5 Steps to Create a Safe Space to Discuss Mental Health

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, psychologist, therapist or similar. This blog offers ideas, tools, strategies and recommendations based on my experience with anxiety, panic attacks and mental health. I do not guarantee any results or outcomes as strategies that have worked for me may not work for you. For diagnosis and treatment of any physical and mental health condition, consult a licensed professional.

As someone who has created a blog to share my mental health journey, I am grateful that people are becoming more receptive to mental health discussions.

Read More | 7 Strategies for Coping With Morning Anxiety

However, I recognize mental health awareness and acceptance are still relatively new. And I have noticed that many people lack the skills or understanding of how to engage in these conversations.

But I don’t want to use that as a criticism.

Man and woman in their safe space overlooking a forested mountain side

I was born in the 80s and raised believing that mental health conversations are taboo. We shouldn’t talk about it, we shouldn’t ask about it, and we should pretend it doesn’t exist.

It’s a difficult mindset to break, even more so without tools or guidance.

This difficulty is felt by those working on their mental health and those who want to support them.

In this post, I want to outline the skills necessary for discussing mental health and how to use them to create a safe space.

3 Key Skills for Discussing Mental Health

The main skills you need for discussing and understanding mental health are:

  1. Empathy: the ability to emotionally understand an experience from another’s viewpoint.
  2. Openness: the ability to be unbiased, honest and receptive to another’s experience.
  3. Consideration: the ability to think of and care for the feelings and needs of others.

These skills are required for both processing and supporting mental health. This means that both participants must practice these skills to have an effective conversation.

You will need to break your current mindset before you can develop these skills.

How Not To Discuss Mental Health

A common mistake I have experienced is people assuming that being open to mental health discussions warrants immediate permission.

Permission to do what?

Well, first, permission to ask questions.

This is a double-edged sword. Asking questions is acceptable because it shows your willingness to learn more about someone. But it’s very easy for questions to slip into inappropriate territory.

Second, permission to know sensitive details.

A relationship should not hinge on how deeply a person shares their history. There is no requirement for someone to share their trauma. And no time limit that earns the right to further details.

Third, permission to share.

In this case, I am referring to instances when a third party expects information that was shared in confidence. For example, the third party could express their desire for information in statements like “I just want to know more about them” or “what are they dealing with?”

I want to be very explicit and say that you do not have the right to know, and I do not have the right to tell you about someone else’s mental health diagnosis or history.

Before reading further, try to release these assumptions from your mind.

How to Practice Empathy, Openness and Consideration When Discussing Mental Health

A.      Remember that mental health is one aspect of who we are.

Though it can be a significant part and hold a lot of sway over our lives, we are not our diagnosis.

B.      Understand that discussing mental health is not easy.

It’s legitimately scary.

When someone reveals their trauma or vulnerabilities, they are leaving themselves exposed.

And no one wants to be left vulnerable or open to further harm.

C.      Appreciate that being an ally for mental health requires work, trust and protection.

You can’t back out if you opt to be there for someone. They will rely on you.

At the same time, you cannot expect them to trust or open up to you quickly.

You must demonstrate again and again that you can be trusted.

D.     Accept that this is a give-and-take relationship.

Both parties must willingly participate and make an effort.

If your effort is not being reciprocated, then end the discussion.

And understand that just because you want to share your history does not mean the other person must do so.

E.      Recognize that all mental health discussions must take place in a safe space.

A safe space is crucial for offering a sense of protection.

It will also give both parties a clear understanding of how to participate in these difficult discussions.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Mental Health America – Time To Talk: Tips For Talking About Your Mental Health

CAMH – Addressing Stigma

McLean Hospital – Let’s Face It, No One Wants To Talk About Mental Health

What Is a Safe Space?

A safe space is an area (whether a physical or social environment) in which a person feels free to be themselves. This means the space is welcoming, accepting, and free from bias, criticisms and risks of physical or emotional harm. And can include acceptance of different values, sexuality, mental health, etc. 

For this post, I will focus on the social environment in a safe space and how to create it for mental health discussions.

If you are interested in reading more about physical safe spaces, check out these posts from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Very Well Mind – How To Create Your Own ‘Safe Space’

Thrive – How to Create Your Own Safe Space at Home

My Peer Toolkit – Creating a safe space (This information is focused on young people)

A socially safe space is a comfortable environment for open discussions.

It is also an environment where a person feels safe to decline or selectively participate in certain topics.

Essentially, we want to create an environment where a person knows that we are here when they want to talk and will respect them when they don’t.

A safe space is something we build together.

It requires both parties to offer security, trust and openness.

And it takes time, effort and vulnerability to maintain.

An X symbol to denote what a safe space is not.

It is not something you are entitled to because of your relationship or because you are a nice person.

It is also not a tit-for-tat exchange. You cannot expect someone to share their deepest secret because you felt comfortable sharing yours.

Understand and accept that everyone will share what they can when they can. And remember to appreciate the trust they have in you.

Tips to Create a Safe Environment to Discuss Mental Health

“We don’t create a safe space for someone. Instead, we create a safe space with someone.”

– Ryan Tan, Samaritans of Singapore

1.      Verbally State Your Intentions

Have a conversation to establish that you want to create a safe space with the person you are talking to.

And I recognize this can be easier said than done, so try planning for this conversation.

First, think of why you have chosen this person:

  • What is your current relationship?
  • What do you want your relationship to be?
  • Why do you feel safe with them? (Think of specific examples.)
  • What do you want to share with them (i.e., your experience or support)?

Read More | Why You Should Start Journaling

You don’t have to tell the person why you chose them, but you need to understand why you did.

Why you chose them will determine how you broach the topic and how hard you are willing to work on creating this safe space.

Second, choose and rehearse the words you want to use.

This is a meaningful discussion. You don’t need a prepared speech. But you will want to organize your thoughts so they don’t come out as confusing word vomit.

  • How will you start the conversation? Will you be direct and to the point or feel things out first?
  • How could you transition a conversation into this discussion?
  • Why do you want to build a safe space with them?
  • Might this conversation make them uncomfortable? How can you make it easier?
  • How can you clarify that you are open to discussing mental health without suggesting criticism?

One thing I will caution is not to approach someone and say that you want to discuss their mental health.

Focus on the prize of building a safe space together to serve both your journeys. And yes, being a support system is its own journey.

An infographic for the 5 steps to create a safe environment to discuss mental health: 1. Verbally State Your Intentions. 2. Establish Boundaries. 3. Do Not Disclose Too Much Too Fast 4. Build Trust 5. Reinforce Your Safe Space

2.      Establish Boundaries

Once you have opened the discussion to create a safe space, it’s time for the work to begin.

Boundaries are the main area where your empathy, openness and consideration skills will converge.

Remember that a safe space offers security, inclusion and respect.

And boundaries are the guidelines we share to protect ourselves and respect others. We may also consider them as a means of relaying our needs.

Some examples of boundaries that may create a safe space are:

  • Do not lie to me.
  • Do not share my story with others.
  • Tell me when you are uncomfortable sharing.
  • Understand that when I cannot share, it is not because I don’t trust you.

Again, these are just examples.

Your boundaries will be specific to your needs. They can be based on your personal history and current relationship with the person and be subject to change.

Four factors to establishing boundaries in a safe space:

  1. Consider what you need in a safe space and set it as a boundary.
  2. Verbally state your boundaries to ensure your needs are clear.
  3. Be open to accepting the boundaries set by the other person.
  4. Discuss and negotiate if your boundaries clash (i.e., you have opposing needs that may leave one or both of you uncomfortable).

When negotiating boundaries, keep in mind you are creating a safe space for each other.

Negotiating boundaries can take a lot of work and compromise.

Just remember why you wanted this safe space and give it the effort it deserves.

And know it may not be easy, but this conversation is crucial.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Psych Central – 10 Ways to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries

Real Simple – This Is What It Looks Like to Set Personal and Emotional Boundaries

3.      Do Not Disclose Too Much Too Fast

You’ve discussed your desire to create a safe space and have established boundaries. So it may feel like it’s time to tell your life story. Not so fast!

It can feel exciting to have someone you can share with. But being too open comes with many downsides.

First, you don’t want to trauma dump on others.

And this could be done by either party. Sometimes an ally will dump their whole history to encourage the other person to share theirs. But while you may feel a sense of relief, you have now burdened or possibly hurt the other person.

Instead, start learning how to discuss trauma constructively. This includes finding a balance between under-sharing and oversharing. And allow room for the other person to assert their boundaries and protect their well-being.

