Emotional First Aid

The Fresh Perspective Podcast - Episode 25

How’s it going everyone? I’m Nick and you are listening to the Fresh Perspective Podcast.

When you’ve been physically injured, quickly administered first-aid can make a dramatic difference in how quickly and fully your body may recover. As a society, we tend to take physical health seriously. As individuals, it is also easy to admit that we need help when we are afflicted with something like broken bones or severe cuts. But today, we will be talking about emotional health.

When you’ve suffered a devastating emotional injury, find yourself overwhelmed, lost, without a path forward, or when you feel completely closed off from the love and friendship of others, that should be taken seriously too. We all have had extremely bad days. We all have times in which we are overcome by feelings of depression, isolation, anxiety, and loneliness. If you find yourself in such a situation, don’t you also need first aid? In such a moment, wouldn’t it be nice to have within reach a list of ideas on how you can pull yourself out of a rut?

In this episode, we will look into several suggestions on what can be done. These suggestions have come from psychologists and from the participants of our past open discussions, like you. As you listen to this episode, I hope you have the chance to write down a few notes of things that you can do to give yourself some emotional first aid on your next bad day. Of course, if you get an idea of something other than what is mentioned here, be sure to add that to your personal list as well!

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What really makes you happy? What almost always lifts your spirits? For you, what can turn a bad day into a good one? If you haven’t had time to think about this, it may be hard to come up with more than one or two things. When you are in the middle of an emotional crisis, it may feel as if it is impossible to come up with even one thing.

Feelings of deep sadness or hopelessness can sneak up on you, much like a bad cold. Just like a cold, such a low emotional state can also be contagious. When our energy, willpower, or patience has been drained completely, we can surprise ourselves with how nasty and unfairly we can treat those around us. If you don’t like dealing with your own emotional health, I’d like to suggest that you should, not just for your sake, but for the sake of those around you.

I think it is a great idea to keep a personal list of things you can do to treat yourself when your emotional health is compromised. It is something that should be done long in advance before such painful moments. When the moment of need arises and we have no ideas on how to manage it, it can be easy to turn to overeating, drug abuse, or other unhealthy indulgences. Much like saving money for a rainy day, some emotional first aid should be carefully considered and prepared.

We can all benefit from creating a list of things we can do to recover. Whether you use your list tomorrow or in ten years, you are always better off prepared. So grab a piece of paper and a pen, if you’d like. Write “Emotional First Aid” up at the top, and write down the ideas that you think would work best on you. All of our lists will be a little different because we are all different kinds of people. In most cases, you will be the best psychologist for you, so it is alright to trust your instincts when it comes to deciding what to add or not add to your list. Keep this list in a place you’ll remember, and modify it over time as needed. The following are 12 suggestions that may work as part of your emotional first aid:

1. Write down Each Feeling You Felt That Lead to This Moment

Sometimes, to find our way back home, we must retrace our steps. The first suggestion I have is to develop your ability to detect these kinds of feelings, and the feelings that lead to those feelings. You may have been betrayed, which led to disappointment, which led to feelings of painful isolation, which led to self-loathing. A skilled doctor can examine a patient, ask a few questions, run a few tests, and make an informed diagnosis. This should be your goal when it comes to your own emotional state. How good are you at detecting when you are being more emotional than usual? Can you recognize when you are about to get angry, frustrated, or deeply sad? The next time you feel terrible, turn back the clock in your mind. Ask yourself what you were feeling before, and how your mood changed. Write these things down. What lead to what? What did you feel first, second, and third? Identifying the steps you took beforehand to reach how you feel at this moment can be helpful. This is an important skill to develop. It is one that can help you gauge exactly how serious your current situation really is.

2. Call a Crisis Line

I’m not a doctor, but I have been trained and certified in CPR and first aid. If I stood by you during a medical emergency, I would do my best to help. Sometimes, such help means calling 911. When you are in your lowest moments, is there a similar number you can call for immediate help? In an increasing number of countries and territories, there is. My second suggestion for you is that you save to your phone the number for your local suicide hotline. Go online and look up which number is dedicated to your area and write it down.

