How to stay sane

Everyone accepts the importance of physical health; isn’t it just as important to aim for the mental equivalent? Philippa Perry has come to the rescue with How to Stay Sane — a maintenance manual for the mind.

Years of working as a psychotherapist showed Philippa Perry what approaches produced positive change in her clients and how best to maintain good mental health. In How to Stay Sane, she has taken these principles and applied them to self-help. Using ideas from neuroscience and sound psychological theory, she shows us how to better understand ourselves. Her idea is that if we know how our minds form and develop, we are less at the mercy of unknown unconscious processes. In this way, we can learn to be the master of our feelings and not their slave.

This is a smart, pithy, readable book that everyone with even a passing interest in their psychological health will find useful.

160 pages, Paperback

First published September 30, 2012

This edition

How to stay sane

Philippa Perry

Philippa Perry, author of How to Stay Sane, is a psychotherapist and writer who has written pieces for The Guardian, The Observer, Time Out, and Healthy Living magazine and has a column in Psychologies Magazine. In 2010, she wrote the graphic novel Couch Fiction, in an attempt to demystify psychotherapy. She lives in London and Sussex with her husband, the artist Grayson Perry, and enjoys gardening, cooking, parties, walking, tweeting, and watching telly.

Ratings & Reviews

Community Reviews

How to stay sane

Faaaar better than I expected.
Controlling and maintaining the balance of your mental being is the focus of this book which is fulfilled by examining the four following areas:
1. Self-observation
2. Relationship (quite interesting and insightful chapter)
3. Stress
4. Personal story.

Thorough review soon.

How to stay sane

Short and surprisingly helpful.

Favorite Quotes

Sanity falls into two groups: one of people who have strayed into chaos and whose lives lurch from crisis to crisis, and ones who are in a rut and operate from a limited set of outdated rigid responses. Some of us manage to belong to both groups at once. This book is about how to stay on the path between those two extremes, how to remain stable and yet flexible, coherent and yet able to embrace complexity.

When we become more sensitive towards ourselves and more knowledgeable about our own feelings, we are more able to attune to, and empathize with, the feelings of other people. In short, self-awareness improves our relationships.

We need to allow ourselves to be open to the impact of others if we are to impact upon them.

Often new behaviours feel false because they are unfamiliar, but an optimistic outlook is no more false than always assuming that nothing good will ever happen,

I worry. about what might happen to our minds if most of the stories we hear are about greed, war and atrocity. For this reason I recommend not watching too much television. Research exists that shows that people who watch television for more than four hours a day believe that they are far more likely to be involved in a violent incident in the forthcoming week than do those who watch television for less than two hours per day.

If we practice more optimism, disasters will still happen – but predicting disasters does not make them more tolerable or ward them off.

So how do we stay sane? We can develop our faculties of self-observation so that we can have the capacity to observe even our strongest emotions, rather than being defined by them, allowing ourselves to take in the bigger picture. Self-observation helps us to avoid too much self-justification and getting stuck in patterns of behaviour that no longer work for us. We can prioritize nurturing relationships and allow ourselves to be open. We can relate – not as who we think we should be, but who we actually are, thus giving ourselves the chance to connect and form bonds with others. We can seek out ‘good stress’ to keep our minds and bodies fit for purpose, and we can be watchful of the stories we hear and the belief systems we live our lives by. We can edit our story at any time, to right ourselves if we veer off course either into chaos or rigidity.

This world is not exactly a bed of roses. Everyone goes through many difficult experiences in life. Some go through more traumatic events, and some are better at handling these things than others. While everyone might say you should let it go, you know it’s easier said than done. Here I’ve discussed a few practices that will help you or someone you care about stay sane after a traumatizing experience.

Write About It

Writing is one of the best ways to process emotions. You have so much negative energy pent up inside you that needs to be processed. Instead of keeping it inside and letting it torture you, you should process it in a positive manner.

Start writing a diary with all your issues and emotions. You should be honest with your diary as you would be the only one reading it. This means you can share any detail no matter how embarrassing or scary. Pouring your heart out in words will help you get rid of things bothering you from inside.

