How I Cope with Negative Emotions (+FREE Printable Coping Cards)

If you or someone you love is having thoughts of ending their life, I encourage you to contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741-741 to chat with the Crisis Text Line.

Disclaimer: I am not a certified mental health professional. My advice is based solely on my experience as a psychiatric patient and my research/personal interest in mental health. Please consult a doctor or therapist for qualified treatment if you suffer from mental illness.

Before I started DBT, one of my greatest challenges was distress tolerance — in other words, how I deal with difficult emotions. My threshold for withstanding negative emotions was very low, because I didn’t have the coping skills I needed to thrive in adversity. Instead, I resorted to self-destructive behaviors that were bad for me and bad for my depression.

Now, I’ve learned so many distress tolerance skills to help me cope with negative emotions — and I wanted to share them with those of you who may also be struggling to withstand emotional pain. Which is exactly what I plan to do in this blog post, by the way!

Stick around ’til the end, and I’ll tell you how to download my FREE printable coping cards. The printable comes with eight cards the size of an index card featuring distress tolerance skills. They fit perfectly in a wallet, purse, backpack or pocket, so you will no longer have to struggle to remember your therapy skills on-the-go. And therapists: feel free to use these coping cards in your clinical practice, if you so choose!

Skill #1: Distracting From & Challenging Your Thoughts

Our negative thoughts are the driving forces behind our negative emotions, according to the principles of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, or CBT for short. Thus, interrupting and challenging negative thoughts can effectively put an end to negative emotions. Here are a few techniques I’ve learned for getting the hang of this.

STOPP

I learned STOPP in my Dialectical-Behavior Therapy (DBT) Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). STOPP is an acronym (something we love in DBT!) that helps you remember how to interrupt your negative thoughts. Here’s how it works:

Stop! Literally, think or say the word “Stop” to yourself.

Take a deep breath. Place a hand on your belly to ensure you’re breathing deeply.

Observe your thought. What is it trying to tell you?

Pull back. Ask yourself if this thought is realistic. What evidence do you have for/against the thought?

Proceed mindfully. Determine what the best, most effective course of action is to take — and take it!

STOPP can not only help you interrupt and challenge negative thoughts, but it can also help you react more calmly and patiently when dealing with overwhelming emotions like anger or guilt — especially if you need to respond mindfully to someone else, like a partner or a friend you might be arguing with.

Examining the Evidence

Examining the evidence is another core principle of CBT. It can also be described as “checking the facts” on your thoughts, to see if your anxious or distressed thoughts still make sense once they run the test of logic. To perform this skill, you need to do three simple things: catch your negative thought, examine your negative thought and reframe your negative thought.

First, catch the negative thought running through your mind. Hold onto it. What does it say?

Second, examine your negative thought by asking yourself the following questions (they can be difficult to remember, which is why I created a coping card to help!):

  1. What evidence do you have for/against the thought?
  2. Are you guilty of distorted thinking?
  3. What would you say to a friend in the same situation?
  4. How is this thought helpful/harmful to you?
  5. Is there another way of looking at the situation?

Once you’ve weighed the evidence and done a cost/benefit analysis of whether holding onto this negative thought is really serving you in any way, you can try the third and final step: reframing your negative thought. Given the facts you found in step two, how can you rephrase your thought in a more realistic and balanced way? Try your best to remember this version of your thought next time you catch the negative thought!

ACCEPTS

Another DBT acronym, ACCEPTS helps us when we’re in a moment of distress and don’t feel up to challenging our negative thoughts. Instead, it serves to distract us from those thoughts so we can escape the negative emotions we attach to them, enough to view the situation from a distance.

ACCEPTS stands for:

Activities. Distract yourself with hobbies and/or chores.

Contributing. What can you do to help others in your life?

Comparisons. Think of those less fortunate than yourself and summon your gratitude.

Emotions. Create a contrasting emotion to the one you’re feeling by using books, movies or music to alter your mood.

Pushing away. Can you leave the situation that’s stressing you out, whether mentally or physically?

Thoughts. Use your thoughts to distract yourself, whether that’s counting or doing a puzzle.

Sensations. Break yourself out of your negativity with a hot/cold shower or drink, hot water bottle or cold ice cube in your hand.

I’ve made a coping card to help you remember these steps, so you don’t have to worry about recalling what ACCEPTS stands for on the go! Just remember that it’s a skill you can use to distract yourself from negative thoughts.