If you are in the middle of an emotional crisis, I hope you are comfortable with calling your suicide hotline. The suicide hotline is an amazing resource. It is totally free of charge, totally confidential, and staffed by volunteers who sincerely want to help. If needed, they can call 911, help you find medical help, help you connect with needed community resources, and so forth. But to me, the greatest value of this hotline rests in the fact that you can call them even if you are not suicidal. If you are having an extremely bad day and feel like you have no one with whom to talk, it is comforting to remember that they are always there, waiting for your call.

It is the simplest thing. You call the number and just tell them how you are feeling. You can rant for hours. You can call them several times. You can cry as hard as you need to and they will stay on the line. It is totally confidential. They don’t even need to know your name! Even if you say something like, “I am not thinking about hurting myself or anyone else, but I really need to get this off my chest,” they are still eager to help when they can.

3. Seek Professional Medical Help

Another thing to add to your list is professional counseling or pharmacological solutions. We can sometimes be stubborn and say something like “anti-depressants or talking to a psychologist is for other people, but not for me.” The truth is that your emotional health is just as important as your physical health. If you needed an operation on your heart to save your life, I hope you wouldn’t hesitate for one moment to accept professional help. Likewise, you may need the miracle of modern medicine to save your life in an emotional crisis. To me, we are comparing apples to apples. Sometimes, formal treatment is the best option.

For the rest of the suggestions I have for you today, I am now going to shift to more self-help style treatments. There are many things we can do on our own that won’t cost us much money or time. There are times when you only feel a little down, and only need a small amount of emotional first aid to pull yourself back up.

4. Talk Openly with Others about Your Experience with These Issues

This is my self-treatment of choice. Sometimes all I need is a friend or family member to listen while I rant. This simple solution, just talking things out, is actually the basis of many psychological programs. Powerful emotional healing can take place as you put what you are feeling into words. Scientists aren’t 100% sure why this works so well, but they do know that it works. Call up someone you know. Ask them if they have a minute. I like to say something like, “I have really had a rough day at work, would you mind if I rant for a few minutes?” Talk it out. Explain what you think is making you so miserable, so anxious, or so angry. Talk until you run out of things to say. Talk about the things that are bothering you. This can lead to important discoveries. If your rant uncovers a small detail that is getting under your skin, then you now know the source of your problems. If you can determine what the problem is, then you are now on the road to discovering a solution to that problem.

Talking things out with a friend or family member can help you feel more brave and empowered to do what needs to be done. Sometimes you are lucky, and they end up giving you great advice. A conversation like this can calm the storm of emotion and let your logical mind take over. It can take a confusing mess and organize it into a clear path forward.

If you have a chance to come to a “Support Circle” meeting of your local Free Thought Forum, then that is a place where you can rant about the things bothering you to a group of people who want to help. Sometimes you just don’t have super patient friends or helpful family members. In those cases, I hope you can turn to our organization for some good listeners.

5. Head Outdoors for Some Sun, Fun, Exercise, and time with Nature

Our distant ancestors lived their entire lives within the natural world. As any camping enthusiast will tell you, a reconnection with nature can have deep psychological benefits. There is a certain peace that comes from stepping out of the complexity of modern life. Get out of your house. Leave your phone behind. Let your toes touch the grass and sit under a tree.

Getting some sunlight on your skin has been shown to positively affect your mood. We all need some vitamin D, and the best way to get it is by soaking up a little bit of sun. If you can, get some fresh air. If you have been cooped up indoors or near the pollution of city streets, then it is understandable that your emotions have taken a hit. Your body and your mental state need to recover from being cooped up for too long. Take a drive to a park on the edge of town. Go for a mild jog. Visit a friend an hour away. Get some fresh air, and give yourself time to breathe deeply.

I’ve gone into details about physical exercise in our episode about healthy habits you can follow to be physically healthy. Without spending too much time on it here, I’d like to add that it is important to appreciate the connection between one’s body and one’s mind. I’ve noticed that when I have pushed my body, I tend to be more at peace, emotionally. But when my body is at peace, my emotions tend to be more chaotic and uneasy. Perhaps you have noticed something similar. Intense physical exercise can purge many negative feelings from you, just like how your sweat can remove toxins from your body.

