With the demand for therapy increasing, it’s more common than ever to be waitlisted for therapy. In addition to checking out tips for finding a good therapist, here are some ideas for getting support and building coping skills while you wait.
Video games are increasingly useful and supported by research for different mental health problems. Basic logic games like Tetris and solitaire can help temporarily calm racing thoughts or intrusive memories. World-building games can help you have a sense of control. There are even a variety of games now that are designed to help with mental health problems
Online support groups
Look for an online support group or try to form your own. Support groups don’t always have a therapist. It can be a group of people who agree to meet and talk about a topic or about their experiences. If you do this, make sure there’s an agreement about privacy and acceptable behaviour in the group. You can easily form a new support group on Twitter by creating an original hashtag and establishing a time to meet up on twitter, or see if there’s already a Twitter support group. Keep in mind that meeting on social media means less privacy, and there will need to be rules of conduct for participants. Pinned tweets are one way to establish those rules, and/or retweet them with the group hashtag at the beginning of every meeting.
The best meditation is the one you’ll actually do, and the best amount and frequency is whatever you can make a commitment to. It’s better to meditate for five minutes 5–7 times a week than to meditate for 20 minutes three times before you give it up.
Different meditations have different purposes, so read up on them and see what’s right for you.
Different types of meditation
- Mindfulness. The goal is to be at peace by being non-reactive to thoughts and feelings. By keeping your attention on your breathing or on a mantra, you learn to let those thoughts, feelings and urges pass you by. A mantra is a word or phrase that you repeat to yourself over and over as a focus for your attention. Fair warning: if your thoughts are racing, if you currently have hallucinations or delusions or your thoughts are otherwise out of control, mindfulness can occasionally make it worse instead of better. If it seems like meditation is making your mind worse instead of better, trust yourself enough to try something different.
- Safe space. This is a personal favorite of mine. Almost all of my clients learn about this. Sit and imagine a safe space where you genuinely believe that nothing could hurt you. Explore it with all five of your senses. Walk around it, interact with that setting, all the while experiencing what it’s like to feel completely safe. I recorded one for the Simple Habit app, but there are safe space meditations on other meditation apps and on YouTube as well.
- Creative visualisation. The classic ‘trip to the beach’ or walk in the forest meditation, where you listen to a recording of someone talking you through the experience. A mental holiday that can leave you physically and mentally more relaxed. Safe for most people, and a good way to begin learning meditation if you’re on your own without a teacher.
- Progressive muscle relaxation. This is more of a relaxation exercise than a meditation. Starting at your feel, tense up every major muscle group one by one, working up to your face. Tense each muscle group for 10–15 seconds, then release and move on to the next muscle group. This is good for people with some kinds of chronic pain (check with your doctors) or who hold anger or anxiety in the form of muscle tension. For guidance, check your phone’s app store for a good meditation app or just hit up Youtube.
Check out workbooks and other basic guides to whatever your problem seems to be. Many come in audiobook form, and you can download samples for Kindle or Nook before you decide on one. For affordable options, check out used books or free worksheets online. Many therapists and private practices offer free worksheets and workbooks.
There are a lot of different mental health apps available. There are apps to help track medications, apps to guide you through psychological emergencies and create safety plans, apps that guide you through basic cognitive therapy or help you keep an online journal. There are several different therapy apps. If you use one of those, make sure that you double-check the credentials of the therapist. Peer support apps can also be valuable too. You won’t get therapy from peer support, but you’ll get the chance to share with someone who has been through what you’re going through and get some validation.
Biofeedback is basically tech-assisted meditation. There are different kinds of biofeedback for different purposes. While you do some kind of meditation or visualization, the computer or phone monitors your biomarkers, such as pulse, blood pressure., heart rate variability, or body temperature. Some types of biofeedback combine gaming and meditation by creating video games that you can only win by successfully calming yourself.
You can journal in a notebook, on a computer, or in an app. Journaling can include writing, drawing, scrapbooking, or even fan fiction. Check in with your mind and body as you journal. For it to be helpful to your mental health, you should feel a sense of release or peace. If it feels like the journaling is helping you stay stuck and your mood is getting worse, you may need a journaling class or book, or this may not be the coping skill for you.
Check out mental health-related hashtags and pages. Try searching for specific issues, like ‘schizoaffective disorder’ or ‘dads with depression’. Follow some people and get to know them. This is best for people with good boundaries, because sooner or later you’ll meet some bullies or trolls and you’ll need to be able to use block, mute, or report.
Download sample chapters to see which one will be most helpful, or browse at the library. A really helpful book is worth investing in, though. Take a look at used options online if you want to save money.
Aimee Daramus, PsyD is a psychologist based in Chicago, Illinois.