Second, oversharing very quickly does not demonstrate trust.

Instead, it can be perceived as attention-seeking behaviour.

Consider a safe space like it’s an unknown body of water. You don’t know how deep it is. And if you dive right in, you may end up hurt or appear untrustworthy for being reckless.

Treat this space with care.

Third, you never want to give the impression that you would share this personal information with just anyone.

On the contrary, demonstrate that this information is something that you keep close and only share with select people.

Build trust slowly by sharing information in small doses over a few conversations.

This will also go a long way in creating a trusted, safe space.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Psych Central – Trauma Dumping: Why Considering the Impact of Oversharing Matters

Very Well Mind – When Oversharing Turns into Trauma Dumping, and How to Stop

Forbes – There Is A Clear Line Between Oversharing And Being Authentic — Here’s How To Avoid Crossing It

4.      Build Trust

You want to demonstrate both your trust and trustworthiness.

Showing trust does not only mean being vulnerable. Vulnerability is actually something you work towards. And you cannot be genuinely vulnerable before building a foundation of trust.

How do you build trust?

  • Be honest and reliable.
  • Be open with what you are comfortable sharing.
  • Demonstrate you feel secure with stopping a conversation if you are uncomfortable.
  • Verbally assert your current boundaries and open a discussion when you want to change them.
  • Listen and show understanding.
  • Let the other person know you appreciate their trust and confidence.
  • Ensure your actions align with your words.
  • Do not offer solutions, criticize or dismiss an experience.

Once you gain trust, never discussing what you have been told in confidence with or around a third party is crucial. This includes alluding to or hinting at having private information.

I’m not sure why some people do this. Perhaps they are bragging about having a close relationship. Or maybe they wrongly assume this shows they won’t tell anyone specific details. I honestly don’t know.

But it’s best to keep the fact that you are a trusted confidant a secret.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Talk Space – How to Make Every Space a Safe Space

Positive Psychology – 10 Ways To Build Trust in a Relationship

5.      Reinforce Your Safe Space

Remember that the safe space is for both of you. You will want to share your feelings and follow up with the other person.

Check in to ensure the space still feels safe and comfortable to all parties involved.

  • If any boundaries need to be changed, adjust them.
  • If the discussions have been too difficult, ask to take a step back.
  • If trust has been bent or broken, discuss it.

How often you check in depends on your relationship and how frequently you discuss difficult topics.

It’s also important to check in on the other person whenever you feel unsure about something.

For example, I’ve experienced moments when I was unsure if I had pushed against a boundary. Once I realized I may have made a mistake, I would state, “Please let me know if I’m being too much or if you feel uncomfortable.”

Again, maintaining a safe space requires constant work. But keeping communication focused on consideration for each other will make the work easier.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Ourselves Black – Breaking The Stigma: 4 Ways To Start The Mental Health Conversation

Think Mental Health – How to start the conversation

Sage Thinking – Creating Safe Spaces for Courageous Conversations

The Ladders – How to make every space a safe space

How Boundaries May Change in A Safe Space

You may be wondering why I keep mentioning adjusting or changing boundaries.

The ability to change boundaries is what makes a space safe.

Your comfort with and trust in the other person will be ever-evolving.

I will outline three possible stages in maintaining a safe space from the perspective of someone sharing their trauma. This will give you an idea of what it could look like.

However, everyone’s journey is different, so please do not judge your safe space against these examples.

In stage one, you may feel very guarded and unsure if this person is safe. You know that you want to tryto create a close relationship, but you also want to protect yourself.

You will likely have rigid boundaries using “do not” or “cannot” wording. This is because telling others what is not acceptable to you provides protection.

In stage two, the other person has demonstrated they are trustworthy. You may begin to feel secure but not yet ready to open up fully.

This is a good time to re-assess and discuss your boundaries.

Perhaps you will change your boundaries from “do not” rules into “if I’m feeling [emotion], I will/won’t [action]” statements. This tells the other person that you feel more comfortable exploring difficult topics and secure with showing some vulnerability.

In stage three, you may feel confident that you are in a truly safe space. This doesn’t mean that you will be an open book. Instead, it means that you will clearly understand what you can and want to share.

You will still have boundaries. And some may still use “do not” wording, and others may still include if/then statements. But maybe you will create a new personal boundary for yourself to follow.

It is also possible that someone may downgrade from stage 2 to stage 1. This could result from a problem in the safe space or an external factor.

It’s important to understand that a safe space will always require boundaries. And that’s a good thing.

Try to remain empathetic, open and considerate.

How to discuss mental health. 5 tips to create a safe environment.

Summary

If you are new to discussing mental health, I hope you will find this information useful. Just having an interest in starting these conversations is an excellent first step. Remember that being a support system requires a lot of discussions, effort and patience with minimal reward. You will make mistakes. And you may never understand how someone feels or the full details of their journey. But it means a lot to anyone working on their mental health to know that someone is there or wants to be there.

Takeaways

  • Try to release negative and harmful assumptions about mental health from your mind.
  • Focus on creating a safe space and understand what that looks like.
  • Start working on your empathy, openness and consideration skills.
  • Use empathy to understand that sharing information can be difficult and takes time.
  • Also, respect that you may never get full details and that’s okay.
  • Use openness to talk to your person and let them tell you what they need from you.
  • Never assume you know what is best.
  • Use consideration to create and respect boundaries.
  • And understand that it is not disrespectful when a person does not open up to you.
  • Keep trying not by asking or demanding more answers, but rather by asserting I am here if you need to talk.

Did I miss any negative assumptions about mental health? Also, as a safe space will look different for everyone, please share your opinion in the comments on how to create a safe space.

Why You Should Start Journaling

Journaling is a very personal activity. And there are many different purposes and means of keeping a journal.

It can be a memoir of your travel, year or life.

It can be a means of self-help, record-keeping or tracking personal goals.

Or it may just be a new hobby to try.

I have been journaling for ten years. And I have used many journals for various reasons.

In this post, I aspired to include everything you may want to know about starting a journal. It may be an information overload. Just take what you want and leave the rest. Please use the links to jump ahead to the section you need.

One of the purposes of this blog is to share my mental health journey. So I have focused a lot on journaling for mental health. However, I hope the information I provide is still useful for anyone interested in journaling.

Why to start a mental health journal

Why Do People Journal?

The most basic use of a journal is to keep track of events and experiences. But the benefit is beyond the simple act of writing. Reading over those events later gives us a unique view of ourselves.

Every entry includes snippets of our personality, mindset and emotions.

Our mindset in a moment can shape how we view and remember an event. But our memories make it very difficult to separate fact from emotion. A journal entry gives more detail than our memory ever will. And once we have multiple entries to review, we can get a richer portrait of ourselves.

The self-reflective element of journaling makes it useful for practicing self-care, emotional intelligence, and improving therapy.

Journaling for Self-Care

Self-care is exactly as the name suggests: caring for yourself. It is the activities that you do to take care of your health.

Proper self-care requires working on yourself every day, both mentally and physically.

A good self-care routine includes activities that are physical, mental and emotional.

  • Physical activities are things like walking, dancing or taking a bath.
  • Mental activities like reading, drawing or learning a new skill.
  • Emotional activities like meditation, talking with friends or journaling.

Keeping a journal eases your thoughts and feelings.

It also can help you understand your mind, especially when it starts to feel jumbled and overwhelmed.

And reading past entries will also remind you of good days filled with happy memories. And you can trust the bad days will pass.

Journaling for Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is all about recognizing, understanding and using our emotions. And as I said above, one of the benefits of journaling is self-reflection.

Reading through past journal entries allows us to identify our feelings and the source of those feelings.

I’ll give you a very personal example of using a journal for EQ:

I started to find my journal entries to have common themes of feeling sad, small, and stupid. The common event was any form of contact with my partner. Once I realized this, I began to use my journal to encourage myself to end the relationship.

I identified my feelings, understood their cause and used them to create positive change in my life.

While this is an oversimplified explanation of EQ, keeping a journal is one practice to grow your emotional intelligence.

Journaling for Therapy

A journal can help you talk to your therapist.

Journaling has been described as a cheap form of therapy. But I would never say that it replaces a therapist. I have been in therapy during my mental health journey, and nothing can fully replace the help it provides.

Keeping a journal for therapy will add to your growth.

