How I Mentally Deal With Minor Setbacks

This weekend, my laptop broke for the third time in three years. Since the reason I bought it was that I thought it’d be a reliable piece of equipment that wouldn’t break easily, I was pretty angry. First at the computer and at the company that manufactures it, which is understandable. But then I quickly turned that anger on myself.

I thought it must be my fault somehow. I must have done something, or forgotten to do something, and my carelessness is what led to my laptop breaking. I went to get it fixed yesterday (I should get it back this weekend) and the whole time I was at the store, all I could think of what how could you be so stupid? I could not get out of my head, and it really bothered me.

Now in the grand scheme of things, the situation isn’t all that bad. The fix will cost me some money (more than it should, but that’s a whole other issue), but in the end, I will be okay and my life will go on. But to me, it’s minor setbacks like these that are some of the most dangerous to my mental health.

Why are they such a big deal? Because they make me reexamine my actions, which is one of the last things an anxious person wants to do. I spend all day thinking about the choices I make, the words I say and the things I do. I don’t need another replay of a mistake I made; nothing good will come from it. I’ll only dig myself into a deeper hole and chalk everything up to how stupid I am. In this scenario, I suffer mentally and not only does the situation not improve, but I do not either.

Getting Past a Minor Setback

How do I get past a setback like this? Repetition, repetition, repetition. It’s worth telling yourself that it’s not the end of the world, that it will be okay. But only saying those things once means that they don’t have any staying power. Repeating these positive thoughts is a good way to have them take up more space in your head than negative thoughts. I’m not guaranteeing success (I know from experience), but I would say it’s worth trying. Like any other skill, you get better at it over time. While I’m not where I want to be with this repetition, I’m in a better space than I was, and it’s been super helpful.

I also view setbacks as an opportunity to spend more time doing something else. Instead of focusing on the closing door, I look around to see what door is now open. In this specific case, I don’t know what the open door is, but I do know from experience that it exists. It might not always be what we expect, but it can be better than we ever imagined.

Again, this is my advice for minor setbacks – the things that happen in our everyday life that can get under our skin. There are major things that happen that can really set us back, which are much more difficult to process and deal with. But in most cases – like with my laptop – things aren’t as bad as they seem. The sun will rise. Life will go on.

A setback doesn’t make you a bad person, and I hope you don’t let yourself believe that it does. You have so much more going for you than a broken laptop, a flat tire or bad day at work. It might not always feel that way, but it’s true. It’s not how we fall, but how we get back up that defines us (that’s a cliche for a reason). You’re allowed to be upset, to be annoyed, but don’t let those feelings dictate your mood for too long because eventually, that will become who you are. And you’re a better person than that.

How do you deal with the little setbacks that happen to you during the day? Let me know in the comments!

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Mental Health Awareness Month 2019

It’s May, which means it’s once again Mental Health Awareness Month. I wrote about this last year when the theme from Mental Health America was #4Mind4Body, which brought awareness to the importance of taking care of every aspect of your health. MHA has decided to expand on this theme in 2019, focusing on a variety of ways to boost mental health and general wellness.

Mental Health Awareness Month 2019

The National Alliance on Mental Illness also has its own focus for Mental Health Month called the WhyCare? campaign. NAMI’s campaign will promote the importance of care in ‘our relationships to others, in mental health treatment and services and in support and education to millions of people, families, caregivers and loved ones affected by mental illness.’ They offer plenty of ways to get involved and demonstrate WhyCare? by sharing stories about how caring for others, or having others care for you, as affected you.

And those are only two of the many organizations that will be having their own campaigns throughout the month of May focusing on mental health awareness, education and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health. There are plenty of ways, and reasons, to get involved this year.

Whether you participate with MHA, NAMI, another organization or on your own, know that you’re not alone in trying to spread mental health awareness. I will do my best to try to participate in as many campaigns as I can, and at the end of the month, I hope to share some of what I learned with you all.

 

 

Taking My Good Memories With Me

Last year I wrote a post about wanting to know what the good things in life were. Not necessarily big-picture stuff or something life-changing, but moments that you look back on and think man, that was good. I had one of those moments this past weekend, and I’d like to share it with my readers because it affected me in an interesting way.

This past weekend I celebrated the engagement of my brother and his fiance, two fantastic guys who have shown me a lot about what it means to be in a loving relationship. They came in from out of town, and we had family and friends over to celebrate their engagement. It was a wonderful day and I enjoyed myself.