Time outside can be spent doing many things you like. Walk around your block with a couple of friends, talking with them. Walk your dog. Walk to the store, rather than driving. Outdoor projects can also include hobbies like gardening, or chores like raking leaves or cleaning your car.

6. Live “In the Moment”

Rather than feeling miserable about the past or anxious about the future, give yourself a break, and focus on your sense of “now.” For those of you out there who are big fans of meditation, you know exactly what I mean. Many meditative exercises have you concentrate on your breath, on counting, on sensations, or on nothing at all. I think a great skill that can come out of meditation is the ability to zero-in on the present. But why is that so important?

Something I like to bring up a lot is how different our experience with stress can be when compared to other mammals. A gazelle, for example, on the African savannah, spends the great majority of its time feeling completely fine, content, and stress-free. How is that possible? How can these creatures have such low levels of stress hormones in their blood when they live with the constant threat of being hunted and consumed by lions and other fierce predators? Well, they don’t. They don’t live with the constant threat. They only live with a threat that is there one moment and gone the next. When a predator is spotted, their stress appropriately rises and they react with a fight-or-flight response. But once the threat is gone, they immediately calm down, as if nothing had happened.

I am over-simplifying a bit here but I feel like the lesson is there. Human beings have the power to imagine the future and examine the past. We can work ourselves into nervous knots even when we are perfectly safe and sound. It can be helpful to worry about the future or the past, but only some of the time. From time to time, each of us can use a break from worry. We can train ourselves to stop and smell the roses. Give yourself permission to let tomorrow worry about itself. Forgive yourself for the mistakes you made in the past, and enjoy the beauty of this precious moment.

7. Build and Strengthen Relationships

I think we all have moments when we feel like we have been buried a hundred miles under the surface of the earth, completely isolated from the love and friendship of others. Isn’t it odd that in an age of the internet, we can still so often feel so alone?

One remedy to the feeling of being criminally unloved is to be the first to reach out. The best way to make a friend is to be a friend. For a romantic relationship to start, you may be the one that must start it. I’ve heard it said before that love is like a fire. If you try to isolate it and greedily keep it, it is snuffed out. But if you freely share it, it can spread, and you will always have enough love to go around.

This can be a long-term endeavor. Sometimes, you need to show many people a lot of kindness before you receive some back. But it is worth it. Do favors for other people without any thought of reward. Really help someone who can’t help themselves. Listen to someone for hours. Babysit someone else’s children. Drive your friend to work. All these small acts of kindness are worth more than gold when it comes to building and strengthening relationships. One fine day, when you can look around and see a handful of people who need you, and you need them, it will be easy to remember that you are never truly alone.

When I say build and strengthen relationships, I am not just talking about friends and family. Sometimes, you should be much-nicer-than-needed to coworkers. Show some kindness to a complete stranger. One thing that can really help is to adopt a new pet. My wife and I recently adopted a kitten, and it is amazing how much happier we both feel as a result. Pets can bring out the best in you. They can show you more love and devotion than you know with what to do. Even in the medical industry, pets are often recommended to patients who go on to experience a powerful positive change in their emotional wellbeing.

8. Live by a set Schedule, get Plenty of Sleep, Adequate Nutrition, and Acquire Other Healthy Habits

This suggestion is pretty straight-forward. Sometimes, we feel terrible because our life seems out-of-control. It is like a big pile of problems with no end in sight. A healthy way to solve the problem is to bring some order and routine to your life. This also makes sense from the perspective of neurology and cognitive science. Your sleeping schedule can dramatically affect your mood. Setting a schedule can regulate your sleep. Getting regular and adequate amounts of sleep each night can influence and regulate your diet. If your diet is under control then it is easier to adopt other healthy habits.

I like to start with ensuring that I get the proper amount of sleep. Determine how early you need to get to bed in order to get eight hours of sleep. Figure in 30 to 90 minutes of exercise each day. Fit three meals in there, travel time to work, and so forth. Once you have written up a simple schedule, try it for a week. Tweak it if needed, then try that for two weeks. Once your time is under your control, it is far easier to get other parts of your life under control as well.