My experience is that a therapist will expect you to do homework between sessions. This homework could be reflecting on your session or practicing some form of self-help. Your therapist may even provide you with resources, such as worksheets or tasks. But if not, a journal is a great tool.

Regular entries will reveal your mindset and help you understand why you are struggling. Through these breakthroughs, you can narrow down what you need to work on in your sessions. Therefore, a journal can help you talk to your therapist.

You can also use a journal to track your progress in therapy. Re-read your entries over the past year to see where you started and how it’s going.

We take from therapy as much as we put into it. It takes time, emotion and honesty. And writing a journal entry gives us this outlet while only requiring a few minutes of our day.

How I Started Journaling (And Almost Quit)

When I was in high school, a teacher told everyone to keep a pad of paper and a pen next to their bed.

It was easy to start. I bought a cheap notebook and searched online for journal prompts.

And I wrote every day to form the habit.

Working the pen lightens my load.

But it quickly felt like a chore for two reasons:

First, I have very messy handwriting.

My hand simply cannot keep up with my thoughts. And when I first started, I hated that. I wanted to have pretty journals and didn’t want to wreck a new one with my writing.

I started writing slowly and focused hard on my penmanship. Until I realized I wasn’t writing as much as I needed to express myself fully.

Eventually, I came to accept how much better it feels to mark the page than to have pristine paper. Working the pen lightens my load when I write freely.

Second, I was trying to follow prompts and 30-day writing challenges.

Prompts are great for beginners. They will give you ideas of what to write about.

But I only connected with a few prompts I found online. So I’d be bored using the same topic again. Or I’d force myself to write one I’m not interested in. It wasn’t fun or beneficial.

Therefore, once I understood the journaling basics, I stopped using prompts.

My tactic is now to start with a statement or create a question, similar to the examples I provide below.

Ultimately, I got the idea and basics of journaling from other people. But I’ve been able to keep journaling for over ten years because I adjusted the pastime to suit my needs.

I try to update my journal three times a week. I allow my pages to be messy. And I rarely use prompts unless they’re interesting.

Everything you want to know about starting a journal

How to Write In a Journal

The rules are there ain’t no rules.

– “Grease” (1978)

A journal is incredibly personal. And there is no one right way to do it.

So let’s start by breaking whatever misconceptions you may have about journaling:

It is not a school assignment. You don’t have to be a good writer, use proper grammar or tell a story. There is no minimum number of words and no maximum number of pages. You are writing for yourself. You won’t need to explain your thoughts to other people or seek their approval. And please don’t feel like you have to write pages-long prose about the woes of the day.

Now let’s give you some motivation to start writing:

Write about what you want as often as you need. You can write once a day, four times a day, once a week, three times a month—it’s in your hands. A few sentences are fine. It’s understandable if you don’t have the energy to write every day.

Write when you are happy as well as when you are sad.

Choose a writing style that suits you:

  • Freewriting
  • Jot notes
  • Lists
  • Poems
  • Lyrics
  • Comics
  • Doodles
  • Write in a notebook
  • Type on a computer or phone

Use one pen or multi-coloured pens and highlighters to develop your own technique.

Using different pens really helped me in therapy.

When I journal, I will often start wherever my mind is focused. For example, it could be in the middle of a story. Then as I write through the event, I will go on tangents to cover different angles.

Before my next therapy session, I will read over my journal entries and mark up the pages with a different coloured pen. In other words, I study my journal entries to prepare my notes.

Bottom line: You have total freedom to do whatever you want in your journal.

Start Your Journal

Before buying a journal… start writing.

Before buying your first journal, notebook or diary, start writing.

On the one hand, waiting until you find the perfect journal is a great excuse not to start journaling. (You’ll have to trust me on this as I am a master procrastinator.)

On the other hand, you need to figure out your journaling style.

I don’t want you to find writing as a task. So, let’s keep it simple.

Experiment to find the best writing style for you, using whatever you have on hand:

  • Add notes on your phone.
  • Start typing on your computer.
  • Make a list on post-its.
  • Answer prompts on a notepad.
  • Draw on blank paper.

Think of this as an audition.

Try writing every day, but do something a little different. If on Monday, you write a list of your favourite songs. On Tuesday, try drawing your emotions. And on Wednesday, free write on your computer.

You can narrow down the proper journal when you know what feels most comfortable for you.

Getting The Right Journal

Infographic about buying your first journal including notebooks (hard-bound, soft-bound and spiral-bound), paper (lined, unlined and dotted), Pages and cost

Once you know how you want to journal, you can start looking at the available options.

Again, journaling does not have to be expensive.

To give you an idea of the variety of journals, I will describe my journals and how I use them.

I currently have 5 personal journals and use them for various reasons:

  1. Mental health

My mental health journal is a big honker. It has three sections separated as lined, unlined, and dotted pages. It is spiral-bound and has 480 pages. It cost less than $20.00.

I really hop around and use whichever section fits my current mood. I write on all the pages but also use the unlined and dotted pages to draw.

I also use the unlined pages during my therapy sessions. My sessions are over messenger, so I jot down what we discuss and any advice I receive. After the session, I review everything and use a different coloured pen to write notes.

  1. Brainstorming

My brainstorming journal has 120 lined pages. It is a soft-bound notebook and had cost about $14.00.

I use this journal for writing my blog posts. To be blunt, this is my most chaotic journal.

  1. Quotes

My quotes journal has 100 lined pages. It is a soft-bound notebook. The cover was custom-designed and cost around $50.00 in total. The cover is also removable. Once the notebook is full, I can get a new one and re-use the cover.

I use this journal to keep track of the first sentence of every book that I read. I got the idea from a writing class. This is my favourite way of keeping track of the books I’ve read. When I re-read the sentence, I instantly remember the book I got it from.

  1. Doodling

My doodling journal has 500 unlined pages. It is a hard-bound art book. The pages are designed to absorb ink without bleeding through to the next. For this reason, it also cost $40.00.

I am not good at drawing, but that doesn’t stop me. I draw multiple images on every page. And I date each of my pictures. I’ve noticed some improvement as I keep practicing, so seeing the dates is also encouraging.

  1. Notes

My note-taking journal is really a catch-all. It has four sections and 400 pages. It is a spiral-bound notebook and cost $20.00.

I use it to learn new programs, self-care strategies, hobbies, etc.

Some things to consider

Your best journal is whatever suits your writing style and feels most comfortable. And every option has strengths and weaknesses.

A soft-bound will need to be held open. But you will get full use of the paper. I also like how they look on the shelf.

A spiral-bound will fold around, so you have less to hold. I also like how easy it is to pull a page from a spiral-bound notebook. But the coil may be uncomfortable to rest your wrist on. And sometimes, the coil wrecks the covers of other books, so I don’t want them on my bookshelves.

Some notebooks include writing prompts. These are good if you really want a writing challenge or need the motivation. But they will cost more money. And the possibilities for these journals are limited to the subject of the prompts.

If you want a journal just because you love the cover, go for it! I have bought many journals for that exact reason. In time, I always find a use for them.

And I fully encourage you to keep multiple journals at once. You can separate them by theme or goal.

Again, there are no rules so choose the options that serve you best.

What to Write In Your Journal

It can be challenging to sit down and start writing. You may question where or how you should start.

Just remember that there are no rules to writing in a journal.

If you have something sitting heavy in your mind, write it out.

And it’s okay to start in the middle of a story. You are journaling for yourself, not for other people to read. You already know the situation/feeling/problem you are writing about. Let it out; the paper can take it.

If you need some help to get started, please use my list of journal prompts.

Journal Prompts

Choose the prompts that connect with you. Don’t force yourself to write every prompt.

General

  • What did I do today?
  • How do I feel today? Why?
  • Look out the window. What do I see? (Be detailed.)
  • What is something new I learned this week?
  • What are my goals for today? This week? This year?

Opening Statements

  • The things that bring me the most joy are…
  • I want/need to forgive…
  • I wish…
  • I am excited to…
  • I am focused on…

Lists

  • 10 of my favourite inspirational quotes.
  • 5 emotions. Try to answer: what does [emotion] mean to me?
  • Things to let go of.
  • My favourite song lyrics. (Can you explain why?)
  • Daily affirmations.

For Mental Health

  • What am I grateful for today?
  • What makes me feel safe? (These could be people, objects, places or actions.)
  • How do I want to feel today?
  • What do I love about myself?
  • (After meditation) What passed through my mind?
20 effective prompts to motivate your journaling journey. Prompts for beginners.

I hope you feel motivated to get that journal started! Have you started a journal? Share your tips or questions in the comments below!