But, as often is the case when I enjoy myself that much, I felt guilty once it was over. I felt guilty because, in my head, I didn’t deserve to feel that happy. One of the lies my brain tells me is that I don’t deserve the good things that happen to me. I’m not talking about a relationship or a promotion, but something as simple as being happy for one day. I feel like I’m not allowed to have a ‘good’ day unless I have a string of ‘bad’ days to balance them out (and yes, that is something I will need to work out in therapy).

With this mix of happiness and guilt swirling about, I felt confusion and anger toward myself. I felt like I was ruining another good moment and would not remember the good time I had, but the anxiety surrounding the event.

But then I remembered what my brother said right before people started to come over before the event. He said that everything could go wrong and it wouldn’t matter. Things could break, the food could burn – he didn’t care because he was with people that he loved and who loved him back.

Whether it’s biological or not, the concept of family is extremely important. Having people who are in your corner for every success and failure, who love you no matter what – that is a rare and beautiful thing to have in this life. Whether they’re family by choice or by blood, the result is the same, and it’s something worth celebrating.

I had a good moment in my life, and I will not let my anxiety ruin it. I’m going to lean on the people who love me to get through this moment and on to the next one. Because while I don’t always know what’s next for my mental health, I know who I have in my corner. And that helps me remember the good moments all the more.

My Brain's Not Broken

Celebrate the Little Victories

Yesterday I went for a run. I hadn’t gone on a run in more than a year, and I was nervous as to how I’d feel after, physically and mentally. Since I have a bad back, my preparation for physical activity is more involved than most, and I don’t always know how my body will react to certain workouts. But I also know the benefits of exercise go beyond the physical, so I wanted to see if this was something I could get back into. And it was...incredible. I didn’t break any records or move at the speed of light, but I was proud of my effort. But then came the hard part – the recovery.

The recovery is where workouts have a tendency to affect my mental health. When my back hurts after a long workout, I immediately tense up and think that it’s the end of exercising. I lose all the confidence I gained during my workout, and feel worse about myself than I did before I started. Then comes the negative self-talk about how I’m a lesser person than I used to be. It doesn’t take much to spiral from there, and all of the benefits of exercise get washed away in a cloud of depression.

As the adrenaline continued to flow after my run, I knew a crash was coming. And sure enough, when I woke up this morning I could feel it. I was sore all over, and my back was incredibly stiff. The negative thoughts began to pop into my head, one after another. Thoughts that I could never run again, that it was a stupid idea to start with. I was crushing myself hours after feeling better than I have in a long time.

How did I get out of this mindset? Well, to be honest, I didn’t. This post doesn’t have all the tips to stop negative thoughts – you might have to read another post for that. But I wanted to share that in spite of the negative thoughts, I was able to do something that I’d long considered impossible for me to do. I’d like to start running on a more regular basis – twice a week is my goal – but for now, I’d like to revel in the fact that I was able to go for a run at all. That despite what I tell myself, I’m still able to accomplish a great deal.

You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘actions speak louder than words,’ right? But have you ever used that phrase in regards to the words you tell yourself? In this case, my actions (running) spoke louder than my negative words. I just went out and did the thing.

Sometimes it’s more complicated than that, but sometimes it’s not. I had a goal and, rather than think about it, I went ahead and did it. The success was not in how well I ran, but that I ran at all. Don’t ignore the little victories in life; they add up. Whether I start running as much as I want or never run again, I will always be able to look back on this little victory as a time where I did something. That might not sound like much, but it’s enough for me.

What are some of your favorite little victories? I want to know!

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Don’t Let Anxiety Destroy Progress

For the past week, my anxiety has been something terrible. While it was triggered by something specific, it’s wedged its way into every facet of my life and crushed my thought process. Every day, I feel like I can’t help going into a downward spiral every second my mind isn’t concentrated on a specific task. And it sucks – to put it lightly.

I was going to write a post about how much this anxiety sucked, but something popped into my head as I started writing. I thought about how this recent bout of anxiety has diminished the progress I’ve made in recent months. It made me feel like all the progress I made recently was wasted. That it was pointless. That I would have to go back to square one when it came to my mental health.

This always makes me think of the term ‘relapse.’ While it’s more commonly associated with drugs and alcohol, I’ve also seen it used in regards to mental health disorders. And while I don’t like to use that term when it comes to my mental health, I couldn’t help but thinking that I was going through a relapse. I was afraid I was reverting to the old me – the one that got sent to the psych unit after a panic attack and suicidal ideation.

What stopped me from going down the rabbit hole of a relapse was reminding myself that my battle with mental health is not linear. I won’t just slowly improve until one day I’m rid of my demons. There are peaks and valleys to my mental health, just like anything else in life. Some days will be good and others will…not. I put so much pressure on having good days because I’m afraid that a bad day will negate all my progress. But is that true? No.