9. Organize Your Living Space and fill it with Positive Sights, Smells, and Sounds

I think we can all agree that your physical health can strongly influence your mental health. But another thing to consider is that your immediate environment can make a difference too. When your surroundings are orderly and attractive, it is easier to bounce-back from an emotional rough patch.

Continuing on with the theme of making your life a little less chaotic, why not clean your room? Finishing a chore or two will help you feel like you have a better command over your surroundings and can give at least a small sense of accomplishment. After your living space is well maintained, it can help to add some beauty to your home. Hang up some fine art. Get your favorite picture printed out and frame it. House plants, vases, and other simple additions to your home can help you get into a positive mindset at the beginning and end of each day. Some people really like getting candles and similar items that can fill your space with attractive scents. When needed, turn on some of your favorite music. When your living space is just the way you like it, it can take a load off your shoulders that you may not have even noticed was there in the first place.

10. Give Helpful Advice to Others in the Same Boat

I talked before about letting out all of your frustrations and concerns. But doing the opposite can also recharge you and level out how you feel. Problems are in no short supply. Chances are good that you can find someone else dealing with some major issues. Ask them about their problems, and listen. Listen for a good long time. When you feel like you have some advice to give, give it. After you put your problems on the shelf for later and focus on someone else’s problems, you may be surprised with how much better you feel.

11. Adopt Some More Responsibility

Sometimes, our depressed moments arise out of a life that is too busy and filled with too many things to do. But for some of you listening, your problem is that you don’t have anything meaningful to do. Sure, you could spend your time doing this or that, but in the end, it feels like it all makes no difference. If you have been there, then perhaps it is time to adopt some more responsibility.

Step up and put yourself in charge of a difficult project. Volunteer to fix a problem that your family has been putting off for some time. Consider what your biggest problem is, then make a plan of attack. If that isn’t enough, widen your sphere of influence. What is the biggest problem facing your family, community, or country? Eventually, you will run into a cause that needs a champion, or a complex issue that requires someone just like you to sort it all out. Willingly take on more responsibility, and that can enrich your life with greater meaning. When you feel like you are working toward a worthy goal, then feelings of aimlessness and worthlessness begin to fade away.

Make and pursue meaningful goals, and recognize your small gains along the way. Even when your triumphs and achievements are modest, find ways to reward yourself. If you have lost 10 pounds, take yourself to a movie. If you have paid off all of the debt on a credit card, go with some friends to get ice cream in the middle of the night. Take a moment to pat yourself on the back, and continue onward.

12. Become a more Well-Rounded Person

Some of us have a small number of tools we use again and again to solve problems in life. Perhaps we can get pretty far through our politeness or charm. Maybe we have the job we have now because of our simple work ethic. Even a sense of humor can smooth out the awkwardness of meeting new people or approaching daunting challenges. But just like with a physical toolbox, you may soon encounter a problem requiring a tool you don’t have. Can you imagine trying to fix a broken pipe with nothing but a hammer and measuring tape?

Life can soon get even more complicated and messy. Sometimes, when we feel crushed under the weight of everyday life, it is because we just haven’t developed the skills needed to solve our current problems. This is why it is important to continually stretch ourselves, and develop skills outside of our usual repertoire. When you can master some new skill outside of your comfort zone, there is a tremendous natural high that you can feel as a result. If you are an introvert, join the cast of a community theatre group. If you like your house super neat and orderly, adopt a puppy. If you would rather play video games all day, join a community sports team. Think of something positive that people of your personality type would never do, and give it a try. As your personality grows more well-rounded, then you will have more tools in your hypothetical toolbox, and you will be better suited to solve the problems that the future has in store.

If you have enjoyed this conversation or have learned something from it, please leave a like, subscribe, and share it with other open-minded people. All of those small things really do make a big difference and help others find our group and our podcast.

That is all I have for you today, but the conversation continues across social media and in the comment sections below. Do you agree with today’s message? Am I mistaken about some detail? How can I better elaborate on this topic in the future? Feel free to share your perspective!

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Written By Nicholas Burk, Executive Board Member © 2019 Free Thought Initiative