5 Personality Quizzes for Personal Growth

We all have a fascination with personality quizzes.

We enjoy measuring our compatibility, discovering our spirit animal, and finding our Hogwarts house (I’m Hufflepuff, y’all!). 

Regardless of the test, receiving a general assessment of our personality is incredibly interesting.

But their value goes beyond simple fun as they are a considerable resource for personal growth.

And the internet is awash with easy quizzes created by psychologists for this exact use.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, psychologist, therapist or similar. This blog offers ideas, tools, strategies and recommendations based on my experience with anxiety, panic attacks and mental health. I do not guarantee any results or outcomes as strategies that have worked for me may not work for you. For diagnosis and treatment of any physical and mental health condition, consult a licensed professional.

5 free personality quizzes to start your self-discovery

Quizzes to Support a Personal Growth Journey

Personality tests offer a unique outsider’s perspective to help us be introspective and self-analyze.

By answering a few questions at the start of our journey, we can discover strengths and weaknesses that we might not realize we have.

Once we identify the areas we want to focus on and improve, we can set our goals.

Then we can judge our progress by retaking the tests during the journey.

5 Free Personality Quizzes

Below is a list of 5 personality quizzes that I have found most informative on my journey.

(I have no affiliation with these websites. And please note that the links will take you away from the Introvert Proofing website, and you will be subject to the Privacy Policy of those individual websites.)

All the quizzes provide a test and free, basic results. However, I will indicate anywhere additional fees may be required for in-depth results.

I have ordered the list based on the amount of free information offered on each website.

Guidelines for Completing the Quizzes

The quizzes are all multiple choice, and there are no wrong answers. To get the best results:

  1. Answer honestly and with the first answer that comes to mind.
  2. Do not overthink your responses.
  3. Do not try to answer based on what you think you should choose.

Once you have your results, think about the traits you identify with—positive and negative. Again, these are general results, so some characteristics may not apply to you. Now you can begin to focus on those traits you want to improve.

How do personality quizzes support your journey? 1. A unique outsider's perspective. 2. Discover hidden strengths and weaknesses. 3. Provide focus to set goals. 4. Track progress.

Grab yourself a beverage and get comfy; it’s time to discover who you are.

1.      16Personalities

This quiz takes roughly 10 minutes to complete.

The amount of free information on the website is rather impressive. For example, each personality type includes data for the following categories: introduction, strengths and weaknesses, romantic relationships, friendships, parenthood, career paths, workplace habits, and conclusion. Some free articles and a newsletter subscription are also available.

For more detailed information, you may pay for a premium profile. There are 3 one-time payment options that all provide an e-book specific to your personality type and access to their web content for 1 year:

  1. Basic: $29.00
  2. Basic plus access to additional tests $49.00
  3. Basic plus access to additional tests and all 16 personality e-books $169.00.

With this quiz, I learned that I am an INFJ-T, a rare personality type. It explains many of my struggles and reveals some pretty impressive strengths!

2.      Interpersonal Skills Self-Assessment

This quiz from Skills You Need takes about 15 minutes to complete.

The results are completely free. You will have the option to receive the results via email, or you may skip that option and copy/paste the results into a saveable document.

Interpersonal skills are all about how we interact with other people. And this quiz provides our percentage scores in the following categories: listening skills, emotional intelligence, verbal communication, and communicating in groups.

The results provide links to their pages with further information on developing these skills.

This quiz was important for my journey as I am very introverted. And to have the experiences I always dreamed of, I needed to identify the skills I lack.

I ranked well in emotional intelligence but need to improve in group communication. I’m working on it.

| Read more: Are Introverts Rude?

3.      Who Am I? Visual DNA

This quiz takes 10 minutes to complete.

I find this quiz format quite interesting as it provides pictures for you to react, analyze and respond to.

The results are completely free. You will receive a printable PDF showing the percentages you scored under 5 categories. And each category then explains what this means about your personality.

Note: To keep this test free, they ask that you do a brand/advertising test. It is completely optional and can be skipped to take you directly to your results. But they are well-worth the support.

The website does not provide additional information beyond the PDF. However, I like it as an interesting assessment.

This quiz encouraged me to share my journey and start my blog.

4.      Enneagram

This quiz from Truity takes 10-15 minutes to complete.

The free results are presented in a pie chart showing which personality type you most identify with.

A full 18-page report of your test results is available for $29.00.

However, the website also provides information for all 9 enneagram personalities, including their personality types, core values, relationships, and tips for growth. Read more

Enneagram is also very trendy at the moment, so you may find additional information for your number through an online search.

I’ve taken this quiz twice over a several-month period. My initial result was a 9, and my second a 1.

5.      Emotional Intelligence Test

This quiz from Psychology Today takes 45 minutes to complete.

The test offers situations and asks how you would respond in order to assess your self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, and social skills.

I am a firm believer that EQ is influential in personal growth, mental health, and relationships.

The results are provided with a rating out of 100 and one paragraph explaining if you’re doing well or not. So not a whole lot of free information.

However, a full report is available for $9.95.

I recently scored an 81 for my ability to read others’ emotions and understand myself. Unfortunately, I had taken this quiz earlier in my journey but did not document my results at that time. And I don’t want to speculate on a number. However, I do know that my score has improved!

Personality Quizzes for Personal Growth

Summary

I hope that you will find these quizzes fun and informative.

Maybe the results will surprise you, and you can better understand who you are.

As for your journey, I hope your results will help you to celebrate your strengths, identify your weaknesses and set your personal growth goals.

Have you used any personality quizzes during your journey? Please share them in the comments below!

7 Strategies for Coping with Morning Anxiety

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, psychologist, therapist or similar. This blog offers ideas, tools, strategies and recommendations based on my experience with anxiety, panic attacks and mental health. I do not guarantee any results or outcomes as strategies that have worked for me may not work for you. For diagnosis and treatment of any physical and mental health condition, consult a licensed professional.

When does your anxiety usually hit?

I’m hardest hit in the morning—right when I wake up.

Anxious thoughts always seem to float through my final REM cycle of the night.

It is the worst alarm clock ever.

Pinterest Image: Seven self-care strategies to cope with morning anxiety

My mind is constantly working.

As an office worker and again as a teacher, I would constantly be thinking about what I needed to do at work and the best way to accomplish it. And now, with my blog, I’m always thinking of new content and how to present it.

No matter what kind of job I have, I lose sleep thinking about it.

And then there are all the other things that I worry about: a bill that needs to be paid, heavy rainfall, questioning if I turned off the stove or a what-if scenario that I’m running late.

Any of these things will force me to sit bolt upright in bed, drenched in sweat, heart hammering away as if the world is ending.

Anxiety is a terrible way to start the day.

But I have learned how to manage my anxious mornings with time-intensive strategies; and none of them are ignoring it until it goes away

We can fake confidence, but we can’t deceive our mental health.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Healthline – Why Do I Have Anxiety in the Morning?

Well and Good – How to Prevent Morning Anxiety From Totally Ruining Your Day

Anxiety Specialists of Atlanta – Waking up Exhausted and Anxious?

1. Take a Day

Some people offer this as a last resort, but having a day for yourself is vital.

I think everyone should take a day more often. But I realize that this is not always an option for everyone based on your job or economic necessity.

If your job offers mental health days or sick days, take them.

If you’re a stay-at-home parent, ask your partner or a family member to take over for a few hours.

Calling work may add a little more nervousness to your morning. And I have always needed to convince myself to do it, but I have never regretted making the call.

Dedicate the entire day to yourself if you can.

Catch up on the sleep that was attacked.

Do your comforting activities.

Ignore social media for the whole day (I’ll explain why later).

And just relax. And I mean, really relax.

If part of your anxiety revolves around unfinished household chores, set a one-hour timer to get some (not all) done. Then save the remainder of the day for yourself.

My typical mental health day is filled with the comforting and stress-relieving activities I enjoy:

  • Sleeping for as long as possible with Do Not Disturb in full effect.
  • A shower to relax tense muscles and keep my skin healthy.
  • Wearing daytime pyjamas.
  • Drinking a warm beverage, but I try to avoid caffeine as it won’t soothe an anxious body.
  • And listening to an audiobook while working on a puzzle to focus my mind.

Again, these are the activities that I enjoy and I find calming.

When you take a day for yourself, fill it with the activities that comfort you. You can exercise, do crafts, bake, or do anything that feels calming to you.

It’s your day.

The main point is to rest your body and your mind.

