Tripping can be fun, magical, and even transcendental, but it can also be profoundly sad and challenging, filled with tears and confusion. While some prefer the term “challenging” to “bad,” psychedelics can cause repressed memories and emotions to bubble up. You may also get stuck in what psychonauts call a “negative thought loop”: a seemingly endless cycle of anxiety-ridden thoughts and feelings. Yet luckily, there are steps you can take to mitigate this negative headspace, whether you’re tripping with your closest friends, an experienced guide, or on your own. And hopefully, by following these steps, the “bad” experience will result in cathartic takeaways.
While this may sound simple, remembering to breathe—and doing so mindfully—is your first defense against a bad trip. If things get challenging, focus on your breath and try exhaling for longer than you inhale, noticing tension release. Some people find that holding onto a small object, like a rock or crystal, can help to keep them grounded as they breathe through the tough stuff. You can also try doing some light yoga or meditation if you already have a regular practice. And if you’re not too far gone, it’s a good time to remind yourself that you’ve taken a psychedelic and this feeling will pass; it’s all part of the experience.
In psychedelic clinical trials, guides will often advise volunteers to surrender to the experience, especially if it’s a challenging one. “If you feel like you’re dying, melting, dissolving, exploding, [or] going crazy, go ahead and embrace it,” says Dr. Bill Richards, who helped develop the psychedelic-assisted therapy model practiced today at institutions like Johns Hopkins University. The important thing is to accept the experience rather than to fight it; show compassion and curiosity to these negative thoughts, feelings or experiences—or as clinicians say, “trust, let go, be open.” Try repeating a mantra while you connect with your breath. You never know, there may be transcendence on the other side.
Change the Scenery
Because psychedelics render you more sensitive to your environment, a change in scenery can have a profound impact on your mood. If you’re having trouble accepting a difficult experience, there’s no rule that says you have to sit with it for the entire duration of your trip. One of the best ways to change the mood is to switch things up, either by moving from one room to another, or by going from indoors to out (or vice versa), if that’s an option. It can also help to change the music or the lighting, making you feel like you’ve transitioned from one destination of your trip to the next. If most of these tricks sound like way too much effort for your state of mind, try just taking off your shoes and touching your feet to the ground. Stand up and walk around barefoot to shift away from that heavy, negative energy and to ground yourself.
Experienced psychonauts know that negative thought loops are a possibility while tripping, and so they prepare activities or distractions to help if they arise. This can be anything you think you’ll enjoy on psychedelics, like making art or music, or experimenting with different sights, sounds, and textures. The trick is to prepare everything before you start tripping. So set up some art supplies in your kitchen, put out some musical instruments in your living room, place some art or nature books on the coffee table, chop up some fruit, decorate your house with fresh cut flowers or other pretty things to look at, or download some nature documentaries—whatever speaks to you. When you’re feeling down or stuck during a trip, get up and seek out one of the distractions you’ve prepared, and your trip will likely take a whole new direction.
Tell Your Friends, Guide, or Sitter
If you’re tripping with other people, don’t be afraid to tell them you’re struggling. If your friends are also tripping, you don’t have to go into too much detail if you think it’ll bring them down, but you should still reach out. Cuddle up, hold hands, and talk about something else (like how funny your dog is—or even the grains in the wood furniture). Human connection or even just physical touch can help lift you out of a negative place. If you’re afraid your trip might be dominated by negative feelings or if you’d like to work through something particularly tough, you may want to seek out a trip sitter, experienced guide, or psychedelic retreat. It can be beneficial to have someone sober and supportive around, especially if you get confused or scared. If it’s too hard to breathe through things on your own own, tell your guide or trip sitter, and they’ll likely hold your hand and hold space for you. Their presence alone can really help you move through a rough patch.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for support. If you’re looking for professional support before, during or after a psychedelic experience, contact Fireside Project by calling or texting 6-2FIRESIDE.