How to use ‘self-therapy’ every day and tackle 6 common problems – from feeling self-critical to overwhelmed

NOT so long ago, mental health was a taboo topic.

There wasn’t the understanding, vocabulary or opportunity for people to talk honestly about what they were experiencing.

More people are turning to self-therapy to tackle poor mental health

As for having therapy, it was something you only saw on American TV dramas.

Cut to today, and mental health dominates the conversation, with people keen to know what they can do to improve their wellbeing.

This has prompted a trend in self-therapy, where people take a DIY approach to the work typically done with a trained professional.

The aim is to dig deep into the unconscious workings of the mind in the hope of moving away from limiting beliefs or behaviours.

“Shadow work” took off as a TikTok trend last year, based on the findings of psychologist Carl Jung, who said each person’s “shadow self” represents what they hide or don’t like about themselves.

But self-therapy should also be approached with caution…

When you need professional help

Contact your GP or a mental health organisation first.

BACP provides information to charities and services that offer free support including CALM, Mind and Rethink.

GettyWhen you’re struggling contact your GP or a mental health organisation first[/caption]

Always use the BACP Therapist Directory to find a therapist.

Only registered or accredited BACP members meet standards for training, experience and ethical practice ( 

Why is self-therapy becoming popular?

Professional private therapy is still a luxury for many people living on a tight budget, and NHS waiting lists are long.

There’s a greater interest in therapy, too – how often do you hear a friend say: “As my therapist said…” and feel like you should be going to therapy, too?

That’s where self-therapy comes in.

We now have more access than ever to either cheap or free resources, including apps such as Thrive, Happify and MyPossibleSelf, books like How To Be Your Own Therapist by Owen O’Kane and podcasts such as Best Friend Therapy and We Can Do Hard Things.

None of these claim to replace therapy, but rather to enhance your personal development.

Are there possible dangers?

It’s worth being aware that self-therapy has seen a rise in “armchair experts” – people who know about a subject but have little experience or real understanding of it. 

Psychotherapist Dr Annie Zimmerman encourages people to learn about themselves and their mental health, but warns: “You need to approach this topic with care and nuance, as there is a lot of misinformation out there.

In the same way people might be taking their physical health into their own hands, Googling symptoms and self-diagnosing, it’s also happening for mental health.”

She adds: “Insta-therapy has created an influx of diagnoses of people as narcissists and gaslighters, for example, but it’s a mistake to assume everything you read is fact and applies to you or everyone you know.” 

What can it help? 

Self-therapy can help you reframe day-to-day thinking and spot patterns that hold you back, whether in personal relationships or at work, and ensure you are your most authentic self.

Annie’s book, Your Pocket Therapist, aims to help you “break free from old patterns and transform your life and relationships,” through practical tools and reflective exercises, such as writing to your inner child and journalling. 

GettySelf therapy can help you reframe day-to-day thinking and spot patterns that hold you back[/caption]

“It teaches you how to think about yourself differently, to reflect on your childhood and explore what’s going on underneath,” Annie says.

It can help you understand emotions and the behaviours they may trigger.

“Rather than judging your feelings and reactions, and shaming yourself, see it as a way to learn more about what’s going on unconsciously,” says Annie.

“What kind of child were you?

“Are you aware of anything that might have been difficult for you?

“Although it is not a replacement for therapy – no book can be – it’s a perfect accompaniment to therapy or any self-development work.”

What can’t it help? 

While using self-help techniques can help curb knee-jerk reactions or stop negative thoughts from spiralling, there is a limit to what it can do.

“When you’re working on yourself by yourself, there’s no one to give you an independent and impartial view,” says Susan Critchley, a therapist who works within the professional standards team of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). 

In a therapy room with a professional, you can look more objectively at issues than within your own mind.

This is where you may have breakthroughs – or perhaps, breakdowns. 

“People can also have inflated expectations of what they can achieve by themselves, and they may take on too much all at once,” says Susan.

“For instance, if you’re experiencing low self-esteem and try to engage in a regime of self-help but find that you can’t sustain it, this could reinforce a sense of failure and inability to change, which is counterproductive.” 

Self-therapy made easy 

Keen to shift some unhelpful habits?

Here, experts at the forefront of self-therapy reveal some tips you can use every day to get you started. 

Feeling anxious

“Try the physiological sigh for an immediately calming effect,” says Chloe Brotheridge, coach and hypnotherapist at Calmer You and author of The Anxiety Solution.

“Take a deep breath in through your nose, filling your lungs with air for around two seconds.

“Then take in another sip of air.

“Next, exhale slowly through your mouth until you’ve released all the air for around four to six seconds.”

Feeling overwhelmed

Overwhelm is when you feel like everything is on top of you and you’re about to buckle under the pressure.

“Go for a silent walk in a natural environment,” says Dr Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller, AllTrail’s chief medical advisor.

“This allows you to focus on the immediate sensory experiences, fostering mindfulness.

“It reduces excessive thinking or worrying, calming a distracted mind and improving your concentration.”

Feeling low

If you are down or a bit deflated about life, it’s easy to push aside your feelings and cover them up, perhaps turning to alcohol or food to numb your emotions.

“Instead, pause and acknowledge them,” says Kate King, founder of Holistic Health.

GettyIt’s easy to brush over your feelings when you’re low[/caption]

“Remind yourself  that it is natural to feel like this at times, that things will change, and you have a choice over how you manage this.

Positive affirmations can be helpful, such as: ‘I am doing my best and that is good enough’, and: ‘I am in charge of my life and my reactions’.”

Feeling self-critical

Triggers for that inner critic are very personal.

Perhaps you feel that you embarrassed yourself in a social setting or you aren’t reaching expectations at work.

“Practise self-compassion,” says Elle Mace, a positive psychology coach.

“Treat yourself with kindness, and understand that everyone makes mistakes and has flaws.

“Focus on your strengths and take care of your physical and emotional needs by getting enough rest, eating healthily, exercising, and engaging in activities you enjoy.”

Feeling stressed

Many of us are so accustomed to stress, we don’t even notice it.

But unresolved stress can impact everything from your skin, weight and quality of sleep to your risk of developing severe diseases.

GettyBottling up stress can impact your whole body[/caption]

Next time you’re stressed, practise visualisation to take you out of your current state.

“Visualise how you will feel once you’ve made the work deadline – you might imagine being relieved, excited or free,” says Petra Velzeboer, psychotherapist and author of Begin With You: Invest In Your Mental Well-being And Satisfaction At Work.

“Focusing on the outcome of a situation will enable you to let go of the stress in the moment.”

Feeling irritable

Moody or short-tempered? It can be hard to snap out of it.

“Rebalance by gently pressing the area between your thumb and index finger for 30 seconds, then release,” says Jason Ward, psychotherapist and clinic director of DBT London.

“This acupressure spot can promote calm.

“Think of your current situation from an outsider’s point of view to minimise personal bias and briefly change your environment.

“A new perspective can often defuse feelings of irritability.”

You’re Not Alone

EVERY 90 minutes in the UK a life is lost to suicide

It doesn’t discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society – from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.

It’s the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer and car crashes.

And men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.

Yet it’s rarely spoken of, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice, now.

That is why The Sun launched the You’re Not Alone campaign.

The aim is that by sharing practical advice, raising awareness and breaking down the barriers people face when talking about their mental health, we can all do our bit to help save lives.

Let’s all vow to ask for help when we need it, and listen out for others… You’re Not Alone.

If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:

CALM,, 0800 585 858
Heads Together,
Mind,, 0300 123 3393
Papyrus,, 0800 068 41 41
Samaritans,, 116 123

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