2. Make a To-Do List

Anxiety sometimes leaves me feeling as if I am lazy, inept, and unproductive.

When an anxiety attack hits first thing in the morning, the idea of getting through the day can be daunting.

It’s already hard to get out of bed and only gets worse as the day’s tasks continue to build up.

Write a list on paper or your phone to get those tasks out of your mind.

When you accomplish a task, you can check it off.

It’s hard to explain but seeing all the check marks on a completed list is uplifting.

Even if I have completed a task before making a list, I will write it down for the simple joy of checking it off.

A to-do list helps me to focus. I know what I need to do, and I can track my progress for the day.

I can also limit my list based on what my current energy can accomplish.

If I have ten tasks but only the energy for four, I list the four most important things I need to do today. The act of finishing those four tasks may give me the energy to complete another two, three or four. And if I can’t do all ten, I reassure myself by looking at what I have achieved today.

My list will prove to my mind that I am competent and productive.

3. Feel for 15

This suggestion will take time and practice to master, but it’s entirely worth the effort.

Emotional intelligence is all about being aware of, understanding and managing our emotions.

No one likes to feel angry, sad, or anxious. These are heavy emotions that wear on our bodies. 

But we need to experience all emotions in their turn.

When anxiety hits, give yourself a set amount of time to feel through it.

You will dictate the amount of time you are prepared to give to your anxious thoughts.

This can be done in bed, in the shower or on the bus ride to work.

When my chest is bursting, I allow my mind 15 minutes to be anxious.

I will start by asking myself aloud, 

Okay, what are we freaking out about? 

Then my mind will flow through every negative and positive thought for 15 minutes.

That time allows me to be introspective about the issue(s) that triggered my anxiety and possible solutions.

I also use my physical coping mechanisms to calm my body during this time.

| Read more: How to Self-Soothe During a Panic Attack

The anxious thought may return later.

However, I can self-soothe with the reassurance that I already gave it time:

“No. I’ve already worried about that. Let it go.”

Through practice, I have found that 15 minutes works best for me.

If you need more or less time, take it.

Try not to suppress your anxiety, anger or sadness. I am happier for feeling all of my emotions.

4. Journal

The old faithful.

The basics of journaling are getting your feelings out of your mind.

Use it to understand and work through your thoughts and experiences. 

It doesn’t matter how you write; just write:

  • Freewrite
  • Jot notes
  • Poems
  • Lyrics
  • Comics

When I am anxious, I freewrite in my journal and let my mind go on its journey. 

Sometimes it just relieves me from the weight of overwhelming thoughts. 

And sometimes, it helps me find solutions.

Writing is a comforting activity for me. Just the feeling of writing with a pen on paper is calming. 

Please never feel embarrassed about starting a journal. It’s personal, and it’s helpful.

5. Use Affirmations

An affirmation is a positive statement we can use to recondition our minds.

It is a mindful activity that we need to prepare and practice during calm moments. Consider it like preparing your arsenal for when anxiety attacks.

You can find an overwhelming number of affirmations through Google. But I would suggest using those as examples only.

I find affirmations are more successful when meaningful and personal.

| Read more: Generate Positivity With Affirmations

You can also choose the number of affirmations that you need. Rely on one or choose from a collection to suit your present circumstances.

Should an anxiety attack hit me, I choose one of my affirmations and repeat it in my mind or out loud while looking into a mirror.

And I don’t just use affirmations when I am feeling anxious. I have five daily affirmations that I say to myself in the morning and night.

I find they don’t just protect me; they can also set my mood.

6. Do Not Use Social Media

I know that scrolling through Instagram or Facebook can feel relieving; we can see cute animals or funny videos.

But we have zero control over what we will see on social media.

Your friends and family can share personal updates or news stories that you are not prepared for.

Or you may start watching a cute animal video just to find out it’s an in memoriam—this happened to me recently.

If you’re already feeling anxious, stay offline.

Similarly, be deliberate about when you check the news. It’s important to stay informed. But a majority of the stories are negative.

I don’t need to compound an anxious day with further doom and gloom.

Choose a comforting activity that you can control.

7. Do Not Use Negative Self-Talk

Anxiety will try to convince you that you suck.

But your mind is lying to you.

You are worth so much more than every negative thought.

And you owe it to yourself to be encouraging and optimistic.

I would never speak to the people I love how my mind speaks to me.

I consciously reassure myself that I am safe and loved and better than my mind wants me to believe.

Pinterest image: Transform your mind. How to overcome morning anxiety. Anxiety is a terrible way to start the day. 
Learn how to manage anxious mornings with 
time-intensive strategies.

I hope that you have noticed the common theme among my coping strategies is self-care: giving time to the care of my mind, body and emotions.

For an anxious person, it can feel like the best solution to our struggle is to become numb and just follow through the motions of the day.

But we are not robots.

I want to live a fulfilling life, not just survive the day.

Blocking out feelings to avoid the bad ones also blocks out everything positive, happy and exciting.

Pushing through to endure beyond enduring draws a heavy cost on our health.

And not giving time to our difficult emotions does not control them. It actually takes all control from us.

Knowing the best strategies to serve your anxiety will first depend on what your anxiety triggers are.

| Read more: 100 Anxiety Triggers

Try to keep in mind that most mental health remedies, strategies and skills take practice, time and effort.

There is no quick or easy solution so give yourself time to find the perfect strategies to serve you.

When does your anxiety usually hit? And what is your most successful coping strategy? Share it in the comments below!

Generate Positivity With Affirmations

What’s the state of your internal monologue? Are you encouraging? Or do you ridicule yourself?

Most of us use negative statements regularly:

  • I’m not good enough.
  • I can’t do it.
  • I suck.

Whether we say them out loud or in our heads, they do nothing but convince us that we are not worthy of our goals.

But we don’t deserve this negative narrative.

Start speaking to yourself with the same kindness you would offer to the people you cherish.

Affirming your positive life: The benefits of creating your own affirmations and the easy 4-step process to write positivity into your life

The Stigma of Affirmations

I didn’t use to believe in affirmations.

I was deterred by the stigma surrounding people who use words to bolster self-confidence.

Affirmations were often demonstrated by seemingly neurotic, low self-esteem people in movies and TV shows. It gave the impression that affirmations are silly. “A reasonable person would never look in a mirror and tell themselves how great they are”—wrong.

Such negative representations of effective mental health practices keep many people from seeking the help they need. And the support they deserve.

It coincides with the misconceptions that self-care is selfish and that we shouldn’t discuss mental health.

Affirmations are effective, and we should not be afraid to try them.

What is An Affirmation?

Affirmations are positive statements that we use to refresh our minds.

And just as negative talk can erode our self-image, the opposite is true.

  • I am good enough.
  • I can do it.
  • I’m great.

Affirmations can be used to target any part of your life or mentality that you want to change. Make a positive impact on your self-care, self-esteem, career, relationships, or mental health.

Benefits of Creating Your Affirmations

The process has its own benefits.

The internet has many examples of affirmations.  And they’re helpful if you connect with the statements.

However, I believe that the most effective affirmations are those you create for yourself.

Why is that?

Well, let me tell you.

The process has its own benefits.

First, creating affirmations requires self-reflection. Because as we start identifying what we want to change, we discover the root of the negativity.

Second, once we know the root, the positive statements can target those specific negative thoughts.

Last, what we target becomes our goal. Goals provide a means to judge our growth. And seeing our growth encourages us to continue on our journey.

Features of An Effective Affirmation

1.      Positive vibes only.

An affirmation should be positive.

Try not to include any statements that allude to the negative thoughts. This will only draw focus to the negative.

Try not to include words like don’t, won’t and can’t.

Examples of weak affirmations:

  • I don’t suck.
  • I won’t tell myself I can’t do it.
  • I can’t say I’m not worthy.

We want to rephrase the complete sentence into something positive.

2.      Be realistic.

Ensure your goal is believable and achievable. You may be discouraged if it is too far out of your grasp.

Don’t be afraid to set smaller goals while you progress to the big ones.

Say your goal is to get a promotion. That big goal is your endgame.

Set small goals to help get you there:

  • Grow your confidence.
  • Start telling yourself how well you do your job.
  • Start growing your leadership skills.
  • Identify your weaknesses and consider how you can turn them into strengths.

Create affirmations to support each of these goals.

You can also use affirmations to prepare for this journey. For example, use phrases like “I am open to…” and “I am in the process of…” to help you negotiate with your negative mind.