Share it with the World

It would be difficult to keep such experiences only to yourself. These emotions will hurt more because you are dealing with them alone. This is why you should consider sharing those experiences with the world. Pick up the pen and write everything that has happened to you and is happening to others and publish it.

It is understandable that it is not easy to openly discuss something so personal and hurtful. The goal is to share your story with the world whether they know you or not. You can write the article and send it to The Doe to get it published as an anonymous writer. Your identity will remain safe and you will get to share the most difficult topics with the world.

Visit a Therapist

Many feel ashamed going to a therapist. There is no shame in accepting that you need help. It doesn’t make you weak or vulnerable. It means you are strong enough to accept that you are in pain and someone’s help will make it go away.

The real battle is within, so you shouldn’t let what others think get the best of you. Visit a therapist and share all the details with him without sparing any details. It could be difficult to open up at first, but you will start to feel that you are healing after a while.

Spend Time with Friends

A good friend is the best therapist. It’s easier to open up with them and you know that they care about you. It doesn’t matter whether they have professional experience of therapy or not, just knowing that they understand you is more than enough.

You would know who your real friends are. Spend more time with them and be honest with them. Tell them what happened to you and how you are feeling. Remember that life is more than just one bad event. Don’t let one bad memory affect all other memories and parts of your life.

How to stay sane

This article is part of Confined Grind, our crowdsourced guide to maintaining a balanced, healthy life while working and living at home amid Covid-19. Join the conversation on the BBC News LinkedIn page.

As people around the world self-isolate because of Covid-19, factors like anxiety, a lack of social interaction or outdoor time and economic stressors can lead to mental health challenges. While everyone’s circumstances vary and people are experiencing this global pandemic in different ways, many have found relief using similar approaches. Here’s what our readers shared about how they’re holding up and what has helped them stay positive.


Mindfulness comes in many forms: meditation, self-affirmations, breathing techniques and writing in a diary, to name a few. Many readers have found these practices helpful in shaping a more positive mindset. One of the most popular suggestions was to practise gratitude, focusing on the small, pleasant moments each day brings, as well as larger things like family and community.

In the UK, Amanda Owen-Meehan suggests writing down three things you are grateful for every day, however small they might seem. “Also, try to write down worries and stresses as they come to mind during the day. Revisit the list at the end of the day and for those worries that are still hanging around, ask yourself ‘Can I fix this?’ If the answer is no, try to let it go. If yes, start working on an action plan to fix it.”

Kim Knight, from New Zealand, suggests another popular mindfulness approach: practise focusing on the present, rather than the past or future. “One of the most important things for dispelling fear is to come back to the present moment. We must learn to control our thoughts, and in particular stop the habit of worry (mentally rehearsing what we don’t want to happen) and ‘worst-case-scenario-thinking’ which just leads to fear, stress [and] despair.”

Arloa Ten Kley, from the US state of Iowa, suggests looking at what you can actually control, and focusing on the positives in life while not ignoring the negatives. “I can choose to take care of myself physically, emotionally, spiritually, as well as support those around me. I can recognise the facts of what is going on around me without joining ‘the sky is falling’ mentality.”

How to stay sane

Practising gratitude is one type of mindfulness technique that can help improve mental health (Credit: Getty Images)

This article was co-authored by Amy Wong. Amy Eliza Wong is a Leadership and Transformational Coach and the Founder of Always on Purpose, a private practice for individuals and executives looking for help in increasing personal well-being and success and in transforming work cultures, developing leaders, and improving retention. With over 20 years of experience, Amy coaches one-on-one and conducts workshops and keynotes for businesses, medical practices, non-profits, and universities. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Amy is a regular instructor at Stanford Continuing Studies, holds an MA in Transpersonal Psychology from Sofia University, a certification in Transformational Life Coaching from Sofia University, and a certification in Conversational Intelligence from CreatingWE Institute.

