How to Give Yourself Mental First Aid When You're Feeling Sadness or Grief

Nick Hatter - Life Coach London
man holding baby

Sometimes we all face difficult emotions — even for us life coaches! But it’s how we respond to our emotions that determines our emotional intelligence.

As tempting as it is to reach for the pint of ice cream, junk food, or a beer, it’s better not to. Why? Because this can lead to a “maladaptive response to stress” — also known as “addiction.”

Instead, see the pain as a smoke alarm: something inside of you needs examining, healing, exorcising, etc. Think of it like a notification on your phone: “Alert: Feeling sadness — investigate ASAP.”

Just like in physical first aid, first, we need to stop the bleeding and put a bandage on the wound.

Here are some techniques for dealing with sadness and grief.

0. Remove yourself from the trigger or source of wound.

Avoid re-traumatizing yourself — remove yourself from the situation and avoid replaying the event.

Perhaps you just read a hurtful email or text message. Put the phone or computer down and get away from it.

Related:The Note My Kid Wrote When She Found My Journal Entry About Depression

If you are at work, see if you can get outside and go somewhere private. If you can’t you can always go to the bathroom and lock yourself in a toilet cubicle.

1. Ask yourself where you feel the emotional pain in your body.

Close your eyes for a moment. Ask yourself where in your body you feel the emotional pain. Is it more in your stomach? Your throat? Your heart? Once you’ve isolated where the pain is, put your hand over it.

This is a neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) technique to help you disassociate from your feelings.

Ask yourself what the size of the emotional wound is? How open is it? Does it have a color?

All you are doing here is observing and noting. This is very much a mindfulness exercise.

2. Place your hand over the emotional wound. 

Now close your eyes again and place your hand firmly over the emotional wound. Breathe in deeply and as you do so, visualize your hand getting warmer and clotting the emotional wound. Each time you breathe in, visualize the emotional wound getting smaller and smaller and seeing and feeling less emotions leak out.

Related:Why Mental Illness Made It Difficult to Embrace Vulnerability

Then gently rub or put yourself over where you feel the wound to make sure it stays closed.

3. Place one hand on your heart and one hand on your stomach.

Imagine you are holding a crying baby. Cradle this baby by rubbing your tummy and patting yourself on the heart. Gentle soothe it and perhaps make some cooing noises. The inner child is still within you and will feel soothed by this. In addition, doing this exercise will help distract from the difficult emotion.

4. Once calmer, ask what story is making you so distressed.

Ask what is the internal story driving the emotion? Perhaps it’s “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not lovable,” “I’m worthless and useless,” etc.

Whatever the narrative is, realize it’s just a story. Keep reassuring the wounded inner child, reminding them they are lovable, worthy, and good enough.

When a baby looks up at you with beautiful innocent eyes, whether they look at you with indifference, whether they laugh, smile, or cry, one thing is for certain: that baby is still worthy of love.

Related:When Depression Makes You Believe You're Always an Exception

And that baby is you. So love it with all of your heart!

5. Then ask what is the lesson to be learned. 

I often say that being triggered can be a gift; it shows you where there is more healing to be done.

I find it helpful to see the lesson that can be learned from suffering. For example, losing a friend or a loved one could be very painful, no doubt. The lesson that could be that life is a precious gift and is not to be wasted.

Your core beliefs can determine how you think, feel and act.

Summary

When a child is physically hurt, it can help to ask them where it hurts specifically, and then offer to kiss it better. This is often enough to help stop them crying.

My hypothesis is the same could be applied for emotional wounds. As I was writing this blog post to you, I actually followed these steps, and I certainly feel soothed.

Read more stories like this on The Mighty:

I Can't 'Snap Out' of Depression, but I'm Working on What I Can Control

When My Mental Illness Makes Me Feel Abandoned by Friends

How Growing Up With 'Tiger Parents' Affected My Depression