Step #2: Coming Down From a Crisis

Whether it’s suicidal thoughts, a panic attack or an emotionally stressful life event, a crisis can really throw you for a loop if you’re not prepared to deal with it. These simple skills are specially designed to help you cope with those big moments where you’re too overwhelmed to remember complicated techniques.

Grounding Techniques

Grounding techniques are the perfect way to get back down to earth during a moment of anxiety or panic. They consist of quick, easy exercises that don’t take much effort to remember (though just in case, I’ve still created a coping card on grounding for you to carry on-the-go!). Try the following grounding techniques to help you calm down in a crisis:

5-4-3-2-1. This is kind of a fun way to wind down from a moment where you feel overwhelmed! Rely on your five senses for this coping skill. In your head, name five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. By the time you’re finished, you should feel cooler and more collected.

4-7-8 Breathing. Deep breathing is a powerful way to send a message to your body that it’s time to calm down. Try this breathing technique next time you’re in panic mode. Breathe in for four, hold for seven and exhale for eight “Mississippis,” and feel the sense of ease spread through your entire body.

Body Scanning. A quick meditation you can carry on-the-go, try a body scan next time you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed. Start at the tip of your head and carefully scan your body down to your toes. What sensations can you feel? Notice where you are holding tension, and see if you can send some ease to those parts of your body by breathing deeply. Ahh, isn’t that better?

TIP

Ready for another DBT acronym? TIP offers four easy-to-remember skills that are perfect to whip up when you can no longer tolerate your level of distress. If you think you can’t stand your uncomfortable emotions a moment longer, try one of these four things instead:

  1. Temperature. Plunge your face into a bowl of ice water (above 50 degrees) for 30 seconds, take a cold shower or simply splash water on your face. This act calms your fight-or-flight instincts to help you feel more calm, mentally and physically.
  2. Intense physical activity. Jogging in place, doing as many push-ups or sit-ups as you can, vigorous jumping jacks — heck, even dancing to your favorite song! Whatever you can do to get your heart rate pumping will get some of that excess energy out and help you feel less restless.
  3. Paced breathing. Breathing along to a paced count will help you force your nervous system to slow down. Try the 4-7-8 breathing exercise above, or another one called four-square breathing (click here to read how to do it).
  4. Paired muscle relaxation. Relax your physical body while slowing down your brain by pairing deep breathing with muscle relaxation. On an inhale, tense all the muscles in your body. As you exhale, think the word “Relax” and release your tensed muscles. Feel a sense of ease spread through your entire body.

Self-Soothing

When coming off a crisis, speaking to your inner child and doing something comforting can help you feel more safe and secure. After the high of those intense emotions has passed, turn to these self-soothing techniques using your five senses to try and calm down:

Smell. Light a candle, diffuse essential oils, take a bath, use scented lotion, visit the perfume aisle and spritz them all.

Taste. Savor a chocolate truffle, go to your favorite cafe and order a coffee or tea, chew a piece of flavorful gum.

Hearing. Play music to match your mood (or the opposite of your mood), play your favorite movie in the background, listen to a podcast by your favorite celebrity.

Sight. Watch comedy videos on YouTube (I recommend Guy Who Just Bought a Boat), color an adult coloring book with bright markers or pencils, do your makeup (or someone else’s).

Touch. Get a hug from a friend or lover, wrap up in a fuzzy blanket or robe, take a hot bubble bath, schedule a massage.

Aromatherapy

As someone who’s especially fond of scent and the power it has over our mood, I love using essential oils and the principles of aromatherapy to both prevent and cope with negative emotions. It’s a great way to self-soothe if you’re someone who’s influenced by the power of smell!

Interested in getting started with aromatherapy? You can get a starter kit of essential oils on Amazon or at your local health foods’ store (my local CVS even sells some now) for fairly cheap. Try diffusing them throughout your home or mixing them with coconut oil to apply topically to your skin. (Do some research first, though, to figure out which oils are safe for topical use.)

If you’re still interested in learning more, I’ll also drop some of my favorite scents and their aromatherapy uses below, so you can fill your brain with everything it needs to know to start using the power of scent to self-soothe! (And yes, there’s a coping card for aromatherapy, too.)

  • Lavender: stress relief, relaxation,, anti-anxiety.
  • Lemon: energizing, awakening, mood-lifting.
  • Peppermint: cooling, clearing sinuses.
  • Frankincense: grounding, anti-anxiety.
  • Orange: focus, energizing, mood-lifting, productivity.
  • Eucalyptus: clearing sinuses, headache relief, anti-anxiety.

