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Emergency Self Care Plan for Bad Mental Health Days

A rescue inhaler for bad days, or a prep guide for the next time one comes up.

sun shining through snow covered trees

SOS! Houston we have a problem! Mayday! 

We all have days when this is what our mental health feels like. No matter what mental illnesses you have, no matter how well they’re managed, no matter how good your support system is, bad mental health days still happen. It’s just part of living the lives we lead in the culture we inhabit. I like to think of bad mental health days (nerd alert!) like rolling badly in D&D. No matter how many advantages or skills you have (therapy, support systems, taking your meds, etc…) sometimes you’re still going to roll a Nat 1 and have to deal with it.

And since we can’t prevent the occasional day where our mental health just bottoms out, let’s think about what we want to do when they arrive.

If today is one of those days, if you found this post because you went searching for support today, I see you. You’re not alone. We can do this together. If you’re experiencing a full on mental health emergency, give 988 a call or a text. I'm not a mental health professional, and some support is best left to the pros. This post will still be here when you get back. We’ll work through some self care options when you’re ready.

If today is an ok day for you, keep reading anyway! Making these kinds of self-care choices is easiest when you have a few extra spoons on hand. Then, the next time a bad mental health day rolls up, you already have a plan for how to take care of yourself.

Let’s take this step by step shall we? I’m going to go down this list in the order that works for me. Feel free to jump around if you feel like trying these in a different order. We’ll start with our most basic of basic self care needs, and work up to soothing our minds, bodies, and emotions.

Step 1: Food and Water

Our bodies need fuel to function. And I don’t know about you, but when my mental health tanks one of the first things to go is my appetite. 

a cheese board on a wooden coffee table

One of the best things I’ve ever done for my mental health is to make sure that I always have some depression-friendly food in my kitchen. I’ve always got some things that are easy to make and that I can usually convince myself to eat. These items are -full honesty- instant ramen noodles, and cheese. Not at the same time though! Even if I don’t feel like making food, I can usually muster the energy to throw some ramen in the microwave. When my stomach decides that all food is the enemy, I can usually talk myself into a piece of toast with some melted cheese.

Think of the easiest possible way to get some nutrients in your body. If that’s a glass of juice or soda, just do that! If that’s making yourself a nice salad or sandwich, do that! Don’t worry so much about how “healthy” the food is in this moment. Your body needs calories. Give it some, and if you feel up to making healthier food later, you can always do that.

If you’re in planning ahead mode, think about three different emergency meals you can make from supplies that are always in your cupboards and fridge. One for when you’ve got some energy, one for low energy, and one for no energy at all. Here’s my go tos as an example:

Some energy: a grilled cheese sandwich with an aioli spread

Low energy: ramen noodles in the microwave

No energy at all: slices of cheese with a glass of soda or juice

And don’t forget water when you’re taking care of your food and drink needs. Water doesn’t cure depression, but it certainly helps. When you’re having a bad day, try to keep your water right at your elbow all day long. I find that it helps a lot to have a special cup that you really enjoy using, whatever that means for you. I, personally, live and die by my favorite textured starbucks tumbler (the texture is a great sensory thing for my brain!) and my soft silicone straws. 

Step 2: Hygiene

This is another major struggle for me on bad mental health days. When my depression gets loud, it’s very easy for me to skip these physical self care tasks. Sometimes its a lack of energy, and sometimes they just don’t feel important.

If you’re having a bad mental health day, ask yourself how clean you are. When was the last time you showered? Brushed your hair? Brushed your teeth? Changed your clothes?

Whatever your current state, see if you can do a little something to make your body feel cleaner and more comfortable. Take a shower if you have the energy. If you don’t, wash your face and brush your teeth. If that’s still too much, put on some extra deodorant and comb your hair.

Think about your clothing here too. If your hoodie is feeling sweaty, put on a different one. Do you have a favorite pair of soft socks or slippers you can put on? If your hair is a mess but you don’t have the energy to wash it, can you put it up in a ponytail or put a hat on so it at least stays off your face? 

Think about high, low, and none levels of energy here too. Think about small things you can do to make yourself feel more comfortable in your body.

a redhead napping on a velvet couch

Step 3: Rest

Rest is so vital on bad mental health days. When your mental health tanks for a day, give yourself as much downtime as you possibly can. We all live such busy lives with tons of responsibilities, but if you’ve got a bad mental health day on your plate, take an honest look at your day and see if there aren’t a few things on your schedule that can wait until tomorrow. I bet there’ll be a few.

