It feels like it happens more often than it used to these days. I’ll be trying to finish a task or make a decision, and my brain will freeze up. I’ll get panicked, and I won’t be able to complete the task I started (if I can even remember it in the first place). I lose my breath, lose focus, lose my grip on whatever I was doing. This feeling I get, the feeling of becoming overwhelmed, has become more of a problem for me in recent years. In today’s post, I want to try and figure out why.Continue reading
Author: Nathan Smith
Springing Into a Brighter Mood
I’m pretty sure I write this sort of post every year, and I love doing it. I write a lot of posts about the way weather impacts my mental health, and today’s post is a similar one. The days are starting to be a little longer, and the weather a little warmer. I feel like I’m shaking myself awake after a long hibernation, and I’m ready go out into the world again. That’s right everyone: winter is almost over and spring is coming fast!Continue reading
Five Ways We Can Better Understand Our Mental Health Symptoms
Earlier this week on the blog, I wrote about understanding symptoms. When it comes to mental illness, many symptoms are easy to see or understand. However, many symptoms also feel impossible to see in ourselves or others. A symptom of depression for one person might not exist for someone else, but both of these people could experience depression. Mental health is complex, and understanding our symptoms (however they look) is a big step on the path toward mental wellness. Today, I want to look at five ways we can work toward better understanding our symptoms.
Do your research – but take it with a grain of salt
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s be honest. The Internet is a big place, and not everything you find here is going to be helpful. The more that mental health has worked its way into mainstream conversation, the more likely there will be disinformation or misinformation about it. On the flip side, researching depression and anxiety on my own terms has been one of the most helpful ways of understanding my diagnoses. Researching symptoms is a good way to understand things more, but it’s important to take everything you read with a grain of salt until you talk with a professional. Which leads me to the second point…
Talk with a mental health professional
If you’re experiencing symptoms where your physical health is impacted, you see a doctor. Why would it be any different for mental health? Talking to a mental health professional is a good first step to get the help you need. And if you think that means immediately seeing a therapist or psychiatrist, that’s not always the case. There are many types of mental health professionals who can provide valuable insight, and reaching out to someone you feel comfortable talking with is the most important criteria.
Understand mental symptoms and physical symptoms
As I mentioned in my post earlier this week, symptoms of mental illness can manifest themselves mentally and physically. It took time, but I’ve learned the difference between mental and physical symptoms. I’ve learned to recognize symptoms within myself, and figure out if my symptoms are recurring. It’s important to understand what these symptoms are, but it’s more important to know what they are for you. Understanding how my symptoms impact me is one of the most valuable things I’ve learned when it comes to mental health.
Know the difference between acute and chronic illness
For a long time, my symptoms came and went without any further understanding and introspection about them. Learning the difference between acute symptoms and chronic conditions has been very helpful for my long-term mental health. According to the National Council on Aging, acute illnesses “generally develop suddenly and last a short time, often only a few days or weeks,” while chronic conditions “develop slowly and may worse over an extended period of time – months to years.” Once I could start defining my symptoms as acute or chronic, I could better learn how to deal with them.
Take things day by day
This last bit of advice sounds a little cliche but it’s something I come back to time and again. For a long time, my only reaction to a new aspect of my depression and anxiety was fear. I was afraid of learning about new symptoms because I assumed I’d have to deal with them every single day. I’ve since learned that this isn’t the case; a symptom that might be challenging one day might not show up the next. Learning to take things as they come has taught me a lot not only about my mental illnesses, but also about myself. Every day brings new lessons on dealing with depression and anxiety. In my experience, the best way this happens is when you slow down and take things day by day.
Now I want to hear from you! What is a bit of advice you have for someone who is learning about symptoms of mental illness? Let me know in the comments!
Breaking Down Mental Health Terms: Understanding Symptoms
Today, I want to talk about symptoms. When it comes to mental health terms, I’d guess that the word “symptoms” is very well-known. Everyone has experienced an illness, or feeling unwell, at some point in their lives. We are told to look out for symptoms and when we see them, to stop what we’re doing and get help. Most often, what we’re told to do is rest. But when our symptoms aren’t always physical, or if those around us can’t see our symptoms, what do we do?
What Are Symptoms of Mental Health Issues?