Step #3: Preventing Crises Before They Begin

Coping is important, but crisis prevention is also an important step to have in your mental health toolkit — and it starts with reducing your emotional vulnerabilities so you’ll be more prepared to defend yourself against negative thoughts and emotions that lead to self-destructive behaviors.

PLEASE

I’ve got one last DBT acronym for you today — and the acronym is PLEASE! PLEASE stands for some of the emotional vulnerabilities that predispose us to emotional distress. Regulating these aspects of your life can also help you regulate your emotions, preventing crises and making them easier to cope with when they arise.

PLEASE stands for:

Physical iLlness. Treat physical illness first to improve mood and reduce vulnerability.

Eat a balanced diet. Eating a balanced, healthy diet helps you be your happiest self, mentally and physically. Click here to check out my tips on gentle nutrition!

Avoid mood-altering drugs. Illicit drugs, alcohol and marijuana can all make us more vulnerable to emotional distress. Use them sparingly (or not at all).

Sleep for 6-8 hours each night. Ever get weepy or emotional when you don’t get enough sleep? Chronic sleep deprivation is real — as in, a real threat to your mental health!

Exercise regularly. However you can stay moving will keep your body active, and your mind happy and healthy. As Lena Dunham once said, “It’s not about the booty, it’s about the brain!”

Free Coping Cards

You’ve made it to the end of this post — congratulations! To help you remember everything you’ve learned, I’ve created free (and adorable) coping cards to help you on your journey. Here are the directions:

  1. Follow the link below to download and print all eight coping cards (preferably in color). DO NOT print double-sided!
  2. Cut around the edges of the coping cards, keeping the top and bottom attached.
  3. Put some glue on the blank side of the paper using a glue-stick and fold the coping cards, so the floral pattern is on one side and the pink background with coping strategies on the other.
  4. Let the glue dry, then stick in your wallet, purse, backpack or pocket to enjoy!

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPING CARDS.

Four Ways to Celebrate Mental Health This Valentine’s Day

Happy almost Valentine’s Day! This is one of my favorite holidays — but it’s not a happy day for everyone. In fact, 1 in 3 people aren’t satisfied with their love life, making a holiday that celebrates love pretty painful.

I may be part of the lucky few, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get what it means to be single and bummed out on V-Day (or in a relationship and bummed out!). Whether you’re in a long-distance relationship that makes it impossible to celebrate or if you’re disappointed to be spending yet another Valentine’s Day alone, this day presents mental health challenges for many of us.

So, if you aren’t in the mood to celebrate love, why not celebrate mental health this Valentine’s Day? Here are four little things you can do to get into the festive V-Day spirit while honoring the mental health challenges so many of us face this time of year!

1. Buy yourself a gift.

If you don’t feel like celebrating romantic love, try celebrating self-love this Valentine’s Day! Buying yourself jewelry or flowers can be far more satisfying than receiving them from a partner, anyways. Might I suggest this necklace by Jen Gotch x Iconery? Not only does it raise awareness for depression, anxiety and bipolar, but all proceeds from this jewelry line will also be donated to a mental health charity.

'Depression' pendant hanging from chain.

2. Take a mental health day.

Or, why not take an entire day off to celebrate yourself? Take a mental health day from work or school this Valentine’s Day to spend the day doing something you love. Whether it’s going off the grid to hike or booking a massage at your favorite day spa, a mental health day can be just the thing you need to rest and rejuvenate yourself so you can get back to taking on the world.

Related image

3. Send compassionate cards.

Don’t want to celebrate Valentine’s Day for yourself? Try celebrating it for others in need! Write cards to people you know who may be struggling with their mental health, or even get in touch with a local mental health charity to see if you can write cards for members of a support group or a treatment center. Print out these free mental health-themed Valentine’s Day cards to send a message of compassion to those you care about.

Free Mental Health Valentine's Day Cards

4. Donate to those in need.

If you’re struggling with mental health on Valentine’s Day, you’re not alone — and not everyone is lucky enough to receive treatment for their mental health needs. This Valentine’s Day, show a little love to those people who might not be able to afford mental healthcare by donating your time or money to one of the following organizations:

  • Cleveland, OH:
    • FrontLine Service provides mental health services to the homeless and helps youth victims of trauma and violence in their recovery.
  • United States:
    • NAMI chapters nationwide support people in mental health recovery and their loved ones with support groups, events and more.
    • NEDA supports eating disorder recovery with education and advocacy nationwide.
    • Samaritans works toward suicide prevention, and is also active in the U.K.
    • Active Minds supports college students in their mental health journeys.
    • The Buddy Project pairs people in need with mental health “buddies” to prevent suicide and self-harm.
  • United Kingdom:
    • Mind strives to reach young people before they reach a crisis point.
    • Heads Together is changing the conversation around mental health by reducing stigma.
    • Beat is the U.K.’s eating disorder treatment and prevention charity.

