I Need Help Now

Crisis Resources

If you or a loved one is in crisis now, please consider the communities below who have advanced training and insight into specific resources. Additional crisis links are available here.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

  • Call 988 or 800-273-8255
  • TTY users please use your preferred relay service or dial 711 then 1-800-273-8255

Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio

  • Telephono 888-628-9454

Crisis Text Line

  • Text NAMI or HOME to 741-741

National Domestic Violence Hotline

  • Call 800-799-7233

National Sexual Assault Hotline

  • Call 800-656-4673

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline

  • Call 800-662-4357

Veterans Crisis Line

  • Call 800-273-8255 then press 1
  • Text 838255

CDC National HIV and AIDS Hotline

  • Call 800-232-4636

Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline

  • Call 800-422-4453

Alcoholics Anonymous

Gamblers Anonymous

Narcotics Anonymous

Getting Started

Below is a methodology designed to acknowledge and address the internal and external factors that can lead to a state of mental health crisis. 

A mental health crisis can be described as a state of disequilibrium, where our reaction to a stressor becomes disproportionate, overwhelming and/or dysfunctional in getting our needs met. This state begins with us perceiving a threat or danger to ourselves, then altering our emotional and cognitive functions in response. We are able to resolve our mental health crisis condition when we either become exhausted physically, or we are able to identify and implement manageable solutions (Aguilera, 1998). 

The goal of this webpage is to offer you the following:

  • A mechanism through which to understand your physical and emotional needs.
  • Strategies for reducing your suffering in the short term.
  • Prevention techniques that enhance your ability to cope with future stressors.

This website is not able to provide you with an immediate or complete resolution for the challenges you are facing. Instead it provides ways to engage yourself introspectively, build up internal and external resources, and participate in mentation exercises that will help insulate you from future harm. 

You Deserve Compassion From Yourself and Others

  • You have intrinsic value as a sentient creature of this earth.
  • You deserve a clean, safe environment to experience and explore. 
  • You are worthy of access to the resources required to meet your basic needs.
  • You have the right to be part of a family, be active in your community, and have hope for the future.

Basic Needs Self Assessment

Before we explore mental health interventions, we must meet our basic physiological and safety needs. If we are experiencing a physical deficit, or we are unsafe, that condition takes priority. When preoccupied by the biological requirements of our living, breathing body, the higher level thinking required to improve our mental health cannot take place. 

The following graphic shows an inverted, enhanced version of the Maslow hierarchy of needs. The needs listed in the highest tier represent the primary physical requirements of our bodies to live moment to moment. The second tier represents our safety needs required to keep ourselves physically and emotionally safe moment to moment within our environments (Maslow, 1972).

Review the graphic below and check off every need you can identify as being met. 

If any of your physical needs are unchecked on the graphic, the immediate goal is to meet them. The state of our mental health is significantly dependent on our physical condition, and resolving our physical needs is the priority. Use the information below to guide you through the physiological tier of the graphic. 

  • Engage in deep breathing
    • This is a technique recommended for managing all forms of intense emotion, as it allows us to take a step back from the upsetting stimuli, catch our breath and self-soothe. This is accomplished by focusing our energy on slow, deep, even inhalation and exhalation (USDHHS, 2021 April). To start, breathe in deeply (we can imagine filling our stomach with our breath, allow our abdomen to expand on inhale) while counting to four. Next, we hold our breath for four seconds. Then exhale for four seconds. We do this at least five times in a row before moving on to our next task. Consider playing music with a slow beat, and breathing to the rhythm (USDHHS, 2021 June).
  • Drink a glass of cool water or warm tea.
    • Avoid caffeine to prevent a sudden change in energy level.
  • Eat something with nutritional value.
    • Avoid high sugar foods at this time to prevent sudden metabolic changes.
    • If you are food insecure, please consider visiting a food bank or pantry.
    • Please don’t hesitate to ask a friend or loved one for help.
  • Find shelter. 
    • Look for a local library or community center. 
    • Consider visiting a church, mosque or temple.
    • Ask to search for resources that are available to you.
    • Revisit the crisis resources at the top of the page for more.
  • Rest your body and mind.
    • Turn off any lights or distractions.
    • Consider taking a 30 minute nap.
    • If it is after 9pm, engage in sleep hygiene to prepare for a restful night.
    • Remember, even if we are not asleep, we can still rest our mind and body.
  • Masturbate to release sexual tension.
    • Sexual release is considered a basic human need (Maslow, 1972).
    • Please be kind to your body.
    • For the purpose of enhancing self-esteem and self image, avoid degrading media content at this time.
    • Avoid excessive pressure.
  • Relieve yourself by using the toilet.
    • Avoid strain by taking an over the counter laxative if necessary.
  • Move your body to release excess energy.
  • Regulate your body temperature.
    • Wrap yourself in a warm blanket, take a hot bath, or put on a comforting piece of clothing.
    • Take a cool shower, place a cool towel on your forehead, put ice in your drink.