Then, give yourself permission to crash for a bit. I like to set a timer for myself when I get to this point. That timer makes sure that I don’t accidentally end up falling asleep all afternoon, but it also reminds me that I’ve carved this time out specifically to rest. There's nothing else that I "should" be doing while I run out this clock.

For this rest time, you can do anything that feels peaceful to you, though I recommend that it be something you do while sitting or lying down. Let your body store up as much energy as it can in this moment. You can relax with a book for a favorite TV show. You can listen to music or an audiobook. You can take a nap! Set yourself a timer (I’ve done anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour and a half depending on my schedule for the day) and allow yourself that period of rest. You might feel guilty at this step, like you should be trying to do more, but rest is so vital when your mental health is suffering. Resting is what enables you to eventually bounce back.


three friends having a picnic

Step 4: Reach out to Someone

We’re social creatures, and support is a major weapon in our arsenal against bad mental health days.

Call up one of your best people and talk about what you’re feeling. Ask this person if they’ve got the mental space to help you that day -we don’t trauma dump on our friends without consent!- but pick one of your closest friends, ask them if they’ve got some emotional bandwidth today, and get to talking. Sometimes just being listened to and having your feelings validated makes all the difference. Or, if you want, call someone up and talk about anything BUT your bad mental health day. Sometimes distraction is the name of the game.

You can also, of course, call a therapist or psychologist. Or if you’re not sure who to reach out to, 988 is always there for you.

Connect with someone. Your friends want to help you. I promise.

a pair of bare feet in the sand

Step 5: Move your Body

Yeah, I already hear you protesting. I know. I’m the same way. When my depression is acting up, the last thing I want to do is spend extra energy running around.

I’m not asking you to do a major workout or go for a run. I’m not even asking you to leave the house if you don’t feel up to it. But on bad mental health days, it’s very easy to get stuck. Stuck in bed, or on the couch, or wherever else in your home you last sat down. See if you can find a way to get up and move.

As with the other tasks, prepare options for some energy, low energy, and no energy. If you have a little energy, try doing some gentle yoga, or take a walk around the block. If you have low energy, maybe do a little stretching while sitting on the floor. If you have no energy at all, try to just move to a different part of your home. Maybe open a window and sit next to it to get some fresh air. A little change of scenery can get you unstuck.

Step 6: Do Something that Makes You Happy

This step is vitally important, so don’t skip it! You may not feel like doing anything at all, but reminding yourself of things that you enjoy is such an important part of self care. On my worst days, I find that the hardest part of doing fun things is getting started. Once I start, I usually enjoy myself.

Make a list of the things that you enjoy doing, and make an effort to do whichever one sounds most manageable. It might be one of the same things you did while you were resting earlier, but that’s ok. The point is that you enjoy doing it. Taking time to do the things you like, even when you’re not quite feeling like yourself, shows yourself that what you want matters, and that’s super healing.

As with all the other steps, plan for differing energy levels. For me, I really love working on creative projects or crafts. If I have a decent amount of energy and focus, I like to draw or do some creative writing. If that sounds like too much work, I can pick up my latest crochet or knitting project. If that sounds like too much work, I can reach for my art markers and a coloring book. All of these are creative, and I can usually motivate myself to do at least one of them. And I always feel better for having done it.

Having an Emergency Self Care Plan Helps So Much

You can do this. Self care is hard when your brain is being mean to you. Keep it simple, stick to the basics, do what you can. Even if your self care plan isn't perfect, or not what you wish you could be doing, you’ll be much better off than you were before. Lets go down the list one more time.

  • Have something to eat

  • Get a glass of water

  • Take care of your physical hygiene

  • Rest guiltlessly

  • Talk to someone

  • Move your body a little

  • Do something that makes you happy

Good luck my friend. You’re not alone. Every act of care you give yourself is a gift. 

Love you babe. You got this.

I've found that one of the best things I ever did for my mental health was set good boundaries. If you found this guide helpful, you can subscribe to the blog and you'll receive a free Boundaries Worksheet: a hands-on guide to setting and enforcing good boundaries to improve your mental health.

Love and Shenanigans,


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