Updated: Mar 21
(This entry is directly taken from course material used in a peer led group support session in Second Life and as such, was designed to be used in an informal group situation. Please bear that in mind when reading)
This week’s section of our eight week course is:
Introduction to basic mental health skills and HALT
Why are basic mental health skills important to know and discuss? Because that’s the foundation to your mental health care. Everything else depends on your basic skills.
If you were building a house, you wouldn't walk up to a rubble heap and think, "oh.. this is a great spot to build..." and then just start building the structure over the top of the bricks and rubble. If you did, you would find that your structure would not be stable or easily maintained.
This is mental health 101. You need to make sure you have basic good practices involved. You can see your doctor, engage in therapy, take your medication, use alternative therapies, hypnosis, meditation, or ASMR - and so much more but if you have no decent foundation to start from, you're eventually going to end up right back at square 1.
Even if you suffer from an incurable condition, you’ll find that it’s much harder to maintain balance, and that you are much more unstable if your foundation isn’t good.
So many people overlook the basics, or aren’t even really aware of them but it’s so very important.
Things to bear in mind as we travel through this course:
✦ Break it down
Looking at everything as a whole can be overwhelming and intimidating. It's often unhelpful and counterproductive. If putting basic care into practice feels like too much, break it down. Make it smaller.
Don't feel like you need to wake up tomorrow and have a perfectly balanced diet, routine, activity plan together. You don't need to have everything figured out straight away. Take small steps and build on it. Try just adding one thing at a time and when you have that one thing established, add another.
We say it constantly - small steps. Don’t try to take giant leaps - it rarely works especially if you’re building from the ground up. You need to go slowly and work at a pace that you can easily manage.
✦ Be kind to yourself but take responsibility.
We’ve talked about responsibility in this meeting before and it really is important to recognize that we have to choose to be responsible for our mental health.
We all have crappy days where we just don't feel up to anything. It could be because of low mood, anxiety, low motivation and/or drive - but you're still responsible for your actions and your choices.
If you know there are things you can be doing or at least trying to make yourself feel better, and you choose not to do them, you're responsible for that. You can't say "well I'm depressed, so it's depression's fault". While it's ok to go easy on yourself and say "I don't feel like it today" you need to be responsible for making sure that that doesn’t become a cycle.
Be kind to yourself and say “it’s ok that I only did the minimum today, or, that I didn’t manage any of it today” but then tomorrow you need to start fresh. You need to decide, before you even go to bed that night that when you get up in the morning, it’s a new day and you’ll make the choice to take care of your basics.
So for example - this year I started a new self care routine. It’s not always been the easiest thing to do, especially after years of neglect in some areas. When I created mine I put into place “minimums” and these things I do every day no matter what. They are very small things that allow me to feel like I haven’t lost everything I’ve been doing completely. So - say today was a crappy day and I was in a very low mood and low energy state. Then I probably would have just had a basic wash, brushed my teeth and climbed into some fresh pajamas.
But then I go to bed telling myself what I need to do when I get up tomorrow - Have breakfast, drink water, clean my teeth, shower, do my hair, skin care and then maybe makeup if I’m going somewhere or feel like playing with makeup.
I’m not going to lie - some days, If I’m not going anywhere I might take till midday to get all this done before I start on the other things in my routine - but the point is that I then get it done. I don’t focus on the days where I don’t manage, it’s ok that I didn’t. I show myself kindness. But I make sure I don’t have too many of those days in a row either.
This is an example of me, things I struggle with and have been neglecting - you might have a different list but doing that with YOUR list, can help you avoid getting into a cycle of self neglect.
✦ Keep going
This all sounds so simple when it’s laid out, but in reality it can be really hard. We all slip. We all fail. If basic skills are something you struggle with - you are likely going to screw up or fail a few times. You may slip for a week.. That’s ok.. Be kind to yourself and then keep going. Pick it up when you’re able to again. There’s no one keeping score. There is no score. You won’t get knocked out if you lose too many points. That’s not how this works. You can absolutely pick it up as soon as you’re starting to get back on your feet.
✦ Don't suffer in silence
Honestly, this applies to all areas of your mental health - not just basic care. If you're struggling, if you're having a hard time with any aspect of this, reach out. Talk to a trusted friend or family member, reach out to social media support groups that specialize in your particular condition and of course, our community here at SOS is always here for you. Jump in the group chat, slap one of those mentor boards (seriously - that’s why they’re there) or you could always send a message in world to Kitten Meridoc or leave me offline (Again, you can contact me through my mentor board - please don’t be afraid to use them). Don't forget, we're here in SL, we’re on facebook and we even have our own discord channel.
There are always ways for you to reach out and connect with other people. Please don't ever feel like you have to struggle alone or suffer in silence - this is not true.
✦ Take credit
Recovery, management or treatment all take work. It's hard. There's just no sugar coating that. But the fact that you get up every day and try, the way you keep going and working is no small thing. You are impressive. You are stronger than you know.
You deserve good things. You are worth this kind of self-care. By taking just this step, by coming to this meeting, by sticking with me this far, by reading this far, by starting to piece together your basic self-care, you should absolutely be practicing a little self-congratulation. You should be proud of yourself. The SOS community is definitely proud of you. I am proud of you.