Next, evaluate any unchecked boxes within the safety tier. These needs are slightly more complex, and may require weeks or months to fully resolve. Please be patient with yourself, and be firm in advocating your needs to others. Use the information below to guide your efforts.

  • Bodily integrity describes your ability to determine, for yourself and by yourself, how the world around you will interact with your physical body.
    • This can relate to the type of work you do, the ways you engage with others sexually (if you choose to at all), and being able to tell others when they are disrespecting your body and your physical needs without fear of repercussions.
    • If there have been times in the past where your bodily integrity has been compromised, consider visiting our cognitive behavioral therapy page to reframe those memories and begin to heal your relationship with yourself. Click here for CBT access.
    • Click here if you would like support in setting boundaries with others.
  • Morality on the tier of safety can be rephrased as living within your personal truth.
    • This includes living as your authentic self, telling the truth of events as you see it, and meeting those who may attempt to alter your self perception with strength and resolve.
    • By maintaining our moral compass, we reaffirm our personal values and beliefs to ourselves and to others - strengthening our relationship with ourselves and our self esteem.
  • Safe employment relates to both your physical safety and your emotional safety in the workplace or within any area of life where you engage your community productively.
    • Safety in this context relates to feeling respected, valued and supported by others with whom we work.
    • This concept includes feeling secure that should we meet the mutually agreed upon expectations of the job, we will not be fired without cause.
    • It is important to acknowledge we do not have full control over safe employment as our opportunities are based on variable factors like location, and pay rates are not always sustainable.
    • Consider alternative employment pathways by visiting a local community college for support in retraining or resume building or visit a local library for additional resources and insight.
  • Stable housing is a two-fold safety concern, as it relates to your ability to afford to remain in your home long term and it describes your personal safety within the home.
    • The cost of housing is outside of our immediate control, and rising costs create a situation that strains physical and emotional health.
    • Our interpersonal relationships with our roommates, partners and family members can be an immense source of stress.
  • Access to healthcare is a basic safety need, yet it is viewed by some as a luxury.
    • We cannot be truly safe if the fear of an inevitable illness and its financial consequences loom over us.
    • While there may not be a way to access affordable healthcare, consider the following strategies when engaging the topic.
  • When describing our internal and external resources, we focus on assets, tools, materials, food/water, space to exist without expectation, friends/family/social networks, adaptives and coping strategies.
  • Belongings describes our personal effects and possessions that have meaning to us and that help us make it through our day to day life.
    • These are the items that help us engage the world safely and independently.
      • Wheelchairs, hearing aids, glasses and accessibility devices are of elevated importance within this category.
    • These items are often small, and we give them specific meaning and purpose.
    • Certain items may carry unique sentimental, nostalgic or emotional significance and that is valid and relevant.
    • We can seek out those belongings in moments of crisis to help reconnect to what has meaning us.

Our Personal Resiliency Zone

Now that we have identified our basic needs and worked to meet them, we can move on to the higher level of thinking needed to improve our mental health. The next step is to identify and understand where you are emotionally in relation to your zone of personal resilience. 

The concept of a resiliency zone allows us to more easily visualize our emotional capacity for tolerating outside stressors. When we are within our resilient zone, our minds and bodies are at their most adaptable. We are in control of our physical and emotional responses, and are able to deal effectively with what occurs around us and to us (Miller-Karas, 2015).

When we are above our resiliency zone, we become anxious and hyper aroused. Our resistances and defenses take over, and we struggle to engage new information, integrate memories or gain insight into ourselves and our situation (Miller-Karas, 2015). 

If we are experiencing our low zone, we are less able to access our emotions or cognitive abilities. We cannot fully feel our bodily sensations or engage in self-regulatory or self-soothing thoughts and behaviors (Miller-Karas, 2015).  