Knowing Yourself Deeply (+ Free Printable Journal Prompts)

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’ve been writing a lot about self-love here on Lovely & Lazy. I firmly believe that the first step to loving yourself is knowing yourself deeply. But how do you do that?

So often, we’re blind to ourselves — our faults, yes, but most of all, our talents. We refuse to recognize our own strengths, whether in modesty or low self-esteem. But it’s knowing yourself, and knowing yourself deeply, that allows you to love the person you truly are!

That includes the good, the bad and the ugly of who you are. Knowing yourself deeply is so much more than knowing your favorite color or which Gilmore Girl you are. It’s understanding why you do the things you do, what your greatest hopes and dreams are and, most importantly, what your purpose is for being in this world.

If you’ve struggled with depression, like I have, you may not believe that you have strengths or that you’re meant to be on this planet for a reason. But believe it or not, learning more about yourself can also be a powerful tool for overcoming depression.

Understanding who you are, the good and the bad, can help you improve your self-esteem and make peace with your prior mistakes. The result? A happier, healthier you. Here’s how to start.

Read to the end of this post to discover how you can get to know yourself deeply. If you stick around, you’ll also get my free printable journal prompts to help you get to know yourself better!

Personality Quizzes

No, I’m not talking about the aforementioned Buzzfeed quizzes that will tell you which Hogwarts house you belong in (though knowing this is obviously critical to knowing who you are!). I’m talking about personality inventories backed in psychology — tests like the Big Four and the Enneagram.

Below, I’ve included a list of some of the best personality tests for uncovering your strengths and weaknesses, as well as links for where you can take them yourself:

  • Enneagram Test. Your enneagram is best described as one of nine personality types, calculated based on how you describe yourself and your behavior.
  • Myers-Briggs Test. The Myers-Briggs Test breaks personalities down into four traits with two options per trait, and is calculated based on self-description of yourself and your behavior.
  • Big Five Personality Test. The Big Five test rates to what percentage you express five key traits identified in psychology.

To get the most out of these quizzes, make sure you take the time to read the descriptions of your type offered to you at the end of each test. You never know what might resonate with you or what you might uncover about yourself!

Journaling

Keeping a journal is my favorite way to stay in touch with what I’m thinking and feeling. I try to write in my journal every day to purge myself of negative emotions and get to the bottom of how I feel about my life.

Starting a journal can be intimidating if it isn’t something you’ve tried before. Answering daily prompts is one easy way to get started when you don’t know what to write about! Below, I’ve listed a few sample prompts to get you started with journaling.

  • What do I love to do?
  • What am I afraid of?
  • What do I need right now?
  • What is my favorite thing about myself?
  • Who do I admire the most?
  • What are my goals for this month?

Want more journal prompts to help you get to know yourself even better? Scroll to the bottom of this post and you’ll also receive my free printable journal prompts with even more questions to provoke self-discovery!

Values Questionnaire

Last but not least, one of the best ways to understand who you are as a person is to understand what you value. You can learn more about what you value by completing a values questionnaire. These are often performed in therapy to help patients’ clarify their values so that they can start to act in ways that align with what they really value in life.

Some values you might or might not want to live by include:

  • Loyalty
  • Kindness
  • Honesty
  • Bravery
  • Perseverance
  • Humor
  • Beauty
  • Knowledge
  • Wealth
  • Respect

So, how can you figure out what you really value? Click here to print out a Values Clarification worksheet from TherapistAid and rank your top ten values. Once you learn to act in ways that support your values, you’ll find yourself happier and more fulfilled with the life you’re currently leading.

How to Get Your Free Journal Prompts

Alright, alright — I know this is why you’re all actually here, so I won’t delay you any longer:

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR FREE PRINTABLE JOURNAL PROMPTS FOR KNOWING YOURSELF DEEPLY!

Seven Things That Helped My Depression

Controversial opinion: I don’t think depression is a disease that can be “cured.” Instead, I view it as a chronic illness that requires constant management.

If you don’t stick to your self-care routine, depression can creep back into your life and rear its ugly head again. That’s why I’m sharing seven things that improved my depression.

