Five Steps to Overcoming Suicidal Thoughts
Here are five tips towards overcoming suicidal thoughts that can help move you away from hurting yourself and towards recovery.
"Though It Can Be Tough To Be Hopeful, There Are Ways To Overcome Suicidal Thoughts."
Suicidal thoughts can be very difficult to deal with or understand. Sometimes they can be fleeting, but other times they can be stronger urges and fantasies that promise relief from seemingly unbearable pain.
Intense thoughts of suicide tend to occur for only brief periods of time, but we’re when caught in their grip, it can feel as if we’ll never escape.
We can think of experiencing intense suicidal thoughts like like riding out a storm. Even the most powerful storms don’t last forever, so if we can stop ourselves from acting on our most extreme thoughts, we will eventually move toward a less painful and depressed mood. Once the storm is over, we can more clearly see other options we have for improving our lives.
Below are some tips to guide us through these difficult moments.
The first things we need to do when experiencing intense thoughts of suicide is to get ourselves out of potentially dangerous areas or situations (e.g., waiting for a train, driving by ourselves, crossing a bridge, or being near guns, knives, or medications) in order to reduce the risk of acting on these thoughts.
Once we’re in a safe space, we can start to focus on controlling our breathing.
When we’re under stress, our heart rate increases and our breathing becomes quick and shallow. By slowing our breathing, we take active control to reduce our heart rate – and in essence, reverse engineer a sense of calm.
This technique can also help shift our attention away from suicidal thoughts. Here’s one way to try it:
The goal of these strategies is to work toward shifting our attention away from the negative thoughts of hurting ourselves onto something else.
This strategy may sound simple, but it’s a very powerful technique that can shut down suicidal thoughts before they turn into a vicious cycle. It’s similar to ignoring a bully – the less we pay attention to them, the less power they have.
By doing so, we are essentially saying to ourselves, “I’m thinking about ending my life. These thoughts are part of depression. I’m not going to engage with them. Instead, I’m going back to what I am doing.”
If the thoughts are too intense to get back to whatever we’re doing, using our senses can help us get back on track. Here’s a simple technique to try:
Visualization means trying to imagine things in our mind, in a controlled way, which helps block out suicidal thoughts.
Grounding works by connecting us to our physical environment and reminding us of exactly where we are in the present moment, which takes us away from our negative thoughts.
Grounding is similar to using our senses, but places more focus on our own physical sensations and connection to where we are.
A simple grounding technique is to focus on the parts of your body that are connected to the floor, or a chair where you are sitting. Feel the weight of your body and notice how the ground supports you. Try to feel rooted to where you are, strong in your stance, and take note of the sensations you feel. You can also do this while walking by feeling the ground under your feet, and feeling the textures of the ground.
Often when we feel overwhelmed, our muscles tense without us realizing it. Our shoulders or jaw may flex, or we may clench our fists. This is part of our ‘fight-or-flight’ response.
Like controlling our breathing, muscle relaxations help us take an active role in relaxing the physical manifestations of our stress response, and tell our body that it’s okay to calm down.
For detailed walk throughs of the skills of “grounding” and “muscle relaxations” see our Mindfulness for Men Course.
Reaching out to others is crucial. You don’t have to – and shouldn’t – try battling intense thoughts of suicide on your own.
In order for people to be able to help, we have to let them know what’s going on. Other people can provide us with empathy, compassion, and support – all of which are critical for helping us feel like we’re not alone in our experience.
It’s incredible how just saying our thoughts out loud to another person can help take power away from these thoughts.
If the people you reach out to aren’t available or you want to connect with someone who has more experience handling these kinds of situations, try contacting a crisis support centre.
One of the hardest parts of managing suicidal thoughts is not having the hope or motivation to employ the strategies described above.
Depression can rob us of hope. We may desperately want to reach out, but feel like it won’t matter. But we all matter!
Hope can come from knowing that others have felt the same way before and have been able to get better. They aren’t any better or different than us – we have the same capability to recover. As humans, we have an incredible capacity to heal.
We can’t let suicidal thoughts deprive us of our future – we need to give ourselves the opportunity to feel well again and live the rest of our lives being healthy and happy.
We're excited to launch our free self-guided courses: Managing Anger and Irritability, Rewiring Negative Thoughts, and Mindfulness for Men.