How active listening can help broaden your perspective and support productive discourse.
When you’re reading or watching anything with sensitive content, do you feel numb and mentally tired afterwards? Do you feel empowered to alleviate your stressors, or are you often dismissive of your feelings or thoughts in hopes to not have to deal with them at all?
Taking care of your mental health is arguably your most important priority. After all, it’s your thoughts that create your reality and give you the strength to move through the world untethered.
To say that improving your mental health is a marathon and not a race would be an understatement. As events across the globe continue to unravel with great unpredictability, many people are being forced to be mentally present with themselves in uncomfortable ways, resulting in distress across all forms—mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. Feeling confused, triggered, anxious or even a little down are all various forms of what has been called mental distress. While there are many causes and types of distress, there are a number of ways to alleviate unwanted thoughts or feelings.
If you feel you might be a danger to yourself or others, talk to someone now. Reaching out is often all it takes to feel a little better. There are people who care and are invested in seeing you get to a healthier place.
Alternatively, if you’re in the U.S., call 911 and let the operator know that you’re experiencing a psychiatric emergency. That way, you increase your chances of speaking with an officer trained in crisis intervention or able to assist people in a psychiatric emergency.
While one in four people are affected by diagnosed mental disorders in their lifetime, mental distress affects everyone in some form throughout their lives. Less than one-third of people will seek professional help for their mental health’s sake, according to the American Public Health Association. This is partly due to lack of access and insurance, inequitable distribution of public funds and resources or quite simply, the lack of education surrounding mental health.
Reckoning with your internal world is a normal part of being human, but when your thinking results in suffering—or is the result of abuse—something needs to change. Not only is it possible to feel healthy, balanced and in control of your situation, it’s your birthright as a human being!
It can feel hard to take action if you’re in constant survival mode, but help is on the way. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to ease mental distress so you can begin to move out of suffering and toward growth.
We’re here to walk you through options to jump-start the process. Check out some of these resources that match your personal starting point:
A normal response to a traumatic event or crisis may be to disassociate from your body, emotions and the situation you’re in. However, once the immediate crisis has passed, connecting your response to the cause of your distress enables you to get the care you need.
Mental disorders, distress and duress are terms that are often used interchangeably; however, by understanding the slight nuances of each term, you can better understand the type of help that will be most beneficial for you.
Mental disorders are a condition that can have a significant impact on your ability to think, feel and act. While there isn’t a single root cause of mental illness, they can develop for a number of reasons, ranging from your genes and family history to biological factors in your brain. Anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders and schizophrenia are a few of the most common mental disorders humans experience.
Mental distress and mental duress are terms to describe a broader range of symptoms a person might be feeling that result in changes of behavior and mood. These feelings can stem from certain, and very common, life experiences, like the loss of a loved one, substance abuse, too much stress or lack of sleep.
It’s okay to NOT know everything about why you’re feeling the way you feel—as long as you’re curious, you’re making progress on the path to improvement. And just know, regardless of which symptoms you’re feeling, there is help.
Mental distress can be thought of as a general feeling of discomfort surrounding your thoughts, emotions and behaviors, no matter the cause. You may know when you’re feeling stable and balanced, but if a state of imbalance has been the norm for a while, it can be hard to detect a state of distress.
Don’t suffer in silence or feel you need to appear “fine.” Being honest with how you’re feeling will make finding relief easier.
People often associate someone with mental distress as visibly shaken; however, mental distress has many forms, and not all victims will experience the exact same symptoms. Cleveland Clinic states that if you are experiencing mental and emotional distress, you may notice that you’re:
An initial sign of mental distress is when you're unable to stabilize or balance your emotions, which can lead to emotional indecisiveness and erratic thinking. A lack of stability resulting from any number of crises, loss or abuse will leave you feeling overwhelmed and out of control. Another key to recognizing the presence of mental distress can be when you’re finding it more difficult to make simple choices, such as what to eat or when you’d like to take a shower.
It can feel overwhelming to tackle your mental health when you’re struggling to complete basic tasks that manage your overall health as a human being. Take the time to prioritize care for yourself in any way you can to start to feel your distress dissipating. See resources below.