Take a moment to consider the graphic below. It can be used to help us visualize our relationship to our resiliency zone over the course of a week. Everyone will experience ups and downs as a result of daily living, however our goal is to stay within our resilient zone to the best of our ability.

The graphic below expands on the idea of the resilient zone, forming the window of tolerance (Dezelic, 2013).

If you are outside of your resilient zone/window of tolerance at this moment, consider the following strategies and try to brainstorm more:

  • Open your eyes as wide as you can without strain, close them tightly, and repeat.
  • Drink something soothing, stay hydrated.
  • Look around your environment, identify something of interest and focus on it.
  • Name all of the colors you can see around you.
  • Count down from 20 while walking.
  • Touch something and describe its texture in detail.
  • Think about the temperature of the room you are in and try to guess it exactly.
  • Think about what you can hear around you.
  • Walk to a wall and lean against it, feel your muscles as they flex with the interaction.
  • Walk around and pay attention to the sensation of your feet touching the ground.

Keep in mind that when we are outside our resilient zone, it is not recommended that we make major decisions, take on new responsibilities or engage in conflict resolution efforts (ADAA, 2021).

Strategies for the High Zone 

When we are stuck in our high zone, we may experience powerful feelings of fear, distress, irritability, and worry. We may feel tension, restlessness, or fatigue. We may struggle to focus, have difficulty sleeping, or feel unable to make decisions. We may be short of breath, have a fast heartbeat, develop a headache or feel nauseous (ADAA, 2022). 

If in the high zone, consider the following strategies for returning to the resilient zone:

  • Create a calm, less stimulating environment.
    • Turn off lights and televisions.
    • Set aside your phone or computer.
      • Close this webpage and return at a later moment.
    • Turn off anything making noise.
      • Use earplugs or headphones if necessary.
    • Lay down in a comfortable position and close your eyes for 10 minutes.
    • Attempt to quiet your mind by consciously rejecting any upsetting thought that comes up in the moment.
  • Engage in deep breathing.
    • This strategy allows you to take a step back from the upsetting stimuli, catch your breath and self-soothe. This is accomplished by focusing your energy on slow, deep, even inhalation and exhalation (USDHHS, 2021 June). To start, breathe in deeply (imagine filling your stomach with your breath. Allow your abdomen to expand on inhale) while counting to four. Next, hold your breath for four seconds. Then exhale for four seconds. Do this at least five times in a row before moving on (APA, 2019). Consider playing music with a slow beat, and breathing to the rhythm (USDHHS, 2021 June).
  • Utilize progressive muscle relaxation.
    • This exercise asks us to tense and relax our muscle groups in order, slowly. This effort allows us to identify areas of the body where we are holding tension, and practice relaxing that area and we work to soothe whatever stressor has triggered us. Begin by seeking out a safe, quiet area and setting aside 15 minutes to complete the exercise (Torres, 2021).
      • Start by standing with your back as straight as possible, shoulders back, chin up, with your feet should distance apart. Keep your abdominals pulled in and your back straight, and curve your pelvis down and forward to lower your center of gravity. You may also choose to lay down for this exercise - in which case try to find a flat, comfortable surface where you can elongate your spine fully.
      • Next, take ten slow, deep breaths (four seconds inhaling, four seconds exhaling).
      • Place your intention on the top of your head or the soles of your feet. It may help to use your hands to touch the area you wish to start from in order to generate sensation there. Return to standing before starting. 
      • Squeeze the muscles you've chosen as hard as you can - inhaling for five seconds.
      • Next, exhale for five seconds while releasing the tension. Be sure to focus on maintaining the relaxation for the full five seconds. 
      • Choose the next muscle group to work, and tense for five seconds on inhale. Exhale and hold the release for five seconds.
      • Continue on until you reach the opposite end of your body.
  • Engage in physicality.
  • Participate in complementary and alternative therapies.
  • Prepare a soothing cup of tea, or cool glass of water.
    • Avoid caffeine products as this will only serve to increase feelings of anxiety.
    • Herbs like kava, lavender, valerian, chamomile may offer a relaxation effect if used in moderation.
  • Consider reaching out to a loved one to discuss topics that don’t cause stress or anxiety, to share a meal, or to share a hug or cuddle.