Use your affirmations to inspire: you may not be there yet, but you’re working on it.

3.      Stay in the present.

It is best to write in the present tense using I and my phrases like “I am…” or “I can…” or “My strengths….”

You want to influence your mind’s acceptance that you already possess these positive features.

4.      Focus on the self.

Use affirmations to positively change the things you can control.

Instead of affirming, “My co-workers will like me,” try, “I can accept if they don’t.”

You cannot control what other people think or do. But you can control your reaction.

This journey is about you. Accept yourself, love yourself and grow.

And understand that you may outgrow the negative influencers in your life.

5.      No deadlines.

A sure-fire way to disappoint yourself is to set a progress deadline.

Sometimes the negative thoughts have deep roots. They’ve had years to grow.

And while we can encourage change, we cannot force it. The change will come as you practice your affirmations and work towards your goals.

So try to keep your affirmations free from time expressions like “this time next year,” “by the end of the month,” or “in 30 days.”

6.      Short and sweet.

Keep the affirmation short and to the point. It should be memorable.

You will be repeating your affirmations multiple times a day. And you don’t want to get caught up in trying to remember the wording.

As you begin practicing your affirmations, you may decide to edit the phrasing. That’s great!

Adjust the statements to suit your needs.

Create An Affirmation in Four Steps

Creating an affirmation only takes a few steps.

1.      Set up your page.

(a)      Add a title.

The title is entirely optional but can help keep you organized. The title may be especially beneficial as your journey begins branching into different areas.

For example:

  • Affirmations for self-care
  • Affirmations for my career
  • Affirmations for emotional intelligence

(b)      Divide the page into two columns.

Either fold a page in half or draw a line down the center.

2.      List your negative qualities.

In the left column, write your negatives.

Try to be as specific as possible.

To help you create this list, you could refer to your journal entries, take time to self-reflect, or consider feedback from others.

I will use the example of “I feel uncomfortable standing in front of a class.” (I think first-time teachers and anyone who has hosted a meeting will understand.)

But this is very broad. Yes, I wish I was more comfortable, but what qualities hold me back?

I want to focus on what makes me feel uncomfortable by asking myself questions:

  • What is the cause?
  • Am I afraid?
  • What specifically am I afraid of?
  • Am I nervous about my skills as a teacher?
  • Am I nervous about how my students will behave?
  • Do I feel under-prepared?

Through this process, I may realize the problem stems from an old memory of tripping in class. (I move a lot while teaching, and I’ve bumped into everything!)

In my list, I will write: “I am afraid of making mistakes.”

3.      Write your affirmations.

In the right column, rephrase the negatives into positives.

Ask yourself:

  • What are the positive aspects of these qualities?
  • How might the “weaknesses” be useful?
  • How would you encourage your friends if they said these things about themselves?

Try to use strong words. A thesaurus helps change your wording from good to great.

Remember: you can edit the affirmation at any time.

Let’s write an affirmation for my “I am afraid of making mistakes” example.

Now, let’s figure out the perfect phrase:

  • Every mistake is a chance to learn.
    • Too many words.
  • My mistakes are learning opportunities.
    • I can get better wording.
  • My mistakes influence progress.
    • Perfect! (I used a thesaurus.)

This affirmation is positive, realistic, about me, has no deadlines and, most importantly, is short.

It also encourages my mind to forgive and view mistakes positively.

4.      Stay to the right.

After you write your affirmation, scratch out the negative thought.

It’s finished. Take it off your list and out of your mind.

And highlight the affirmation in a bright colour.

Practice Makes Impact

You want to remember to practice your affirmations daily.

Display the affirmation.

Don’t share it online. But put the affirmation somewhere you will see it.

I like to keep my affirmations on sticky notes, posted next to a mirror or on my closet door.

I use bright colours to connect my mind to the affirmation. For example, I may highlight my affirmation in orange. Then if I use my orange highlighter at work, I will say the affirmation. 

Say the affirmation.

Self-improvement is all about practice. And we practice positive thinking by affirming positive thoughts.

Speak the affirmation out loud for five minutes, three times a day. You can set the schedule, but the standard practice is morning, afternoon and evening.

Try saying the affirmations while looking in the mirror. Make eye contact with yourself. Don’t rush it. Let the phrases sink in.

Try to include your breathing exercise:

Deep breath in → Hold → Exhale slowly → Speak your affirmation

But what if you’re at work or out with friends? Try to write your affirmation multiple times in a notebook. You may also use the Notes app on your phone. This exercise reminds you to think of your affirmations.

Share the affirmation.

If you have a safe person supporting your journey, share your affirmations with them.

For one, they can provide feedback to make the affirmation stronger.

And for another, they can repeat your affirmation to you.

The purpose of an affirmation is to change your self-image. And some of the negative images we have about ourselves come from external factors. So having another person re-affirm that you have these positive qualities is invaluable.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Cleveland Clinic – Do Positive Affirmations Work? What Experts Say

Mind Tools – Using Affirmations

Psychology Today – Affirmations: The Why, What, How, and What If?

My First Affirmations

Most people who provide how-to lists don’t offer examples like this. Perhaps it’s because it’s terrifying to show our vulnerabilities. But this is the purpose of this blog. I hope you will find it helpful.

These were the first affirmations I ever wrote for myself. They took all night as I kept narrowing down the negative side. I really wanted a clear base to build from.

An example of my first affirmations, shown exactly as I described the 4 steps to create affirmations

Looking at these examples now, I think they could use some improvement. However, at the time, they felt right, and they supported me.

After writing these affirmations, I wrote them on a post-it and hung them next to my bedroom mirror.

I felt ridiculous when I started using them, as I still felt the stigma. But I wanted to make positive changes, and I trusted the judgement of my friends who used affirmations.

I started saying them when I was getting dressed, during my lunch break and through my nightly shower.

I did find six affirmations challenging to manage at first.

It was challenging to remember all six and their exact wording. Plus some of them are just too long.

I would start by creating only one or two at a time and slowly adding more.

And edit them as you need to.

Have you ever created an affirmation? What advice would you share?

How to Self-Soothe During a Panic Attack

Even before the diagnosis, I’ve always had coping mechanisms for my anxiety.

Yes, anxiety and panic attacks are not the same thing. However, one may spark the other.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, psychologist, therapist or similar. This blog offers ideas, tools, strategies and recommendations based on my experience with anxiety, panic attacks and mental health. I do not guarantee any results or outcomes as strategies that have worked for me may not work for you. For diagnosis and treatment of any physical and mental health condition, consult a licensed professional.

Some self-soothing techniques came about somewhat subconsciously. Others were deliberately applied. The more deliberate actions were found when I seriously researched my anxiety disorder.

I have tried a long, varied list of activities and methods.

Eventually, I adopted the techniques I found that successfully calm my mind and body.

I prefer practicing multiple self-soothing techniques. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. There’s no cure-all.
  2. It’s best to use different coping mechanisms for different situations.
  3. We should remain open to trying new methods.

In this post, I will give you a few physical and mental coping mechanisms to try.

Physical Coping Mechanisms for Anxiety

The following methods involve external stimulation to calm anxiety.

1.      Holding Thumb to Palm

This is one technique I found by chance.

When I am in a social situation, I become very aware of my hands. To alleviate the awareness, I hold them together.

One day I realized how relieving it is to hold my thumb in my palm.

How to do it:

I am right-handed, so I will hold my right thumb in my left palm. I put my right hand over my left. My right thumb rests flat against my left palm. And my left thumb rests over my right hand.

If you are left-handed, using the opposite hands will be as effective.

A demonstration of how to hold your thumb to the palm of your opposite hand

Notes:

You may need to apply light pressure through your thumb. But it should not feel as though you are gripping your hands.

It is best to hold skin-to-skin. Do not dig your nails into your palm.

Benefits:

I honestly don’t know how it works. But it is very calming.

Perhaps it is slightly grounding. The physical sensation distracts from the mental distress.

Why I like it:

Although it’s physical, others won’t notice when you use this technique. I have done this while teaching or standing in a meeting.

2.      Breathing

The perk of this technique is that it has benefits for both your body and your mind.

How to do it:

Take a deep breath through your nose for at least 4 seconds. Hold it for at least 7 seconds. And slowly exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat three times. Adjust the time to suit your body.

Notes:

During this practice, try not to inhale through your mouth.

Our nose is designed for breathing. That’s its primary purpose, and, for most of us, it’s great at it.