According to the Corporate Finance Institute, to be in a state of mental duress means to exhibit or feel psychological pressure from someone to behave in a way contrary to your wishes. The term is typically used in the legal industry and points towards the presence and power of a manipulative party over one’s physical space and psyche.
Mental duress is a term used to describe someone whose primary cause of stress is coming from outside of themselves, usually in an act to coerce them into doing something. While yes, your internal processes affect you in significant ways, if you are in an abusive environment, you need to get out. (More on the types of abuse and our resources below.)
Another example of mental duress, however, can be associated with the effects of “cancel culture” today. When you are in an environment that discourages freedom of speech and expression, often a power dynamic is established, which leads to and normalizes mental duress.
Mental disorders or illnesses reflect a pattern of behaviors, changes in moods or thoughts that require more care and management than a passing phase of distress, and they are much more common than you think. These conditions affect your mood, thoughts and behavior and are often treated with a variety of different measures, from therapy to medication.
The need for emotional support when battling for sound mental health is a universal challenge. A 2021 blog by SingleCare states that 970 million people are suffering from a mental disorder worldwide. According to Mental Health America, 46% of U.S. adults have a diagnosable mental condition, and it's important to recognize the social, financial and community impact they bring while busting the stigmas surrounding their diagnoses.
While the term “disorder” may not sit well with people, think instead of gifts you have that need to be released by getting back into alignment with your most joyful self.
If you think your symptoms align with any of those listed in our resources, contact your doctor to see what your options could be for treatment. If you do not have a doctor, the NAMI HelpLine can assist you in finding resources that can point you to the right mental health professional for your situation. If you’re looking for a therapist, try Psychology Today’s therapist finder or any one of these e-counseling apps.
Times where your flight-or-fight system is heightened may actually be opportunities to become more mindful of your general mental health management. If you’re feeling anxious, down, overwhelmed or triggered, there are a few techniques you can use that will alleviate those symptoms and give you tools to counteract distress in the future.
Note that this advice is not adequate care for someone in crisis. If you are experiencing a psychological emergency, please call 911 or contact emergency services in our resources listed above.
Congratulations! The fact that you’re reading this means you’re one step closer to feeling better. Taking action in small ways can make a big difference as you go. Keep reading.
Self-care seems like it should be easy, but carving time out of your crazy, busy schedule can feel daunting. Creating a safe, healing space for yourself is the first order of priority and requires tapping into your own well of self-knowledge. Being extra mindful of how you’re treating yourself prevents the distress from getting worse.
What can help you feel better? Some suggestions:
Our thoughts and emotions often go hand in hand. Our thoughts can trigger certain emotions, and our emotions are our feedback mechanism back to our thinking brains.
Brené Brown, a nationally recognized social work researcher, states that many people are unable to identify the full spectrum of emotions they may be feeling. This can be a powerful first step in taking control of your mental health by simply tuning in to what emotions you’re managing—those emotions have wisdom in them.
Recent research has found that your emotions are actually more malleable than we thought previously. Rather than believing that your emotions come upon you out of nowhere, experts find that they’re based on our perceptions. Tracing your feelings back to memories or previously held beliefs about yourself or the world can help you gain some distance from them and evaluate them from a different vantage point.
Emotions may be triggered by a sort of “muscle memory” in the brain, so cultivating the emotions you want to feel can counteract the uncomfortable ones. Experts suggest trying a gratitude practice to lift your spirits and get in the habit of elevating your emotions out of whatever mood you may be in.
Sometimes, all we need to know is that we’re not alone in our distress or suffering. Reach out to a trusted friend or family member, and tell them how you’re feeling (check in with them first to see if they’re in a place to listen!). Maybe you want to make a more regular practice of seeing a therapist. Either way, don’t remain silent—no person is an island.
Allow yourself to do something just for you that you enjoy. Read a poem, watch your favorite movie, hug a favorite pet, call an old friend or take a bath. It doesn’t matter what it is so long as it brings you happiness.
When your thoughts feel like they’re all over the place, you can give your mind a focal point to divert attention away from the disturbing thoughts. When we’re feeling triggered or unwell, sometimes the only way to counteract those thoughts or feelings is to not resist them.