If you are unable to bring yourself down from your high zone using these strategies, connect with a medical professional. Remaining in a state of anxiety is not healthy for our bodies and there are medications and therapies available that can truly help. For more information on anxiety and the high zone, click here.

Strategies for the Low Zone

When we are stuck in our low zone, we may struggle to connect with feelings of pleasure, happiness or positivity. We may find it difficult to gather up enough energy to complete our tasks of daily living. It may be difficult to focus, and we may feel exhausted, restless or tense. Feelings of sadness, worthlessness, hopelessness, irritability, guilt and being a burden on our loved ones may preoccupy our minds. Thoughts of dying, committing suicide, or harming our bodies in permanent ways may come to mind (Potter, 2020). 

If in the low zone, consider the following strategies for returning to the resilient zone: 

  • Unconditional positive regard allows us to see ourselves through a lens of compassion and understanding. When we are low, it is especially important that we treat ourselves with kindness.
  • Radical acceptance offers us a way to acknowledge and accept reality for what it is, without passing judgment on ourselves or others. This can help us come to terms with situations that are difficult to understand and most past. 
  • Consider reaching out to a friend or loved one to talk about something positive, to connect emotionally, or to share physical touch.
    • Fostering our social interconnectedness has a proven ability to elevate our mood by developing our sense of belonging.
  • When we are low, it can help to set small goals that are achievable, realistic and measurable. These micro-successes start to add up, which creates a sense of accomplishment that can elevate our mood (ADAA, 2021).
    • Write down one goal on a list, something without an investment cost like doing half of the dishes or a load of laundry. Once that task is done, physically check it off the list and allow yourself to verbalize your success.
    • If there is a big task looming that you want to address, take some time to strategize your approach by breaking up the one big task into many, smaller ones. This will help make it feel more manageable and help you surmount the obstacles in between you and accomplishment (ADAA, 2021).
    • Be sure not to minimize yourself in these moments. All accomplishments are worth acknowledging.
  • Engage in physicality. 
  • Participate in complementary and alternative therapies.
  • Keep in mind that intense emotion can lead to physical exhaustion.
    • Give yourself the opportunity to rest your mind and body. 
    • Get sleep if needed, making an effort to get no more than 10 hours overnight.
  • Try to expose yourself to daylight if possible.
    • Consider the use of a daylight bulb in a regular fixture to enhance your exposure.

If you are unable to elevate your mood using the strategies presented above, or your symptoms are paralyzing or unrelenting, please consider reaching out to a medical professional for help. There are medicines and therapies that can help you stabilize enough to be able to maintain your resilient zone without depending on medication in the future (ADAA, 2021).

Being unable to manage daily responsibilities or care for yourself or your relationships is not sustainable and you do not deserve to suffer. For more information on depression and the low zone, click here.

Advice by Challenge

Click on the links below to be directed to a page containing information on each unique challenge. Strategies to help overcome each challenge is located near the bottom of each page.

Long Term Strategies to Improve Mental Health

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective psychotherapies available (Potter, 2020). It has succeeded in reducing the burden of a wide variety of mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, chronic pain, obsessive compulsive disorders, sleep problems, phobias, addictions and eating disorders (Torres, 2021).

At the root of this approach is the use of a short term, goal oriented perspective focused on identifying, challenging and altering damaging patterns of thinking, maladaptive attitudes, and internally held beliefs that exacerbate symptoms. Once such patterns of thought are identified, CBT offers a time constrained, structured strategy to replace them with more constructive thoughts which then encourage more constructive behaviors (Potter, 2020). For more insight into CBT and a complete therapeutic regime, click here.

Adaptives is a general term used to describe helpful thinking patterns, beneficial coping mechanisms and the associated behavior that provides us with the skills necessary to navigate the challenges in our lives. We use these tools to soothe ourselves effectively, so we can productively interact with family, friends, community, and environment during times of stress. For more information on adaptives, click here.

Emotional regulation is the ability to control how our emotions fluctuate over time and how those emotions are expressed. This ability is heavily influenced by the context of our environment, our culture and our personality traits. Those successful at self-regulation are able to control both how they experience their emotions as well as the physical manifestations of emotion, even at the height of a trigger (Thompson, 1991). Click here for information on the learned strategy that is emotional regulation.

The website offers a multitude of additional evidence based strategies for improving mental health. These techniques have been made accessible to you on our strategies page, available by clicking here.