As is often the case on this recurring feature of My Brain’s Not Broken, we start with a definition. Per the Cambridge Dictionary, a symptom is defined as: “any feeling of illness or physical or mental change that is caused by a particular disease.” Nothing new to see here, right? But I’d also like to direct you to an alternative definition of symptom, also from Cambridge: “any single problem that is caused by and shows a more serious and general problem.”
There are many health issues in life that involve immediate fixes. Do you have a cavity? Get it filled. Scrape your elbow? You put a band-aid on and wait for it to heal. You get sick? Don’t leave your bed. But when a symptom of mental illness is part of a larger mental health issue, the solution feels less direct. The symptoms of depression, anxiety and so many other mental illnesses have been discussed for years. Still, people look past that and connect symptoms with physical illnesses.
What Do Mental Health Symptoms Look Like?
Whether you’ve read it on My Brain’s Not Broken or another mental health blog, symptoms of mental health issues aren’t anything new. I don’t need to sit here listing the litany of symptoms of mental health diagnoses. But what is still misunderstood about mental illness is how those symptoms exist. It took a long time to understand that my depression and anxiety not only impact my mental health, but my physical health as well.
We tend to think of symptoms as things that exist for a short time but once they’re recognized and treated, go away. But when it comes to mental health, that isn’t always the case. I’ve learned about so many symptoms of my mental health challenges over the years. I’ve come to understand how they manifest themselves, when they most often appear and what triggers these moments. Despite that, these symptoms have continued to ebb and flow in the way they impact my life. It’s not as simple as bandaging it up, getting some rest or rubbing some dirt on it. Mental health symptoms are complicated, and underestimating that power is a big mistake.
What Can We Do About Them?
Here it is, the million dollar question: what can we do when it comes to dealing with symptoms of mental illness? The first thing I hope people do is deal with these symptoms in the same way they’d deal with a physical illness. If you think you have symptoms of a more serious issue, seek help. If your symptoms are getting in the way of you living your life, seek help.
People will go to the doctor for all sorts of reasons, but won’t see a mental health professional until they’ve struggled for years. This cycle has to stop. When we experience symptoms of a health issue over and over again, it’s okay to admit that something isn’t as it should be. Admitting it, understanding it and seeking help are the first things we should do. The more we understand how symptoms work and develop a healthy attitude toward them, the better we’re set up for success. Symptoms are one more piece of the puzzle to our mental wellness and the more we see it that way, the better off we are.
It’s taken me years to learn about my own symptoms and how they show up in my life – what about you? What is one of the most challenging things about dealing with your symptoms? Let me know in the comments!
Mental Health Over Matter: An Interview with Noah Chenevert
I recently got the opportunity to connect with Noah Chenevert, a mental health advocate and author of the recently published book “Mental Health Over Matter.” In this interview, we talked about the book, Noah’s approach to mental health, and his attitudes surrounding mental health in the current day and age. Thanks for taking the time, Noah!
Congratulations on the recent publishing of your new book, Mental Health Over Matter! For those who haven’t read it, how would you describe this book?
Mental Health over Matter is a holistic book about the many areas influencing mental health. Nineteen experts demonstrate how individuals can stimulate their mental health in different areas such as exercise, sleep, and nutrition but also news, psychedelics, and sex.
What inspired you to write a book about mental health, and to have these thought-provoking conversations?
There are three major reasons why I decided to write this book:
- Mental health is an extremely important topic and the number of people with mental health issues continues to increase. Many individuals need help but can’t (immediately) afford mental healthcare due to insufficient supply or budgetary constraints.
- I found that a holistic view of mental health was missing. Good mental health is the sum of adequately incorporating many different practices. You can sleep and eat well, but your mental health will still suffer if you neglect other areas.
- Improving my habits and lifestyle in these 19 areas has helped me/people around me the most. I wanted to share the wisdom, tools, and ideas of experts for everyone to learn from.
Despite a change in attitude toward mental health in recent years, the mental health stigma still exists. Why do you think that is?
Although the overall attitude towards mental health does improve, the mental health stigma is unfortunately quite persistent. I have two explanations. First, many people still associate impaired mental health with ‘weakness,’ as if individuals (especially men) should always be strong. Depression or anxiety is not “sexy.” This often results from traditional beliefs which are fueled by toxic masculinity. Second, people still tend to underestimate the importance of mental health. If I break my arm, people can see that I’m injured. But when I would have severe anxiety or depression, it is more difficult for others to understand what I’m going through.
