1. Connect – As human beings we are wired for connection, when we share anxieties, fears & hardships with a trusted confidante intense feelings tend to recede.
It can also be worth seeking professional help with a coach, counsellor or psychotherapist. They can help you to make sense of your experiences & refer you for more specialised help if needed. It’s most important to remember that seeking professional help is not a sign of weakness & that you don’t need to be ‘very bad’ to go. If you had a toothache you would go to the dentist at the first available opportunity, so if your mind is at you, do the same. You also don’t need to know exactly what’s wrong with you to book a session with a professional; the whole purpose of going is to figure out what may be happening & to engage with some strategies that may assist you in feeling better. When we are feeling strong emotions, we often need to discharge the energy that comes along with them - talking, journaling and movement all help with this process.
2. ‘Name It to Tame It’ – Psychologist Dan Siegel reminds us that when we name our feelings we are better able to control them or at least lessen their impact.
"I’m really hurt by what happened" is a lot more specific & revelatory that saying "I’m so pissed off."
It’s often harder to be hurt or shamed than it is to be angry, try to reveal what lies beneath.
3. Breathe – It sounds so simplistic that people may mentally roll their eyes when breathing is suggested, but it really does work. We breathe all day every day, but not always in a conscious way. When we breathe in a conscious way it grounds us in our parasympathetic nervous system, where we can rest & digest the overwhelm going on around us. Like all habits it needs to be practised regularly for best impact.
Try the ladder breath to start, this breath focuses on structure & numbers, people sometimes find this easier than focusing on breath alone.
Breathe in to the count of 1. Exhale slowly for the count of 1. Pause.
Breathe in to the count of 2. Exhale slowly for the count of 2. Pause.
Breathe in to the count of 3. Exhale slowly for the count of 3. Pause.
Breathe in to the count of 4. Exhale slowly for the count of 4. Pause.
Breathe in to the count of 5. Exhale slowly for the count of 5. Pause.
Repeat as required.
4. Move or Rest – You won’t regret moving your body even if it’s for 3 laps outside around the house. Even very gentle movement releases feel-good endorphins. You won’t always be motivated to get out & move so make sure to remind yourself how good you will feel afterwards.
As equestrians many of us move a lot every day, you may need to prioritise rest & sleep instead. If you struggle with sleep, view going to bed as an opportunity to rest as opposed to focusing on sleep as the sole goal. When sleep is the sole goal it can contribute to a degree of performance anxiety about sleep.
5. Look for Patterns – When do you feel good? When do you feel worse? What makes you feel better? It can useful to explicitly write about these patterns & your responses to them.
We all have unique patterns of thinking & behaviour, but getting familiar with your own unique patterns helps you to better manage your mood & outlook. We can all build our own individual mental health toolkit, taking into account what suits our personality, lifestyle & values. Only you know what works the best for you.
Lastly, you are not alone, it’s okay to have mental health struggles & your current circumstances do not define your future.