You may find that you are out of breath after breathing through your mouth. This is because our mouth doesn’t fill our lungs quite as well as our nose does. So our mouth can take a big breath, but it won’t reach as deep into the lungs.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Verywell Mind – 8 Deep Breathing Exercises for Anxiety

Right As Rain – This Is Why Deep Breathing Makes You Feel so Chill

Healthline – What Is the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique?

Benefits:

Deep breathing opens the lungs and sends more oxygen to your body. Greater oxygen circulation improves your lungs, muscles and brain.

Also, focusing on your breathing will pull focus away from your anxious thoughts.

During the exercise, the mind concentrates on the air moving through the nose sitting in the lungs and pushing out through the mouth.

Why I like it:

Breathing exercises are lovely. As your body begins to feel better, so will your mind.

3.      Holding a cold water bottle

This is a new technique I’ve been practicing, thanks to a recommendation from a friend.

How to do it:

Grab a water bottle and cup it between your hands. The bottle does not need to be ice cold—that is much too uncomfortable for my sensitive hands. But it should be cooler than your hands.

Hold the bottle for as long as you need to.

Notes:

If you are near a body of water, you may also find just placing your palm over the water’s surface to be calming. Feeling the water lightly lap against the palm is peaceful.

And please know that I am jealous if you are near a lake. I wish I were near a lake.

You can also try holding ice, which I only just found out is currently a trend—I must be getting old for being so far out of the loop.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Medical News Today – Anxiety and hot flashes: What is the link?

Parade – TikTokkers Are Using Ice Cubes to Stop Panic Attacks—But Does This Trick Work?

Stylist – How to Calm Anxiety At Night

Benefits:

Hot flashes are one symptom of anxiety/panic attacks. In response to stress, our body releases hormones and our blood circulation increases.

Think of how relieved and refreshed you feel standing near an air conditioner. Holding the bottle provides a similar cooling effect.

The bottle also applies pressure to the palms, which provides some grounding.

Why I like it:

It’s very handy (pun intended) as I always have my support water bottle nearby. I’ve both slept and taught while holding my water bottle.

Mental Coping Mechanisms for Anxiety

These methods involve internal calming practices or talking ourselves through a panic attack.

1.      Say your reassurances and affirmations

I decided to group both reassurances and affirmations because they are similar practices. But they are not the same thing.

A reassurance is a statement (and/or action) to relieve fears and doubts.

An affirmation is a positive statement to combat negative thoughts.

Again, very similar but slightly different.

You can also think of a reassurance as supporting your reality while an affirmation supports your mentality.

Note: Try combining these phrases with the breathing exercise.

A.      Reassurances

When an external force is triggering my anxiety, I choose to fight back with a reassurance. I know how I would speak to my friends, so I have chosen to be similarly kind to myself.

How to do it:

Assess the situation to find what triggered the attack. Tell yourself that you are safe. And be specific. What are you safe from and why?

For example, let’s say you are panicking because you’re in the middle of a crowd.

“It’s okay. I’m okay. It’s normal to be scared in a crowd. I’m safe. No one here wants to hurt me.”

Repeat these sentences as often as you need. Say them aloud or in your head.

Notes:

I intentionally use multiple sentences when I reassure myself.

I like to start with a short sentence to grab my mind’s attention. I also repeat it with the change from it (the situation) to I (myself) to draw focus to me.

The rest of the statements are about my feelings, safety, and a clear reason why I am safe.

Benefits:

Learning to reassure yourself will give you a lot of power.

You will begin to understand the basis of your fear. Then once you identify it, you are better positioned to manage it.

Using the same example: I am still uncomfortable in a crowd, but I won’t avoid them. And solo adventures have become possible.

Why I like it:

Reassurances can be created on the spot.

B.       Affirmations

My affirmations flip the script when my mind forces my anxiety to panic.

How to do it:

Refer to your cache of affirmations. Choose one or two affirmations that fit the situation. Slowly speak the affirmation to yourself—aloud or in your head. Repeat it until you feel calm.

The best affirmation will depend on what triggered the attack.

Notes:

Affirmations require pre-planning and practice.

Read more: How to Create Unique Affirmations

Benefits:

Affirmations will help you to reprogram your mind.

You may begin to see yourself in a different light. And you will grow confidence in your ability to live with your anxiety and panic attacks.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Mind Tools – Using Affirmations

Happier Human – 45 Positive Affirmations for Anxiety Relief and Stress Reduction

Chopra – 7 Benefits of a Daily Affirmation Plan

Why I like it:

The more often that I use affirmations, the more I trust myself.

2.      Lists

This technique may or may not have been inspired by Dame Julie Andrews.

How to do it:

When the panic attack begins, start listing things in your mind or on paper.

Your list could be things you find comforting, the people you trust, or your tasks for the day.


“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens / Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens / Brown paper packages tied up with strings / These are a few of my favourite things”

Rodgers and Hammerstein, “The Sound of Music” (1959)

Notes:

You may speak through your list or repeat it over in your head.

If you choose to list your tasks for the day, write them down. Keep the number of tasks limited to the few most important things that must be done today. As you complete the tasks, you will get the bonus of being able to check them off.

Benefits:

Lists provide focus.

Your panic attack may want you to hyper-focus on something your mind has determined to be going wrong. By making a list, you adjust that focus. And you will take back power from your hectic mind.

Why I like it:

Lists are easy to create, and I get so much enjoyment from checkmarks.  

3.      Journaling

A lot of relief can come from unleashing your feelings and fears on the page.

How to do it:

Write in your journal or make notes on a mobile app.

You can give details about what is causing the panic attack. Or you can track your feelings and symptoms.

Benefits:

Journaling gives you the ability to release what is attacking your mind. Getting the thoughts and fears out of your head is a big relief.

It will also give you notes about what you were feeling and why. Then you can reflect on the situation at a later time.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Very Well Mind – Journal Writing as a Tool for Coping With Panic and Anxiety

Don’t Panic, Do This – THE Best Panic Attack Diary Template (Anxiety Journaling 101)

Bustle – 7 Types Of Journaling That Can Help You Manage Anxiety

Why I like it:

Putting pen to paper has always been calming to me. I feel better after I write.

How to self-soothe during a panic attack

And there you have it, seven methods to self-soothe during a panic attack.

I hope you will find a few of these suggestions helpful.

Again, some of the techniques I listed may not work for you. But I hope you will continue researching more coping strategies—even the seemingly strange ones.

Try to have a balance of mental and physical techniques.

You want to treat your symptoms, ground yourself in reality and calm your mind.

If you have any strategies to share, please leave them in the comments.

10 Ways to Expand Your Comfort Zone

Does anyone else dislike the expression “get out of your comfort zone?”

I’d rather stay comfortable while I try new things.

Instead, I prefer the idea of expanding my comfort zone. I don’t want to break it, but I want to stretch my limit just a little to enable more experiences to feel comfortable.

10 Activities to Expand Your Comfort Zone

I learned the hard way to take baby steps in the expansion process after forcing myself into a panic attack—it wasn’t a great time.

It took practice to recognize what I could accomplish and when I needed to stop.

During the process, I reflected on the past events that produced my short limits and considered how I could let them go. And I discovered why certain activities made me feel more comfortable than others.

I am sharing this list of activities that I used in the hopes that it can inspire others to expand their comfort zones as well. Some of these activities are small steps, and others are giant leaps.

Deciding on the activities that are right for you will take a lot of self-reflection. Some things to consider are:

  • What are your goals?
  • What will make you uncomfortable in that situation?
  • What can you do to make the situation more comfortable for yourself?

Please read the list and consider an activity that serves your comfort zone.

Disclaimer: The activities on this list may result in interactions with strangers. Be careful and trust your instincts. Do not force yourself to remain in a situation that feels unsafe or uncomfortable. If your gut tells you to go home, go home and reflect on the interaction. You did not fail!

A residential street for a short walk
Gurye, South Korea, 2019

1. Go For A Walk

Can it be that simple? Well, yeah.

Exercise can help relieve some anxiety, and you won’t be stuck in one place for too long–unless you want to be.

Take a solo walk around your neighbourhood. Feel comfortable being alone outside of your home, in an area you are familiar with.

If you already walk regularly, try taking a different route. Follow the path to the left rather than the right and see where it leads you.

Along your walk, take some time to sit on a bench, relax and observe.

If someone greets you while walking by (which is very common where I’m from), decide if you’re comfortable with greeting them in return. If you’re unsure, wear earbuds without music playing to give yourself an excuse for not hearing (AKA ignoring) those people.

