxious, sometimes I will start writing in a stream of consciousness, which often helps me identify my feelings. That's actually how this blog started —me just scribbling in my journal.

Self care is a journey. Sometimes it's a pain the ass to discover what works and doesn't work. It takes a lot of learning and a lot of patience, but it's worth it. 

Let me know in the comments what works — and doesn't work —for you.

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