What is your approach to your own mental health?
At the end of my book, I identify nine overarching lessons that offer rules, attitudes, and guidelines you can adopt in your life to improve your mental health. Perhaps you will realize that you have already incorporated some of these lessons while others are new to you. (See attachment for the nine lessons)
What are the most important things that contribute to good mental health in your life?
I take a layered approach to mental health. The first layer consists of a good diet, sleep, and exercise. My mental health tends to suffer if I don’t pay enough attention to these three aspects.
The second layer is relationships/connections. A meta-analysis concluded that ‘the influence of social relationships on the risk of death are comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality such as smoking and alcohol consumption and exceed the influence of other risk factors such as physical inactivity and obesity’ and that ‘physicians, health professionals, educators, and the media should […] take social relationships as seriously as other risk factors that affect mortality. The third layer consists of other practices, such as going out in nature, mindfulness, and many other activities that have a good effect on your mental health.
If you could give one message about mental health and wellness, what would it be?
Focus on what works for you. Many people out there try to convince you that their way is “the magic solution.” But there is no uniform fix. What works for me might not work for you. And what works for me now might not work for me in a few years. We each must find our own way.
You can received more information about Noah’s book, “Mind Over Matter,” on his website.
The Camouflage of Self-Stigma
I wish it weren’t true, but I’m extremely familiar with self-stigma. I’ve written about it before; in fact, I tried to break it down in a blog post last year. But as much as I’ve learned about how self-stigma exists in the world, I’m a whole different story. I have so much more to learn about how self-stigma exists within myself. How it moves, what it looks like for me and how to spot it when it happens.
Self-stigmatization about my own mental wellness disguises itself well. If it goes unchecked, this chain of events leads to negative thoughts and anxious spirals. It’s a lesson I’ve had to learn more than once, but it’s a valuable one. The camouflage of self-stigma has always been, and will likely always be, a challenge for me.
One misconception I’ve had to learn about self-stigma is the judgement that it entails. When I first thought about self-stigma (what it was, what it means), I compared it to negative thoughts, self-hate or self-loathing. I thought it was another version of not liking yourself, another catchy mental health term that just means we think we’re awful.
But actually, it goes much deeper than that. To borrow from my post last year about self-stigma, the American Psychological Association defines it as:
“Self-stigma refers to the negative attitudes, including internalized shame, that people with mental illness have about their own condition.”American Psychological Association
Stigma is a mark of disgrace, of shame. A social stigma (straight from the Wikipedia itself) is “the disapproval of, or discrimination against, an individual or group based on perceived characteristics that serve to distinguish them from other members of a society.” If we’re exercising a stigma about our own mental health condition, in some way, we disapprove of it. And even though it’s a tiny aspect of stigma, that can be a lot to unpack for a person.
I’d like to think that I grow more comfortable with my mental health challenges every day, but that’s not true. I’ve definitely grown more comfortable over a long period of time, but every day isn’t a step forward. And when I make a misstep or feel like I’ve failed, I don’t always recognize it for what it is. A harsh word or mean self-critique comes in quickly and before I know it, I think I’m too good for my depression.
I’m quicker than anyone to judge what I perceive as “failures” when it comes to handling depression. I shouldn’t be doing that anymore, I think to myself. I’m past this; I’m better than this. I take a linear approach to a non-linear problem and not only do I not find a solution, but I dig myself in even deeper. It’s a misunderstanding of my own mental illness, and a misunderstanding of mental health challenges in general.
One of the core aspects of self-stigma, at least for me, is rooted in shame. Shame about my mental illness, shame about the challenges it creates. But also, shame because there’s still a small part of me that thinks I should be better than this. That I’ve learned enough about mental health that “these things” shouldn’t be happening. But that’s not true; it never was. Self-stigma hides itself, it shapes itself and it molds itself to look like something else. Acknowledging this shame doesn’t mean it’ll go away. But hopefully, means I’m better suited to handle it when it inevitably rears its ugly head once again.
