5 baby steps to take when you feel your life is spiraling out of control

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So your life is spiraling out of control. Well, probably. Why else would you be here? It’s probably not because things are going great, right? It’s okay. It’ll be okay.

Losing control of your life is a scary experience when you’re going through it. I, the writer, having lived with Bipolar Disorder for a long time, am more than a little familiar with watching their life burn down around them – most times being the one holding the can of gasoline and matches while laughing hysterically until reality sets in.

So, what we’re going to do is take a look at some practical tips for minimizing the damage, navigating it mentally, and not letting your emotions run out of control while you’re going through it.

Let’s start with the good news. The good news is that you can either pivot or bounce back from just about anything so long as you’re alive and willing to put in some work. I mention that because situational depression can come crashing in when you’re going through hard times. Don’t do anything permanent because of a temporary situation.

You lose someone you love, lose a job, a relationship comes apart, substance abuse, whatever it may be that you’re going through may cause those dark thoughts to start creeping in. If that’s the case, you need to get off the internet and seek some professional assistance from a qualified therapist if possible (or stay on the internet and look at online therapy from services such as BetterHelp.com).

If you can’t afford therapy, hit up a crisis line and talk it out with them. They might be able to connect you with professional assistance that you may not realize exists. There’s a lot of help in the background for uninsured, poor, or low-income folks if you go looking for it. It really depends on the area, though.

That being said, let’s get into this.

1. Accept that the spiral will end, sooner or later.

The great thing about hitting rock bottom is that you typically can’t get any lower. Now that may seem like a flippant comment or negative statement, but it’s not. Because it’s at the bottom you start laying your new foundation to build yourself up.

If your life is currently spiraling out of control, know that the spiral will end sooner or later. It’s something you can have faith in. Being at the bottom is mighty uncomfortable. But it’s also liberating because it strips away most excuses, pretension, and self-deceit we often engage in to protect ourselves.

The spiral will end. And once it ends, you can start looking around for ways to piece things back together when you’re ready to.

2. Avoid making the spiral worse.

There are certainly plenty of wrong things you can do when your life is in a tailspin. Some of these wrong things include: drowning yourself in alcohol, losing yourself in drugs, screwing whoever as a means of escape, losing yourself in video games, working 80 hours a week so you don’t have time to think about it, and just throwing your hands up and ignoring it.

Now there are probably other things I didn’t think of, so ask yourself, “Will this action make things worse?” And if the answer is yes, don’t do it.

So simple, huh? Simple, not easy. I never promised easy. Although it is so easy to say f*ck it and dive into a bottle or play a MOBA or MMORPG for 12+ hours a day so you don’t have to think about the problems that you’re facing.

Avoidance doesn’t help. All avoidance does is let the fires burning in your life rage out of control without your input at all. And while you may not have the power to stop your spiral, you can sometimes minimize the damage by steering it.

Okay, you lost your job. That’s a terrible feeling, especially if you’re not used to it. However, resist the urge to tell your boss exactly what you think about him and exit with professionalism. Anger may be tempting, but it’ll be much better for your future employment if you don’t burn that bridge. Plus, you never know how you may end up coming back around to the people in the company later. For example, let’s say you apply to another company in your industry. It just so happens that one of your former coworkers now working there knows you told your boss to get f*cked with a saguaro cactus. They tell their manager about it, their manager tells HR, and guess who doesn’t get hired? You, of course.

Or maybe you just found out that the person you loved most in this world, the person you always thought would have your back and love you, had an affair. Devastating. Utterly devastating. There’s a reason Dante made Treachery the 9th circle of Hell in his Inferno. Still, resist the urge to lash back out of the pain and hurt. Don’t destroy their stuff. Don’t parade your business around for other people to get involved in. Don’t do something like send their nudes to their parents. Guess what? A lot of that stuff will open you up to civil damages or criminal charges, making the situation much, much worse.

Don’t give in to the urge to lash out. Don’t give in to the urge to avoid. Instead, look at it directly so you can handle it. It’s yours to own and deal with. Embrace it, as difficult as that might be.

3. Let the spiral play itself out (a.k.a. embrace the inevitable).

Once the spiral is a-spinnin’, you’re going to need to let it get to where it’s going. You may kick, fight, and scream the whole way down, but it takes you down anyway. And so many people think, “I have to go down fighting! Otherwise, I’m a doormat!” Well, hey, that’s kind of fair, but kind of not.

