You practice a fire drill when there is no fire. The goal is to know what to do in case of a fire.
So it goes with mental health coping skills and crisis planning: practice when you are relatively calm so that you know what to do when you are panicked.
We are panicked.
We are trying our coping skills; namely:
1. meditation to narrow the mind’s focus to just one sound, just the breath, and to offer self-compassion via the metta phrases we have practiced (“May we be safe,” etc.).
2. stretching muscles to remind the brain it has a body. Attending to aches and pains is self-care and stretching gently can relieve accumulated tension and feel good.
3. Journaling to process complicated and difficult emotions: We try to be present with the pen. We are writing Now even if the subject matter is about the past or future.
4. We attempt F-A-C-E :
- Feel: name our emotions. They may be many and even contradictory, so the word “and” is our friend.
- Allow: Everyone has emotions. Allowing them is natural.
- Accept: Do no harm at this stage. Don’t make it worse. Accept the emotions as true right now. Find the emotions in the body and breathe into them in order to soften them. This is like thawing frozen meat before cooking because it will stay juicy and tender. (Some people combine Allow and Accept; we keep them separate in order to emphasize our common humanity and to do no further harm to already hurting mind).
- Compassion for self: this shit is hard! It makes sense that we’re feeling overwhelmed considering the circumstances. Someone else in our position might feel similarly. We’ve suffered a lot. We deserve warm cuddles and other acts of care (from self and others). If you have trouble generating compassion, think of someone you adore: child, pet, loved one, someone you admire, something in nature that inspires you–and then use that energy to move toward compassion for self.
- Expect resourceful options: when you’ve done the previous steps, you’re likelier to see your choices in lessening your suffering. If you have agency, you’re now equipped to evaluate options and act more skillfully. It’s also empowering to know when you don’t have agency because you may be able to put down the worry. As the Dalai Lama is often credited with saying: if a solution is possible, then there’s no need for worry; and if there is no solution possible, then there’s no need for worry.