Music and My Mental Health – Part Two
Earlier this week, I wrote about the connection between music and my mental health. I’ve wanted to write a post like this for a long time, but it was challenging. It’s hard to put into words the impact music has had throughout my mental health journey. In Tuesday’s post, I did a lot of research to show the benefits of music, and how it can help improve people’s mental health. Today, I want to expand on that a little bit, and talk about my own relationship with music. Time and again, music has given me a space to feel seen, heard and understood in my mental health challenges.
In my research for my post earlier this week, I found a passage from a Harvard University blog that summed up a lot of my feelings when it comes to music:
“As complex human beings from a wide variety of cultures, with a variety of life experiences and mental and physical health needs, our connection with music is very personal.”Harvard Health Publishing
I love this quote because I think it’s something extremely underrated about music. Human beings are complex, so why wouldn’t our music be just as intricate and interesting? There are so many genres of music; even within those genres, there are sub-genres and musical styles that are hyper-niche and specific. And to me, that feels like a wonderful parallel for mental health.
Even though I don’t create music myself, it’s a constant in my life. I’ve struggled on and off with depersonalization over the years, when I don’t always feel like a real person doing real things. But music is a way to deal with those struggles. In fact, it’s become one of my go-to ways to help me feel connected to the world around me. When I put on a song that matches my mood, my confidence picks up a bit. Things might not going right for me but in this moment, I can speak to that in a way that reminds me how well I know myself.
I love listening to music, but I also love having music on while I’m going about my day. It feels like I’m setting the soundtrack to my day, and I can take that day in any direction I’d like. It’s a reminder that while I’m not always in control of everything, I can still have fun with what’s within my control. And in that sense, it’s an apt metaphor for my mental health.
Music has encouraged me and inspired me. It’s picked me up when I’m down, and comforted me when I couldn’t get out of bed. It’s grounded me when I don’t feel like myself, calmed me down when I feel anxious and boosted my mood when I’m depressed. For all of these reasons, I’m excited to introduce a new type of post that will be coming soon to My Brain’s Not Broken! There are so many songs that have impacted me and my mental health over the years, and I want to share them with you.
Once a month, I’ll share a song I love that has had a big impact on my mental health journey. I’m hoping this will help me share more about myself and my mental health journey, in addition to giving some love to some of the songs and artists that have been there for me over the years. Be on the lookout for this new feature on the blog and until then, I hope you listen to some music that feeds your soul!
This week was all about music on My Brain’s Not Broken, and now I want to hear from YOU. What is your relationship with music, and do you think it has an impact on your mental health? Let me know in the comments!
Music and My Mental Health – Part One
In the five years since I started this blog, there’s something that I haven’t written much about: music. It’s difficult for me to explain — succinctly, at least — but music plays a huge role in my mental wellness. While I dabbled in singing and playing musical instruments as a kid, I never had much talent in that area. But even so, I love listening to music. I’ve grown in my taste and the types of genres I enjoy, but the relationship I’ve developed with music over the years if one I’ve come to cherish.
There are many different genres of music I love, and each of them play a specific role in my life. There are go-to songs I want to play when I’m excited, when I’m anxious, when I’m sad and when I’m depressed. Music has been beneficial for my mental health for a long time and today, I want to share the benefits it can have for everyone’s mental health.
For this post, I decided to do a little research. There’s logic behind the value of music and why/how it can make us feel good, but I wanted to go beyond that. Beyond being a hobby or a profession, music shows up in the mental health space. Music therapy gives people a chance to write, play or listen to music as a way of understanding themselves. There are also psychological benefits, such as reducing stress and improving cognitive performance.
Music can be a therapeutic tool, and that doesn’t have to be in an official capacity. It could be listening to our favorite song after a long day. Putting on soothing music when we’re wound up, or playing pump-up music when we exercise. Many of us use music therapeutically and don’t even know it.
There is also the way people use music as a form of expression. People make music about every single emotion under the sun. They write music, lyrics, they sing and dance. Writing is one of my favorite things in the world, but I don’t always have the right words to express how I feel.
Beyond myself, I get immense joy from seeing other people use music to express themselves. Through music, we see people work their way through the ups and downs of life. We see them deal with things like grief and trauma, but also with joy and happiness. We see them being human.
Music has a ton of benefits when it comes to our mental health, and it’s the versatility of it that I love so much. In my next post, I’ll explore more of my own relationship with music and it’s impact on my mental health. Until then, go listen to some music!