There are 25 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

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If you’re used to working around other people, it can be a big shift to start working from home. Whether you’ve taken on a new remote position or you’re temporarily working from home due to COVID-19, you might feel a little stressed after working from home for even a few days. It’s completely normal if you feel like your work has gotten more difficult or if you don’t seem as focused, but there are many ways you can manage it. With a few little changes to your workday, you’ll be able to make the switch easier than before!

By Amy Goyer, June 25, 2015 08:30 AM

“How do you stay sane?”

That’s the question a reporter asked me recently at the National Press Foundation after a talk I gave about being a family caregiver. As blunt as it sounds, it was a very good question. And I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

I have been caregiving for nearly 35 years, the past six at a very intensive level. During that time I’ve worked full time; traveled a great deal; written two books; maintained a long-distance relationship ; managed multiple moves and properties; dealt with numerous hospitalizations; suffered the loss of my niece, mom and sister within three years; and experienced the heartbreak of Dad’s Alzheimer’s disease.

So what keeps me from having a complete breakdown?

In addition to accepting help from paid caregivers, family and friends, it all boils down to these simple strategies:

  • Staying organized: This saves my sanity the most. It’s so vital that I devote an entire chapter to it in my book Juggling Life, Work and Caregiving. I am more efficient if my paperwork, my homes, my work and my mind are organized. I create systems, use technology and sometimes pay a concierge to help. When I feel the most overwhelmed, I stop and make a quick list or organize my environment.
  • Monitoring my mind-set: I am constantly evaluating where my mind is. If I’m falling into the abyss of negativity and hopelessness, I acknowledge those emotions, reel my mind back in, and then choose mindfulness and positivity. I’m no Pollyanna, but I view creating and noticing joy as my most essential survival skill.
  • Taking breaks: Respite, or time away from caregiving, is essential. For me, work is respite , as are occasional vacations. But when I’m doing hands-on caregiving, I take mind breaks: stopping to hug Daddy, playing soothing music, watching a movie or reading poetry to him, connecting with nature or closing my eyes when he naps.
  • Accepting my limitations: I’m one person, and there are 24 hours in a day. That’s the reality. I’m very goal-oriented, so it’s hard, but I have to accept that there will always be too much to do and that I’ll never catch up or prevent changes. I inevitably will drop a ball here and there, but as Dad has taught me, I do my best and that’s enough.

There’s more on these strategies and other ways to cope in my book Juggling Life, Work and Caregiving .

Amy Goyer is AARP’s family, caregiving and multigenerational issues expert. She spends most of her time in Phoenix, where she is caring for her dad, who lives with her. Follow Amy on Twitter @amygoyer and on Facebook .

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Working from home seems great — but can also be a productivity nightmare.

How to stay sane

Working from home has its perks — but it can be bad news for productivity.

As the list of companies mandating employees to work from home to stop the spread of coronavirus grows, you might be wondering just exactly how you can stay sane if it happens to you. The panic over coronavirus is already stressful enough, and the last thing you want to worry about is how to Zoom call your manager — and whether your Wi-Fi can actually handle it.

But alas, as the coronavirus outbreak shows no signs of slowing down, you could soon be in that position. Let me let you in on a little secret — as someone who’s been working from home full-time for nearly two years now, it’s not all PJs and Netflix like you might imagine. In fact, working from home is sometimes more difficult than not. There can be days when you’re distracted or interrupted every 10 seconds by family members or housemates. Or household chores like laundry or dishes could call your name while emails pour into your inbox.

Working from home has its perks — you can work in sweatpants if you want, there’s no commute time and sometimes you can be more focused and efficient. But you’ll make the most of it if you approach the day intentionally. Below are some of my best tips for working from home while staying sane and productive.

Working in bed is not ideal when it comes to productivity.

Avoid working in bed

I don’t always follow this rule, to be honest. Sometimes I open my eyes, grab a coffee and immediately begin writing my latest article. But if you start working in bed you’ll likely get sleepy or have a hard time feeling truly awake. Instead, get up and make your bed first thing in the morning, just like any other day. Avoid the urge to work in your bedroom at all, unless that’s the only space where you have privacy.

