Mental Health is a buzz word moving into 2020 – I believe that truly everyone is feeling its effects, directly or indirectly. Even though it seems like an overwhelmingly new topic, could it be true that mental health has been an issue for a long time… but maybe just now has a well known name & face? It’s hard to say.
While there are VARIOUS types & degrees of mental health that people are experiencing, it’s important to note that we still are in control. Recent studies are showing that even things like aging is 80-90% in our control, the other 10-20% up to our genetic makeup. With that being said, if we can take control of something seemingly uncontrollable like age we can certainly have a say so in the climate that exists in between our ears.
How do I know? Because I’ve gained control of and have reversed my own mental health.
I’ve been susceptible to mental illness maybe my entire life, but noticeably since 2012. To be honest & graphic – it started with digging my nails into my skin when I was upset or overwhelmed in a subconscious effort to shift the pain that I was feeling from internal to external. I’ve made life-altering decisions that I regret in the heightened state of anxiety/depression (we’ll get to this). I’ve also spent several hours in bed trying to come up with reasons to get up out of bed. I’ve cried so uncontrollably that I couldn’t breathe on the bathroom floor, my car, Pier One parking lot, etc. etc. I’ve written the phrase “I don’t want to continue on” in my journal on several occasions.
I know how it feels to feel really, really low. I get it; despite the life that I put on Instagram or the face I put on when I need to. But I hate who I am when I’m experiencing a low. So much so that I squirmed and struggled to a point of a breakthrough. I have systems in place to maintain my mental state, and they work.
I gave myself a mental health makeover. I changed how I saw it and how I treated it. And it truly changed my entire life. I want this for you, too.
Listen to sad music, often.
It’s important for you to know that you’re not alone. And while it would be nice to have a partner or a buddy with you always to reassure you that you’re not alone, that’s an unrealistic expectation. Cue, music. Not just any music… sad music. As counterintuitive as it sounds, studies actually show that sad music increases our mood. We want something that can explain things we can’t. We want to know that we’re not alone in our human experience and music does that. *I have a Spotify playlist called “feels” if you need somewhere to start. It is very near & dear to my heart.
Preferences over Plans
Studies also show that perfectionism is a common thread amongst suicidal deaths. As a recovering perfectionist, I’m here to tell you that life feels much more smooth when you remove your attachments to your plans. All plans – small or large. Instead, let’s have preferences… Of course you have ideal outcomes or ideal scenarios, but the universe doesn’t consider what you think is ideal to be significant. Which is probably a good thing. Think back on your life really quick… what would it look like if all of your plans actually happened? For someone who dabbles in mental breakdowns, preferences are much safer than plans.
Regret, shame & guilt aren’t helping anybody.
A lot of my mental turbulence is rooted in all of the above. Something I had to really grasp: regret, shame & guilt aren’t helping anybody at any time. We get so down on ourselves as some sort of form of punishment for making mistakes or missing opportunities. But, why? The only thing that holding onto resentment is doing is sending you into a deeper depression.
There are FAR better ways to spend that energy. I realize that simply saying ‘let it go’ or ‘move on’ is the least practical thing in the world to say, especially to someone who’s mind goes into an endless black hole with phrases like that. So maybe try writing out what happened (literally, write it) and then write out what it would have looked like had it gone differently. Had it gone more in your favor. Sometimes this exercise is really helpful for your brain to literally see that it couldn’t have gone any differently. That you did the best you could have at the time. You made the best choices you could have with the circumstances you were in at the time. This ground-shaking truth will change your life and eliminate regret, guilt & shame.
Google Cal for mental health.
I recently made the switch over from a physical planner to Google Cal & to be honest – it was a self care choice. Nothing triggers my anxiety more than a) seeing a month full of things that I need to prepare for or do and b) seeing open spaces in my calendar where I don’t have anything to prepare for or do. Mind fuck, right? I need that happy medium of feeling slightly booked; still free to have availability if I need it, but never bored. Google Cal helps to eliminate this anxiousness because it has the earth shattering invention that is the 3-day-view. Three days at a time. That’s it. That’s all I see and that’s all I let myself care about. It has changed my life and has honestly allowed me to live more quality days.
Journal because we forget.
I record everything these days. I have hundreds of notes on my phone of lists and thoughts and ideas. Some are just small little notes about how I’m feeling about something on some particular day, both good & bad. Why? Because I’ve come to realize that we forget things. Which is a problem.
When we find ourselves in a depressed or anxious slump, it is a very real feeling to feel like this is just how we are now. Like that these very temporary feelings are going to be our new normal, forever. But that is simply not true and it is helpful to have a record to convince your irrational mind otherwise. Nothing is more empowering than looking back on old journal entries or notes and realizing that you truly have never fucked up so much that it ruined your life forever, that you never truly lacked and that you never truly gave up.
An Awesome List.
Piggy-backing off of journaling, it’s also crucial for you to have a list on your phone listing out several reasons as to why you’re fucking awesome. This list needs to be made when you’re ‘sober’ – as in you’re not hung up on anxiety or shot down by depression – and it needs to be somewhere accessible. Nothing too complicated, just things you like about yourself, what others have told you they like about you, what you’re grateful for and how awesome you are.
And to be honest – you coming up with NOTHING to put on this list is not optional. Start very small. When I started my list three years ago it looked like this: “I’m grateful for legs that allowed me to run that half marathon that one time, my dogs.” … That was it. Now my list is easily over 100 items long (humble brag).
Exercise to move energy.
Exercise really does help to not only maintain mental health, but to shift you out of a funk when you do find yourself in one. Physically moving that anxious or negative energy out of your body. So instead of seeing exercise in 2020 as something you need to do to lose weight or look good – think of it more as a tool that you can use to keep you feeling good.
It takes a village.
It takes a village to heal a person – no matter the disease. It’s important to have someone that you can trust in your circle. Ideally, someone who is not effected by the outcome of your situations. An unbiased observer, like a therapist. (I wrote a blog post on therapy here)
It’s also worth it to have a go-to massage therapist. In the same way that exercise physically moves negative energy out of your body, massage (especially deep tissue) helps to also move unwanted energy build up out of your body tissue. A go-to yoga studio or yoga teacher is also helpful.
People, places & things that are familiar, trustworthy & safe. All of which you associate with good vibes. All of which leave you feeling BETTER, not worse when you leave.
Here’s an important truth: you don’t have to do this alone.
Know what you’re capable of.
Some beaches in the world have barely any waves while others have larger than life waves. In the same way, we are all capable of various highs and lows in mental health. I think it’s important for you to become an archeologist of yourself and become familiar with what you’re capable of; the waves you’re capable of creating. Because mental health is a wave… what shakes you will ripple into every corner of your life, eventually crashing and causing havoc. Think hurricane.
But just like beaches across the world; they’re familiar with their waves and storms and do things to prepare for the worst. Do whatever it takes to maintain your best self. To allow that dimension of you to be what shines the most, not the other, smaller dimension that is your mental health. Small example – don’t go on social media when you’re feeling down. Don’t eat a shitty meal when you’re feeling down. Most importantly, don’t react or make decisions when you are in the middle of a wave. Wait.
Most importantly, know that you’re not alone. What you’re feeling is not ‘just who you are’… hear me – you were not created to feel depressed and experience anxiety. It is a part of who you are. A very small part. What you’re feeling is real and validated and unique to you. It doesn’t have to look like anything that you’ve heard mental health has to look like. Do the work to get your mental health under control a) because you absolutely can and b) because the return on that investment will change your life for the better.
I believe in you. And my prayer for you for 2020 is that you can make small steps towards managing mental health & making it work with you, not against you.