Mindfulness is the act of focusing our attention on certain tasks or stillness, whereas meditation offers techniques to allow you to become an impartial observer of your thoughts.
Even brief practices can change our mood for the better by helping our awareness anchor in the present moment. Luckily, there are plenty of apps to help you do both. The Calm app offers meditation and practices on their blog for de-stressing, along with these top 20 meditation apps. The Center for Mindfulness and Compassion also offers similar guidance you can tap into.
The Social Care Institute for Excellence outlines 10 different types of abuse on their website with detailed descriptions for each. Some forms of abuse can be difficult to detect or overlap with others, so it’s helpful to evaluate this list below to see what kind of help is available.
Keep in mind that most forms of abuse are punishable by law, so should you seek that route, there are resources available as well.
Know this: You deserve to be safe, at peace and unharmed. Nothing you say or do entitles anyone to abuse you. If you feel you’re in any one of the situations below, please seek help via the resources provided:
If someone has caused you bodily harm, whether it’s bruising or serious injury, talk to someone or check out these resources to help direct you to actionable next steps to alleviate your stressors and regain your power. See the domestic violence links below.
If your partner has physically harmed, intimidated, manipulated or attempted to control you, this can be classified as domestic abuse. This can also include any force that coerces you to behave in a way that you don’t want to by using physical violence, threats, emotional abuse or financial control.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has a plethora of resources for those suffering from every type of abuse across identities and range from mental health resources to legal help.
If you’ve been assaulted or been forced into any undesired sexual activity, there are resources to help you find healing and hope.
For victims of sexual assault, the Administration for Children and Families offers trauma-informed care resources here.
This kind of abuse is often difficult to detect, but know that you should never feel forced into thinking or feeling anything by anyone. This is often reinforced by an imbalance of a power dynamic in relationships and often causes psychological trauma, anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Check out Safe Horizon’s resources for emotional abuse recovery as well.
Your right to own and use your money and possessions should never be questioned. The National Network to End Domestic Violence has marital and financial resources ranging from tips, to how to gain more financial literacy.
You should have agency over your body, mind and work. If you’ve come out of a modern slavery situation in the past, the residual traumatic response will need to be managed. The Global Modern Slavery Directory houses an entire library of helpful resources for potential victims, survivors and those that want to connect to efforts to help.
The American Psychological Association cites racial, gender, sexual or ableness discrimination as a significant stressor for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color), and they offer many articles on the subject. Healing the emotional wounds of discrimination is important. You deserve to feel safe and in control in your own skin. Two resources for emotional healing are from Medical News Today and the psychology department at University of Georgia.
Racial discrimination in the workplace can entitle you to funds to counteract the distress it caused you, and there’s plenty of legal counsel on this front, such as UpCounsel and FindLaw (make sure to check out the government’s specifications of discrimination here).
Abuse of this kind occurs within an institution or in the care of someone visiting your home. If this is happening, take action by immediately letting someone in authority know. Call the Care Quality Commission for resources on next steps and to report abuse at the organizational level.
Yes, neglecting yourself and your needs can qualify as abuse. Although often equated with elderly populations where cases of Alzheimer’s or dementia are present, individuals suffering from self-neglect can often point to other issues. If you need help yourself or know someone who does, the Social Care Institute for Excellence can help.
If you find yourself or your loved ones feeling mentally overwhelmed, unstable or unsafe, then you can contact the following for immediate services:
See other resources for immediate response from Mental Health America for specific services attuned to your needs.
Mental Health Europe has articles ranging from general mental health tips to human rights abuse resources.
However, if you’re looking for resources to help manage your symptoms today and in the future, Social Work License Map has over 60 resources to choose from depending on your population (lesbian, gay, transgender, military, teens, etc.) or disorders such as:
The hardest part is to identify and acknowledge your state of mental health. Now that you’ve surpassed the most difficult part, it’s time to put action into getting the help that you need. If you ever find yourself triggered or in a state of mental or emotional distress, please refer to the resources above to help prioritize your mental health.
For more helpful tips and resources to practice healthy coping and processing, subscribe to our blog to receive more Doe updates.
How active listening can help broaden your perspective and support productive discourse.
What media literacy is, why it’s important and how to apply media literacy skills to your daily...