If you do have to work in bed, whatever you can do to create a sense of “going to work” will help you. That means changing out of your PJs, washing your face, getting coffee — whatever makes you feel awake, do that first. Once you start working, sit up and avoid working in your bed if you’re exhausted.

It’s a good idea to treat your bedroom as a sacred space — where you only go to sleep or relax. Once it becomes your office, you’ll find it hard to avoid thinking about work 24/7. Try to set up a workspace somewhere else, even if that’s the kitchen or dining table. If you’re lucky enough to have the space, maybe you could work from a spare bedroom or home office.

Try to work from a space free of distractions if you can help it.

Avoid working where you’ll be tempted or distracted

One of the keys to successfully working from home is to pretend you’re at an office. Would you stop to do laundry, watch Netflix or do the dishes if you were on the clock at work? Probably not. So don’t work somewhere that will tempt or distract you — that means don’t work with a TV on, and if laundry or dishes are calling your name, avoid them! Get your chores done before you begin work and save time for bingeing Netflix once you’re done for the day.

Coronavirus in pictures: Scenes from around the world

Set boundaries with other people at home

Working from home with roommates, friends or family present can be challenging. Speaking from experience, if someone comes over and sees you on the computer, they may not register that you’re working. This is true especially if that person has never worked from home before — they may assume you can do whatever you want.

It’s important to set boundaries with people around you in work from home settings. Tell everyone who’s home with you that you’ll be working during certain hours and to not disturb you unless it’s an emergency. Put a sign on your door if you have to. Doing what you can to avoid interruptions is key to staying as productive as possible.

Take breaks

And no, scrolling through Instagram does not count as a break. You should aim to take a break every 75 to 90 minutes, for about 15 minutes per break. Ideally, your break should involve no screens at all and let you get some fresh air. Take a walk outside, play with a pet or talk to a friend. You’ll find that you’re much more productive if you walk away from your desk and computer throughout the day.

Try to add in social activities in your day, even if it’s just a phone call to a friend.

Avoid total social isolation

While working from home can feel more productive at times when you’re alone, there is also a downside to working alone all day. I consider myself an extroverted introvert — which means I work best without a lot of people around me, but I enjoy having coworkers and connecting with others every day in real life. One of the most challenging things about working from home is the lack of socialization.

As distracting as some office environments can be, there’s nothing like having coworkers you enjoy working with and catching up with throughout the day. Make time to connect with others, whether that means FaceTiming your work husband (or work wife) or making dinner plans with a friend.

How to stay sane

Think you can go the distance? You better find Phil, everyone’s favorite hero training satyr, and put in the work, because it takes Herculean strength and determination.

Long distance relationships (LDRs) are hard — this isn’t anything new. However, there are three very important things you need in order to have any hope of making an LDR work while also keeping your sanity. Having been in a long distance relationship with someone on the opposite side of the world for over a year — 11,000 miles apart to be exact — I think it is safe to say I’m qualified to give some insight into LDRs.

You’re going to need:

1.) Communication on a HEALTHY basis.

Duh. Communication is a must, and if you have a problem Skyping then you shouldn’t be reading this post. Talking to your significant other (SO) on a regular basis is a no-brainer. However, it’s way more important to make sure that you are talking to your significant other on a healthy basis. You can’t forget you have friends because they are the ones that will keep you sane during those long weeks or months apart from your SO. Besides, they’ll get pretty fed up if you “hang out” with them and end up spending the whole night on your phone. So don’t be that person. Also, it’s just rude. So don’t be that person even if you’re not in an LDR. If you want to make your LDR work, you’re going to have to be one heck of a multi-tasker. Keep up with your SO but make sure that you’re also living your life.

2.) Trust

If you have trust issues, please do yourself a favor and understand that long distance relationships are not for you. The basis of an LDR is trust, trust, and more trust. You need to be comfortable enough in yourself and your partner to know that neither of you are going to get drunk one night and hook up with a rando. Besides, jealousy is a bad look. Or maybe open relationships are your thing. If it works, it works.