Another Chance to Start Fresh
After my (in my opinion) grumpy post about how challenging the month of February is, I’d like to try a different approach today. I’m glad I’ve admitted that the winter is a difficult season for me; doing so has helped shift the way I manage my mental health this time of year. While it hasn’t solved my problems, I’m glad that I’m more aware of what I’m up against.
Make no mistake, I still have my bad days – and during the winter, it feels like they happen constantly. But this awareness helps me appreciate the good days, the good moments where I don’t feel anxious or depressed. Moments where I feel like myself. And it’s those moments I want to build on, ones I want to experience more and have around more often.
At the start of a new month, I often think about my goals and things I want to do. Sometimes, these goals feel like the same old, same old: I want to read more, write more, meditate more, journal more. I want to have fun experiences and do interesting things. I constantly think about what I want to do but it wasn’t until thinking about this post that I realized something. I think often about what I want to do but in this context, I rarely think about who I want to be.
I’ll admit, this type of thinking is challenging for me. My instincts are often to act; when I see a problem I want to find a solution and do it as quickly as possible. It’s not the worst trait in the world, but it can often put me in situations that are more complicated than they need to be. If I don’t actively work to slow myself down, I’ll rush into something. These things usually aren’t the end of the world (my anxiety would disagree), but it happens enough that once I recognized it, it wasn’t something I could ignore.
I want to reflect on who I want to be, how I want to be, this month. I want to think about who I am in this time of my life, and how I want to move through this specific time. That doesn’t have to mean anything has to change from what I’d normally do – in fact, it’s possible nothing will change. But I’m not looking to change my actions; I’m looking to change my attitude surrounding those actions. I want to get a better sense of who I am and why I do what I do, and it starts with reflection.
I’m trying to build on my mental health on a month-to-month basis. Every month brings new challenges, new highs and new lows. But it’s also a chance. A chance to get to know myself better. A chance to learn from myself, and those around me. And regardless of how it turns out, I’m going to be grateful. Because when next month rolls around, I’ll be able to start fresh and try again.
Building on momentum isn’t as easy as it sounds, believe me! How do you get yourself motivated for the month ahead? Let me know in the comments!
Why February Always Gets To Me
The winter season has always been challenging for me. Over the years I’ve started to learn more about myself and my mental health which has made things a little easier, but I still feel like I’m fighting an uphill battle. To me, the months between November and March present a challenge I’m not always prepared to fight.
I’ve managed to figure out November and December (loving Christmas certainly helps) and January is starting to figure itself out, but February…I don’t get February. Because no matter how, no matter when, at some point during this month, I break. My mental health feels like it’s at it’s lowest point, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Why does February always get to me?
Don’t get me wrong; my mental health is a challenge all months of the year. But the characteristics of each month (or season, when I think about it) are often helpful or hurtful for my mental health. I’ve learned that I’m someone impacted by the weather, someone who likes having a few things to do but doesn’t need a packed schedule. Knowing what’s going on around me is important and when that’s not happening, I can get anxious.
So when I think about it, February really is the perfect amalgamation of a lot of these things. Weather that fluctuates between winter and spring (some years bring a blizzard, while one day last week saw the temperature reach 80 degrees Fahrenheit). There aren’t many holidays (depends on if you celebrate Valentine’s Day), and there’s a President’s Day holiday tossed in that gives most people a random Monday off – but not so many people you’re certain what’s going on. Couple these things with it being the shortest month of the year (and the Leap Year situation) and there’s just a lot I don’t understand.
It feels like things in February are just done arbitrarily, as though anything that happens this month could happen any other month of the year; we’ve just chosen this one. I know I’m being a little hyperbolic but also, this is a conclusion I’ve come to after multiple years of facing the same struggle. I hope one year I figure things out but for now, it’s just good to get my feelings out on what seems to be a challenging time of the year. Onward to March!
This entire post could just be a venting session about how much I struggle during this month, but I wonder if people feel the same way about a certain time of the year. Is there a week/month/season during the year that you feel like has your number? A time that you know is going to be super challenging simply due to the fact that it exists? I don’t know if I’ll always feel this way, but it’s how I’m starting to feel about February. Let me know in the comments what you think, I’d love to know that I’m not alone here!