A selection of traditional Korean desserts
Seoul, South Korea, 2017

2. Dine Out Alone

This one can be somewhat scary, and I don’t recommend forcing yourself to start here.

But, if you love dining out and don’t want to wait for your support system to go with you, perhaps this could be your end goal.

At a restaurant, you can eat alone at a table. And the only people you need to talk to are the waitstaff.

If you are like me and get anxious about talking to waitstaff, practice and prepare before going to the restaurant. I practice a script in my mind about what they will likely ask me and how to answer.

I ook at the menu online to get an idea of what you would like to order. Pick three drinks, appetizers, entrées and desserts so you have a back-up plan in case they run out.

Also, prepare “I’ll just need another minute,” and don’t let them rush you.

Keep in mind that restaurants are typically full of people, which could mean a potential sensory overload if you are sensitive to sound and movement. Bring a book or plug into a podcast to establish a wall from the other restaurant patrons.

Woman holding a ukulele

3. Join A Class

Are you interested in learning ceramics, dance, martial arts, yoga, or another language? You can do it!

A class offers three core benefits while you expand your comfort zone.

First and foremost, you can learn or improve an activity that interests you.

Second, classes offer a safe social aspect.

When the class first begins, everyone starts as a stranger to each other (i.e., no scary cliques).

The class has also brought together a group of people who have similar interests, so you already know one thing you have in common.

And when you see the same people every week, you may slowly begin to form a bond, which has the potential to develop into close friendships.

Third, and best of all, if you do not enjoy your classmates, you won’t need to see them after class ends—there’s no commitment necessary.

There is nothing wrong with having an escape plan.

Image of a joined Facebook group page

4. Join An Online Group

Disclaimer: Do not provide personal or financial information to people you meet online. Should you decide to meet up one day, have a video call first and choose a public location. Also, tell a friend or family member who you’re meeting and where.

From the safety of your own home, unite with people from around the world who share your interests.

Social media, online games and forums provide a space to create meaningful friendships.

And even if you never meet these people in real life, online friends are significant and empowering.

The internet offers something for everyone, so finding potential groups you click with can be accomplished with a quick search.

Follow the topics that get you excited. Participate in discussions. Follow the people who post the content you like. Share, like and keep conversations going.

Remember to be respectful and that it’s okay to disagree with someone without being rude.

Close up image of a blue mug and the interior of a café in the background
Gurye, South Korea, 2020

5. Visit A Café

Get a change of scenery while doing something you like: read a book, work on some knitting, listen to a podcast, or update your blog.

As long as you order something, you can sit in a café.

Full of comfortable chairs, a few plants and a well-spaced seating arrangement, most cafés are designed to be a calm place for people to meet or work outside of the home.

If you’re lucky, they’ll have a window seat where you can enjoy the sun’s warmth and take breaks to people-watch.

It is customary to order a few drinks should you choose to remain there for a few hours, so take a gander at the menu before arriving and think of what you might enjoy.

If you visit a small café often, there’s a good chance that the baristas will remember you, and you can create a comforting friendship. Of course, it doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it feels great!

Cœur de pirate at the 2017 Regina Folk Festival
Cœur de pirate, Regina, Canada, 2017

6. Go To A Concert

You may be asking, why would I ever want to be squeezed together in a mob of strangers? It’s simple: you like the music.

I’ve seen my favourite band ten times, and while it can take a long, calming pep talk to get myself in the building, I’m always happier for it.

For me, the most awkward and anxiety-inducing moment of the night comes before the concert starts. This is the time when the lights are still up, and I’m standing alone, away from the crowd, scrolling social media and feigning confidence in my solo venture.

But once the lights go down and the music starts, the group comes together as one, and I’m no longer alone.

I’m not a fan of crowds, but in this setting, even though a horde of strangers will surround me, I barely notice them as I focus on my band and their music.

For those more interested in trying to ally with a new friend, this activity again allows you to be around people with similar interests. Try to strike up a conversation before the show starts, and maybe you can meet up after to talk about it.

Solo woman visiting light art installation
Yeosu, South Korea, 2022

7. Take A Tour

This is an excellent idea for the solo adventurer and history lover.

Tours can be of a single location or provide transportation to various places. It could be a famous landmark in your own city or a set of islands on the other side of the world.

In other words, a tour can give you a short or long time bunched together with a ragtag group of people.

Tours have allowed me time to become familiar with other people as well as time to venture out alone.

As they are full of solo travellers, it is understandable and expected to break off alone sometimes.

I also enjoy tours that provide transportation and accommodation as I will only have to talk to the tour guide to sort out any issues.

And with a tour guide, you can listen and follow along or participate and ask questions.

Never forget that when you pay for a tour, you have the right to ask many questions, so don’t be embarrassed—you’ll be giving the tour guide a chance to show off their knowledge.

Explore all the available options, and decide what will make you feel the most comfortable.

One green and one red mug at a Christkindlmarkt in Germany circa 2019
Germany, 2019

8. Visit A Street Fair Or Market

Perhaps this idea came to mind as the weather is getting warmer. Still, it allows you to flex a few of these suggested activities: walking, eating alone and playing tourist.

The market could be in your city or the next town over. It could be a farmer’s market or an artisan street fair.

During the spring and summer months, there are many markets displaying various wares that will likely meet your interest.

But don’t feel trapped inside during the colder months as winter markets can be overflowing with beautiful decorations and warm drinks.

When purchasing from a vendor, you can keep the conversation strictly to your purchase or ask them about their process and get into a deep discussion.

People who set up these booths are often very chatty because they are excited about what they do and want to share it with everyone.

Should the interaction become too much, you can say “thank you” and leave.

Don’t forget to bring cash along with your credit card for those few vendors without a machine.

Hearts and love locks in Busan, South Korea
Love locks in Busan, South Korea, 2020

9. Go On A Date

Disclaimer: Please be careful with online dating. Try to video chat with your match before the date, share their details with a family member or friend, and meet in a public space.

Yeah, I know, dating can bring the worst kind of judgemental behaviour against introverts for their limited social skills.

We must talk about ourselves and keep a conversation going to get to know a new person. It sounds awful!

But, if you really want to learn about someone, you won’t get stuck in small talk.

Deep conversations are often intoxicating for introverts.

A first, second or third date is a great place to get that fix.

And we live in a time when dating apps are the go-to place to meet a potential partner.

Checking a profile can tell you if they are physically and personably attractive to you.

With your conversation opener, the small talk can get out of the way very quickly or be ignored entirely if you ask a pointed question about their profile.

You don’t have to meet until you are ready, and by that time, they won’t be a perfect stranger anymore.

Lanterns in Jiufen, Taiwan
Jiufen, Taiwan, 2020

10. Take A Solo Trip

Disclaimer: I always share my itinerary with a family member or friend. Be safe and have fun!

It’s another scary one but beyond worth it if you’ve always wanted to travel.

When you are on a trip, you will interact with so many more people than you usually would in your daily life.

You’ll meet hotel staff, gas station attendants, bus drivers, flight attendants, restaurant staff, and tour guides. And they might also not speak English depending on where you want to go.

For your first adventure, I recommend taking a short trip to a nearby city or simply checking in to a hotel to explore your own city as a tourist.

I have found that many tourism experiences follow the same formula, so there is some comfort to be found in the routine.

Because travelling and experiencing the world is my dream, I have promised myself that I won’t waste my vacation time and money staying inside.

Instead, I plan a short itinerary for some activities to ensure I get out of the hotel.

Trust me, it’s easy to get comfortable in the solitude of a hotel, but remember that at the end of the day, you can retreat to that safe space to recharge.

On many of my solo trips, I would be out exploring from 8 to 5 (or whenever it started to get dark). I would then spend the remainder of the evening alone in my room.

The activities can be simple: go for a walk in a new city, read a book in an interesting café, try new foods, and take tours.

I admit that I have found a lot of comfort in being a stranger in a strange city.

That’s the list!

Once again, I don’t recommend forcing yourself to try something if it triggers any anxiety or negative thinking. Before most activities, I would need to give myself an encouraging pep talk. And sometimes I would last maybe 5 minutes before bailing.

After trying an activity, reflect on how it made you feel and why.

Find encouragement in every activity you have tried.

You are doing this for yourself, so be kind and set small goals to accomplish along the way.

If you have tried any of these activities or would like to recommend more, please share in the comments.

Expand your comfort Zone with 10 Activities