3.) A long-term attitude

Long distance relationship? Long-term planning. When you’re in a relationship with someone on the other side of the world, you can’t be shy about planning. Plane tickets are expensive! While most of you in LDRs might only deal with being a state or two away, we all know it’s not really the distance, but the principle of an LDR that scares us most. There is a certain amount of planning involved, whether it be a month in the future or six months. You have to be committed enough to say, “Okay, I like this person enough not to hookup with anyone else, despite them not being around for the majority of the time.” That’s a huge commitment for anyone, because let’s face it, delayed gratification is hard. So if you’re not sure about the long-term with your new found summer bae then get out as fast as you can. Like I said, Herculean strength and determination is a must.

4.) Happiness in being alone

Ironically, this is the crux of making any long distance relationship work. You won’t be seeing your SO for a majority of the time, so you’re going to have to appreciate being alone. If that’s difficult for you, then that’s when breakdowns in trust, healthy communication, and long-term planning start to happen. Before you jump into a long distance relationship, you have to be perfectly happy sleeping alone at night or going long periods of time without the intimate touch of another person. Also it’s never a good idea to use someone as a crutch for happiness. So make sure you’re healthy and happy on your own before jumping into any relationship, regardless of it being long distance or not.

To be honest, long distance relationships aren’t for the majority of people. So don’t stress if it’s not your thing. One of the most important aspects of a long distance relationship? Understanding your own needs and wants while simultaneously catering to your partner’s. It’s a balancing act, and a precarious one at that, but it is worth the work if you find “your person.”

Make sure you keep up video contact with your loved ones.

You’re having restless sleep. You wake up with a scratch in your throat, and you are sure you have COVID-19. You are attending a meeting online while your dog barks and your third-grader tells you she needs help with her schoolwork. You are also the primary caretaker for your parents.

Very few of us have ever experienced a pandemic before. There is no rule book for how you are supposed to parent, or take care of your parents, during a mass medical emergency. How do you take care of your parents when they are in a high-risk category, yet they need groceries and support? How do you manage your children attending online classes while you still have work deadlines? Meanwhile, you and your kids have been at home together for an entire week and you’re starting to drive each other crazy. A time that you thought would be fun for snuggling and reading books has turned into a dystopian nightmare.

What can you do to lower your stress level and stay as sane as possible during preventative quarantine?

Limit Your News Intake

You may feel more stressed and even experience panic after reading the news. Decide which topics you need to know more about. Also, decide which topics you will stay away from because additional information either doesn’t help you or works against you. You may decide that you want to only watch press briefings by your governor. You may want information directly from your child’s school system. You may decide that you are going to forgo COVID-19 information altogether, since you are staying home and practicing good health habits, such as washing your hands for 20 seconds. Sometimes a little more news can lead to a big meltdown of fear and anxiety. Keep it in moderation.

Get Outside

It is important to get outside regularly. Social distancing doesn’t mean “stay inside the whole time.” Most “shelter-in-place” plans allow for outdoor activities, as long as a distance of six feet is kept between your family group and others. Being outside can help “reset” the brain. Nature moves at a slower pace than humans, so you may find yourself adjusting to a different rhythm. It’s a nice break from how quickly things are changing right now. Exercise is essential right now, both for your body and your mind. Any type of movement counts as exercise, including walking on a trail while keeping social distance.

Keep a Routine

A routine is essential for both you and your kids. This is not a vacation — work and school are still in session. Have set wake-up times, “office hours,” free time, meal times, and exercise times. Take a shower and get fully dressed in the morning. The more we can stick to a routine, the better off we will be mentally and physically. Have your kids write down their routines, and post them in a conspicuous place. Include chores on your kids’ daily schedule. Also, schedule in times to just be silly and have unstructured play. Have a movie night and a game night. Keep things consistent so you have some sense of normalcy in your world.