While I don’t think you can magically “cure” your depression, I do think you can actively work to manage it and keep it at bay. Of course, that takes work — which is why you should work these seven things into your routine (or as many of them as serves you!).

I went to group therapy.

If you follow me on Instagram or read my blog regularly, you know I was in an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) for my depression and anxiety. A big part of IOP is regular group therapy sessions. At first, I was afraid to speak in front of other people about my deep personal issues — but after awhile, I became more open to the idea of group therapy. Once I was willing to give it a fighting chance, I got a lot out of it. I think a big reason why is the idea of social support: when you’re fighting depression, you tend to isolate. Group therapy forces you out of your bubble. Before you know it, you’ll be giggling along to each other’s jokes and making plans to go to brunch.

I learned not to believe everything I think.

When you have depression, your thoughts go a little bit like this: “My friend cancelled on me. She must not like me. I have no real friends. No one loves me. I don’t deserve love. I’m worthless.” If you believe everything you think, of course you’re going to feel like sh*t — your brain is straight-up bullying you! When you’re at the mercy of your thoughts, you naturally feel out of control. But once you learn to reframe your thoughts in a more positive way (and not to believe everything you think), you wind up back in the driver’s seat of your own brain. To get started with challenging your unhelpful thoughts, check out this helpful worksheet from TherapistAid.

I cut out emotional vampires.

Have you heard of the term “emotional vampire?” Like a bloodsucker, emotional vampires drain all your energy, leaving little left for yourself. They take the form of demanding “frenemies” who constantly gossip about others behind their backs, bosses with unreasonably high expectations and family members who feel the need to exert control over you. In the middle of a depressive episode, you can feel stuck dealing with people like this — but once you reclaim your power, you realize that you do have the power to change. Break up with that abusive partner. Say goodbye to bad friends. Set boundaries with family members who suck you (emotionally) dry. These types of choices can feel impossible in the throngs of depression, but don’t forget that they are real, viable options.

I stopped binge drinking.

I’ll clarify this point by saying that I’ve never had a drinking problem or felt dependent on alcohol. However, this point still stands for people like me who don’t identify as someone with a substance abuse issue. Back in college, I would go out drinking maybe once a month — but when I did go, I would drink four or five drinks until the details of the night started to get fuzzy. The problem? The next day, I suffered from much worse than a hangover: my depression would get worse, too. That’s because alcohol is a depressant. So, if you’re going to use alcohol while depressed, use it sparingly — don’t make yourself vulnerable to emotional distress by binge drinking. Better yet, only drink when you’re in a good mood, because when you start at a higher point while using a depressant, your lows can’t get as low.

I started dance classes.

Moving your body is so important. I say “moving your body” versus “exercising” intentionally, because I don’t believe you have to go to a gym and pump iron to reap the benefits of movement. Instead of forcing yourself to work out, you should find something you love to do that doesn’t feel like a workout. For me, that’s dance. I’ve been a dancer since I was in elementary school, so going to dance class just feels natural. Growing up, it was my safe place — and I still get that feeling when I walk into a ballet studio today. So, find the type of movement that makes you feel that way, too. Those endorphins are a natural high that even the strongest antidepressant can’t replace!

I found my purpose.

Stuck in the “rat race?” If you’re stuck in a job you hate, take this as your sign to leave and start doing something more meaningful. As someone who quit her job to start her own business, I can truthfully say that finding your purpose can change your life. I used to dread going to work every day — and now that I work for myself, I officially never feel that way anymore. Now, I look forward to waking up and working on my projects, because I know that helping people improve their mental health (whether that’s through marketing therapy or studying to become a therapist myself) is what I was put on this earth to do. Once you figure out what you’re meant to do, change your life and start working towards that. I know it can be difficult to find enough motivation to take a leap of faith, but taking that leap might just be what gets you out of that depressive funk.

I got dressed.

This seems so simple, yet it’s so transformative: try getting dressed in the morning. And by that I mean, try putting on an outfit that makes you feel good about yourself, instead of the sweats and hoodie you feel like wearing. If you’re feeling ambitious, maybe even put on some mascara and throw your hair up in a cute messy bun. It’s not that I’m vain, although seeing your reflection in the mirror will certainly put some pep in your step, but rather, it’s the fact that forcing yourself to do something you don’t feel like doing will make you feel damn good. Once you see yourself looking good, you’ll realize that you can do anything if you simply put your mind to it. The skill is called “opposite action,” and it’s something I learned in my DBT group that’s worked wonders on me.