Imagine a string that comprises all aspects of mental health: mood (positive and negative), emotion (happiness, sadness, anger, joy, grief), stress, anxiety, and of course, illness. At rest, the string is stable with weight distributed equally.
Then something happens, a trigger. Maybe an incident at work or a fight with a spouse.
Add a weight to the string.
Then another trigger. A project going south or packed schedule.
Add a weight to the string.
Then another trigger. A family emergency or trauma.
This one adds an even heavier weight to the string.
Either over time or rather suddenly, a series of events throw off the string’s equilibrium. A ton of weight has amounted in the center causing significant tension. Now you’ve started to lose control. You feel powerless, out of balance, just waiting for that last trigger and final weight to snap the string.
When you’re bipolar, snapping might cause you to rapidly swing into a depressive or manic episode. If you’re not suffering from an underlying illness, you may still enter a period where you feel “everything is too much,” “crashing down,” “losing it,” and “you’re not okay.”
After years of therapy I’ve learned many strategies for managing mental health, especially in a crisis, but the tactic I use the most is one I actually came up myself, my String Strategy. Not to be confused with string theory (something I will never understand), String Strategy is about harnessing indifference to stay centered. The String Strategy approach is applicable to our lives in a very practical way regardless of whether you suffer from a mental health disability or strive to stay more grounded while working through life’s curve balls.
By imagining your mental health exists as a continuum on a string, you can see how specific incidents impact our coping mechanisms. As we add weight to the string and create tension, we become overwhelmed; it’s harder to prevent “snapping” and a mental breakdown.
So, what to do?
First, stay indifferent. That’s right. Try to shield yourself from positive and negative moods/emotions by avoiding excitability. Never too happy or too sad. Ride the middle. CENTERED. Next, start to address the triggers and “solve” for each one individually. I do not recommend trying to release all the weights at once because just as adding weight creates tension making the string snap, taking all the weight off may release too much tension, causing us to lose control and later crash – emotionally, physically, mentally.
Rather, try tackling each item one.by.one. And if necessary, put a few on the shelf. You may not be able to unpack all the emotion caused by family fall out or trauma in one sitting. That could be one for the shelf. Come back to it when you’re not as fragile.
Why String Strategy is different?
Of course a bunch of shit builds up on the string in life at one point or another. Maybe it seems like there’s constantly too much tension on that string. But this specific strategy is meant to be deployed when you most need to shield your mental health during times of duress. I do not believe a normal person can live a life of indifference ALL THE TIME. Where’s the fun in that? Instead, harness indifference to ensure you stay off the not-so-fun emotional roller coaster when things get tough. When the tension is high. When the string actually might snap.
As you address each incident and take its weight off the string you release a bit of tension. And since you’re staying “indifferent,” tackling the complexities of each trigger won’t be as intense or elicit a visceral emotional response. You’ll be able to maintain an equilibrium.
Now, I’m not telling you that you can’t smile or enjoy yourself. I’m suggesting that staying neutral helps us keep control and better manage the string and minimize tension. This includes NOT GETTING TOO ELATED. Even the fall from a joyous moment can be a bumpy one when we are navigating an unstable mental health state. Using indifference to stay centered is another way to mitigate the risk of snapping.
As a side note, periods of mania are often considered the body’s way of warding off depression. Therefore it’s not surprising when an episode of mania is followed by a period of depression. This cycle is not dissimilar to going on vacation and the excitement leading up to the trip, then the crash back to earth as one returns to “life” and it appears things have fallen apart while we were gone.
By staying indifferent, caring a little less about external happenings (both good and bad), and focusing on one trigger at a time, I’ve found I can more quickly release tension causing stress and anxiety, mood swings and panic. I’ve got a better handle on my mental health. I’m not running from problems while “solving” for each trigger, but I’m also not running at them by trying to solve everything at once. Meanwhile, I keep my emotions balanced and stay centered; remember, not too excited in a positive or negative way. And ultimately, if all goes well, I avoid snapping.
Does this always go to plan? Well, no. I do speak with a therapist and psychiatrist regularly so sometimes I need additional help and utilize other strategies in addition to my “indifference” approach. But String Strategy has made a huge difference in helping me challenge negative thoughts and cope with stressful times in a healthier way. And it’s given me tools to explain to others how I’m feeling and what’s going on when there’s too much tension on the string and I need extra time to work through life’s hurdles.
So if you’re looking for a way to avoid “snapping” in order to stay more centered, give String Strategy a try. See if you can hold the line and stay centered. Remain indifferent (neutral), and work through each trigger one at a time. Record how String Strategy impacts your ability to manage mental health and all the “stuff” on that goes along with it.
*I am not a mental health professional. This is my own unique lived experience. I manage my mental health in consultation with a therapist and psychiatrist. If you or someone you know is in need of assistance please seek out medical attention immediately*