When people are going through difficult times, they often seek out psychotherapy or other emotional support. But when times get better, they tend to stop therapy, and they often lose interest or momentum for self-exploration.
I totally understand how people are most highly motivated for seeking help and internal awareness when they are suffering, but want to leave their pain behind and move forward into happier times.
I invite you to consider this alternate idea–when you have gone through the hard work to bring yourself out of the difficult times, you have probably learned some valuable lessons about what helps you heal, what makes life work better, and what causes pain. I want you to be able to benefit from that hard won wisdom, and have it available for the next time things get hard.
It’s not pleasant to think about the fact that, just as bad times leave us, they will also return. But life is like that-good times and bad times come and go. There are two good things about taking the time to pause and reflect on your emergence from the pain-1) There is often good learning that only comes from the hard times. Don’t miss out on that opportunity. 2) You can prepare for the next time with the experience of the past.
So don’t skip that next therapy appointment or put away your journal because you are feeling better. Take this opportunity to learn the best practices for healing and handling a crisis, and also to celebrate all the good work you did to pull yourself through.
Make yourself a letter, and treat it as your emergency kit. Write down all the things you learned about yourself–did you take particularly good care of yourself? Did your internal voice get kinder? Did you reach out to supportive people in your life? Did you ask for help? Did you eat better? Prioritize sleep? What was it that helped you? Even if you changed nothing, and have no idea what you did, maybe the answer is that time was what helped. Whatever it is that helped you during your challenging time–write it down.
You might even write it as a letter. Here’s an example:
“Dear self: If you’re reading this, it means that times are tough right now. I want to let you know that these times pass, even though it probably doesn’t feel like it now. I want you to remember the things that worked for you in the past when you felt like this. Even if you can’t believe that anything could help, maybe just give one or two of these a try. More importantly, remember-these times pass.
(then list some of the best practices. Here are some examples)
1. Go to sleep every night at ten pm, no matter what.
2. Move your body for at least five minutes every day-more is better, but even a little bit is good.
3. Avoid sugar and alcohol-they seem like they’ll help, but they make you feel worse.
4. Bubble baths are good.
5. Get fresh air at least once a day, even if you’re just sitting on the front doorstep.
6. Spend time with your favorite people only (maybe include a list of people who were particularly supportive to you in the past). Avoid the people who sap your energy or make you feel bad.
7. Play your favorite music all the time. Turn on the playlist I made for you of all your favorite songs.
8. Get back in touch with your therapist if you’re not seeing her right now. Don’t pretend it’s not a big deal-tell her you’re in a rocky time now and need help as soon as possible.
9.Watch stand-up comedy. You don’t think you’ll be able to laugh, but you will.
10. Meditate. It always helps.
And then, sign your letter with love. It’s a beautiful gift from your present day self to your future self.
Even the act of making this emergency kit will help decrease your stress when these hard days come again. When we’ve been through hard times, we often get quite anxious about the idea that bad times might come again. If we already have a plan in place, it becomes a fact of life, rather than a monster under the bed. Bad things happen, and we prepare for them, with the goal of providing comfort to ourself as we ride out the storm.