Every day, in every effort that you make to take care of yourself and your mental health, give yourself a round of applause, figuratively or literally - your choice. But please, whatever you go with, celebrate yourself and if you can’t.. If it feels too hard to do that, IM Kitten Meridoc inworld and I’ll celebrate the hell out of you.
HALT originally started as a tool for addiction recovery but honestly, it’s a really good tool to use in every area of mental health whether you have a mental health disorder or are just trying to maintain good mental health in general.
The reason I’m discussing it now is because it’s a fantastic version of mindfulness that will help you use the mental health basics that we’re going to be discussing in this course much more easily.
HALT, in its traditional form, stands for:
But for our purposes, I want you to view Anger as Anger, Anxiety and Stress. You can just say anger, but I want you to think of it as any stress trigger, specifically the ones you personally deal with the most. So if you have issues with Anger, that probably will work for you as is. But if you deal with anxiety more, think of it as anxiety - if you’re someone who gets overwhelmed a lot, think of it as more general stress - it can also be a mixture of all three. Basically, make it work for you.
So.. how to use it.
Maybe you’re feeling negative emotions. Maybe you’re feeling that slope that happens on a downward wave when your condition starts to dip. Maybe you’re just feeling low mood or.. It could even just be a simple case of feeling like something is a little “off” (the sooner the better) - the very first thing you need to do is literally halt.
Just stop and then run through the list.
Am I hungry?
Am I feeling Angry/Anxious/Stressed?
Am I feeling lonely or alone? Do I feel like I need social contact?
Am I feeling tired?
For a one off it’s a simple matter of just prioritizing that thing/those things and taking care of that/those basic needs. You may not be able to deal with all of them in the moment, so deal with the ones you can right now, and then plan to take care of the rest when it’s appropriate. For example - if it’s 2pm and you’re at work and feeling anxious and tired, you may not be able to do more for the “tired” then maybe take a break, but you can PLAN ways for “tired” when you get home (maybe some relaxation followed by an appropriately early night and then use good coping mechanisms to help with the anxiety.
But if you’re seeing repeat offenders over a short period of time, then you’ll know far more easily which areas of your basic skills you need to focus on first.
Again, we’re going to cover these in more details over the next eight weeks but as a quick overview:
For repeated hunger: You might need to take a closer look at your routine and make sure you’re planning regular meals. Make sure you’re eating healthily and not just eating a bunch easy to grab junk food with empty calories - that isn’t going to do you much good physically or mentally.
Angry: You need to remind yourself that the anger you’re feeling is just an emotion and try to take control of it. You need to take a closer look at the situation. Ask yourself what’s really going on. Remind yourself that this feeling won’t last and it doesn’t need to control you. Never forget, your mental well being is more important that whatever is going on here in the short term, you have better things to focus on.
Anxious: You need to put your coping mechanisms in place and make sure you have some you can use on the go. Breathing techniques, counting and naming objects, calming music - whatever works for you. If it’s happening a lot make sure you’re communicating that with your doctors.
Stressed: Work out what absolutely NEEDS to be on your plate, and the things that don’t. Clear off the things that don’t - just get rid of them and only deal with what immediately needs to be there now. For example, you might be thinking about a doctor’s appointment you have this afternoon, worrying about a friend who’s been struggling lately but might also be a little fixated on news or politics.
So go down the list:
Doctor’s appointment - needs to be there
Struggling friend - totally understandable - send them a message/text/phone call, reassure them that you’re there if they need you and that they’re not alone and then focus on what you need because you’re no help to your friend if you don’t take care of you.
News/politics - Does not need to be there. If news/politics is stressing you out, institute a no news/politics policy until you’re better able to cope with it be it for a day, a week or longer. Doesn’t matter, do what you need to do.
Lonely: Make good use of whatever support structure you have in place. Contact friends and family, send text messages, use the group chat here, use second life events to find places that are likely to be populated, come to meetings, ask in the group chat if anyone would like to play a game.. And so on. Just reach out to someone who can give you some support whether it’s to help you with emotions or just to spend time with.
Tired: Being “Tired” is not all about sleep, which is a mistake a lot of people make “I’m tired so I must need to work on my sleep”. There’s a lot that goes into general tiredness. If you’re over scheduling yourself, if you are trying to meet too many demands on your time or trying to fulfill too many obligations, if you’re not taking time out to relax and just spend some time in a calm or fun way - all those things will start to build up and make you feel more tired. At this point, it’s about building a good sleep routine, engaging in healthy sleep habits but also working on your general routine to make sure you’re not overburdening yourself.
Top tip - if you realize after you analysis that you're feeling a combination of all the HALT checklist what I would do is write all of these things down in a piece of paper and then place a number next to them from 1 - 4, one being the least severe and four being the most. Then I would deal them in order of severity because it just makes sense to deal with the most urgent first. As suggested by a group member, you can also use Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to help you order your priorities if that works better for you. To learn more about this, you can watch this video by Sprouts:
So to summarize, using HALT as a way to self monitor is an important tool and something that will really help you to really make the most of the basic mental health skills we’re going to be going over in this course.
For visual learners, we're including a video by Colin Hiles here to help you understand one of the many ways this tool can be put into action