The Two 5-4-3-2-1 Methods

Woman sleeping on bed.

Back in October I wrote a post about scheduling my time outside of work when I started at reduced hours. Several people, including my various health care providers stressed that they didn’t think it was a good idea for me to be completely off work because I needed structure, basically to get out bed in the morning.

That seemed pretty logical to me at the time. As my work hours increased in the weeks following that, I continued to struggle, but the “up” I got from my workouts seemed to be lasting a little longer into my day so I was optimistic that I was getting better. I was, however, frustrated that wasn’t a lot better (I can be impatient, even when it comes to recovering from a bout of depression.

The reason that everyone had emphasized structure to me, became abundantly clear to me during the two weeks that I had off at the end of December and beginning of January. I’m a morning person. I wake up early, do my morning routine, and get my day going. Yes, it can be a bit harder this time of year in Saskatchewan as the bedroom feels cold once I get out from under the down duvet and the sun doesn’t come up until after 9 AM, but I’m still usually awake by 5 at the latest and out of bed soon after.

During the break I continued to wake up early, however, I found it difficult to pry myself out from under the covers for a couple of hours. I didn’t turn on a light and read. I just curled up and stayed there, which is not typical me at all. I had no desire to start my day at all. This was a clear indication to me that not only was I not a lot better, but rather, I was still in the thick of it.

I am doing everything that I need to continue to take care of myself. I’m not going to all of the details, but I have had to accept that this time is different than in the past, so I’m having to take different approaches to my care. And because I have been so open about it this time, I have more people supporting me through this bout than I have ever had, and for that I am grateful.

I mentioned previously that I’m doing the free Mindset Reset “course” from Mel Robbins related to anxiety, self-confidence, etc. Early last year I listened to her audio book The 5 Second Rule, which she mentions throughout the course (not in a “hey, buy my book” kind of way, which I appreciate). The gist is, if you need to act on something, even if it’s just getting out of bed, count down 5-4-3-2-1 and do it. While it sounds kind of kooky, it seems to work for a lot of people and there’s science behind why it works, but I won’t bore you with that here. 

Anyway, once my time off ended, I found myself still struggling to get out of bed and that pissed me off because that’s time I could be working out, which I enjoy and I knew it’s good for me. So, when I find myself just laying there, wide awake at a time I should have been up and on the move, I try to remember to 5-4-3-2-1 and get my ass out of bed.

When I sat down to do the Daily Calm meditation a couple of weeks ago (by the way, this morning was my 71st day in a row of doing this), I was surprised to see the name of the session was 5-4-3-2-1. Near the end of the 10-minute practice, the instructor, Tamara Levitt explained a different method with this countdown to help regain focus and reduce stress / anxiety. To summarize what she had to say that morning:

• 5 – See five different things around you and focus on what they really look like

• 4 – Touch four things that are near you and focus on what they really feel like

• 3 – Try to hear three different sounds near you

• 2 – Try to smell two different scents around you

• 1 – Taste one thing, even if this is water or the after taste of something you just ate

It can be pretty easy to remember when I’m trying to get myself out of bed in the morning to say “5-4-3-2-1” and pull the covers back. That’s a habit that happens when I wake up in the morning. In fact, most of the things that I’m doing to take care of myself are built into my daily schedule. When an aspect of self-care needs to be done at random time, when the need arrives, however,  it can be challenging to stop and remind myself of what I need to do at these moments.  I think I need to figure out a way to easily remind myself of what to do when I’m hesitating on something I wouldn’t normally hesitate about (5-4-3-2-1 and take action, even a small action) or letting stress or self-doubt grab on to me (5-4-3-2-1 with my senses to refocus and regain perspective).

On  another note, throughout this process I’ve also had to deal with, for the first time, some of the processes that people struggling with mental illness have to face. While there have been some hiccups along the way, I know that it’s been relatively smooth, in large part because I’m surrounded by some very supportive people who have gone to bat for me, including at work. I also no that because of the type of person that I am, who insists on trying to power through as much as I can, I have been able to be my own advocate as well. Having this glimpse of how things work, however, has made me want to try to do what I can to improve the system, when I’m better.

I’m also hopeful, that my honesty here helps others to be honest about their own struggles with depression so that a) we can all work to reduce the stigma and B) they find the support around them that will help them through this. I also hope that readers of this site, whether they have depression in their life or not, find useful ideas that help them live happier and healthier lives.

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