On the one hand, no one wants to be a victim. But, on the other hand, fighting the inevitable instead of just embracing it will only worsen the situation and the heartbreak. It’s like pulling a bandage off. Do it slowly, and it’ll hurt for longer as you pull your hair out. But rip it off, and you’ll just have the one burst of pain that you can vigorously rub until the sensation fades.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say your partner has been having an affair for the past five years. Now, there is a slim chance that the two of you can go to couples’ counseling, and try to put the pieces back together. You might be able to figure out where the marriage broke down, try to fix the cracks in the foundation, and build back together anew.

In reality, that’s hard as f*ck to do. Five years of lies, manipulation, and betrayal? The person you were supposed to trust most just felt perfectly okay with exploiting your trust for five years? What kind of a person actually does that?

And much like a broken mirror, you can glue the pieces back together, but it’s never going to be the same as it was before. You can’t go back to before.

So, what do you do? Do you cling to the hope that things can be fixed? Do you spend years more with the person, hoping they don’t decide to cheat again?

I know what I’d do – and that wouldn’t be trust someone comfortable with betraying me for years. But that’s just me. You may have an entirely different point of view or circumstances influencing your decision.

That, to me, is embracing the spiral. I’d ask, where is this leading? How is this going? How is this likely to go? Where am I going to end up soon? Not the far future because it’s hard telling what will happen between now and then. But the near future, at the end of this particular spiral?

“Well, I’ll be dead.” No. That’s the wrong answer. Remember, just about anything can be recovered from if you’re still alive to work on it.

4. Feel your feelings, but don’t live there.

Embracing your feelings is an important part of managing emotions and healing, but there is a balance. While you want to embrace your feelings, it’s important to not set up a permanent place of residence in those feelings. At some point, you spend some time feeling them, and when you feel them start to recede, you get up and focus on something else.

Shifting focus is a powerful way to derail unhealthy trains of thought. Now, you may be thinking, “Didn’t you just say to not do things to avoid the situation and your feeling?” Yes, but we’re talking about moderation. It’s not good to lose yourself in unhealthy coping mechanisms to numb yourself and not think about the situation at all. It’s also not good to just curl up in a ball and live in the miserable feelings you’re dealing with. Balance is key.

Feel your feelings for a while, then engage in a healthy coping mechanism like journaling, meditation, exercise, doing housework, doing work for your job, reading a book, watching some funny videos, or just doing something that will take your mind off of those emotions for now.

The more you dwell on them, the worse you’ll spiral, the worse it’ll be. So, while it is important to feel your feelings, you want to do it in as much of a controlled fashion as you can so you don’t just crash and burn.

5. Seek support if life feels unbearable now.

I get it. Truly. Like I said, I live with Bipolar Disorder. I am fully aware that there are tragedies and terrible things that will leave a long-lasting impact on you and your life. Traumatic experiences can denote a specific before and after in your life. And the after may not be all inspirational stories, sunshine, and rainbows.

It may be difficult beyond belief, the hardest thing you’ve ever gone through.

In that case, the best thing you can do for yourself is to get in with a trauma or grief counselor who can help guide you through the healing process. I highly recommend specifically asking if they have experience with trauma or grief counseling specifically. They will be more experienced and helpful in getting you to where you want to be. (You can find a therapist with experience in these things at BetterHelp.com and connect with them via video, phone, or instant message from anywhere in the world.)

Look into local support groups for what you’ve been through or what you’re dealing with. There are a lot of them out there – suicide survivor groups, infidelity groups, mental illness groups, chronic physical illness groups. All kinds of groups! It can really help to be around people that understand what you’re going through.

No one else will ever be able to understand the emotions and the heartbreak unless they’ve been through that. Not even mental health professionals. And that’s okay because their job is to provide you the tools and support you need to heal, find your way through it, and put your pieces back together as best as you can.

The picture may not be perfect, but it can certainly be better. And remember, if you’re thinking about hurting yourself or someone else, do seek out professional assistance immediately. Call a crisis line if you’re not sure what to do. They should be able to provide insight and specific guidance for your personal situation.

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About The Author

Jack Nollan is a person who has lived with Bipolar Disorder and Bipolar-depression for almost 30 years now. Jack is a mental health writer of 10 years who pairs lived experience with evidence-based information to provide perspective from the side of the mental health consumer. With hands-on experience as the facilitator of a mental health support group, Jack has a firm grasp of the wide range of struggles people face when their mind is not in the healthiest of places. Jack is an activist who is passionate about helping disadvantaged people find a better path.