A bad day will get in the way of improvement. It might get in the way of doing some things that I would usually do. But it does not cancel out the months, the years of hard work that I have put in to get to this point. And the same goes for you.

If you work on something – your mental health, a special project, anything – for a long time and then have one bad day, do not discount all the progress you’ve made. You’re not perfect. You’re human. You are allowed to make mistakes. In fact, they are inevitable. So you can either let them get in the way, or you can grow from them.

But while this can apply to all walks of life, I tailor this mindset to mental health specifically because I know what negative thoughts can do to a person. My anxiety works me up into such a frenzy that I don’t think anything else matters besides the anxious thoughts in my head. But that’s not true. I have made progress recently – progress I am damn proud of. And I have grown strong enough to know that one day might set me back, but it won’t take me out of the game. That might not seem like much, but it makes a world of a difference when I try to get out of bed in the morning.

I know it’s easy to say, “don’t let your mental illness negate your progress.” It’s much easier said than done. I can’t even promise that I’ll always take my own advice. But I believe there is bravery in the attempt, and there is power to even have these thoughts in your head. So maybe all this post does is put the idea in your head. Maybe that’s all you need today. That’s okay. Because every day is a new battle, and we should use all the weapons we can get.

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What is My Mental Health Goal?

In the year and a half since I started this blog, I have undergone a positive transformation in regards to my mental health. I have started to prioritize healthiness over happiness, and that decision has paid dividends. But what are the long-term goals for my mental health? The reason I’m asking this question is because I don’t have an answer.

One of my most reliable coping strategies is living present and taking each moment as it comes. A speaker at a work event said something last week that stuck with me, and it’s an approach I realized I’d been taking with my mental health.

“Just make it through the next meal. If you can’t make it through the next meal, make it through the next hour. If you can’t make it through the next hour, make it through the next minute. And if you can’t make it through the next minute, make it through the next moment.” – Jon Sanchez

I’ve focused so much on getting through every hour, every minute, every moment, that I haven’t thought much about what I’m trying to accomplish. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; sometimes you have to use whatever you can to get through the day. But those days can add up, and sometimes knowing that you have a long-term goal to work toward is a source of inspiration and strength on the days when things aren’t so great. It’s been that way with other aspects of my life, and now I want it to happen with my mental health as well.

There is no shortage of information on setting and achieving goals (if you don’t believe me, just Google it), and while it’s a good place to start, you need to make sure that your goals are unique to you and your lifestyle. This is where I struggle! I don’t know how to cater goals to suit my needs, and the result is that no goals are made at all.

I could also chalk this up to not really feeling secure in what my purpose is at the moment. While I’m extremely excited about my impending move, I realize this decision will not provide more security, which makes having long-term goals all the more important. I guess it’s a step in the right direction that I’m even thinking about this; a year ago, having a long-term mental health goal was a pipe dream. I was just worried about making it to the next day. But now that I’m able, I’d like to figure out what it is I’m working toward. And when I have, I’ll be sure to let you know.

What are some of your long-term goals? Whether they’re mental-health related or not, I could certainly use some ideas!

Andrew Carengie

Five Common Cognitive Distortions

cognitive distortions

Last week I wrote about negative self-talk and how it affects me. While writing that post I ended up on the topic of cognitive distortions. Since that wasn’t the intention of my post I didn’t go into too much detail but when I read through the post, I realized I should have.

I didn’t know a thing about cognitive distortions until my therapist brought the topic up to me a few years ago. What are they exactly? Cognitive distortions are, more or less, lies that our brain tells us. They’re irrational thoughts and beliefs that, like any other thought or belief, grow more powerful the more they occur. Cognitive distortions come in many forms, and sometimes it’s hard to recognize when they happen. I decided to list and explain five of the most common cognitive distortions that I struggle with. I hope this helps!

Cognitive Distortion #1: All-or-Nothing Thinking

As the name implies, ‘all-or-nothing’ thinking is when you look at things in a very black-or-white, right-or-wrong way. You think in extremes – either something is very, very good or completely awful. You’re either perfect or a total failure.

Cognitive Distortion #2: Overgeneralization

This is one that many people I know struggle with because it’s so easy to turn into a habit. Overgeneralization is when we generalize about ourselves based on one event. For instance, if you don’t win a game, you think you’re a loser. If you don’t do as well on a test as you think you should have, then you label yourself as stupid. This type of thinking can lead to dangerous behavioral patterns and become very instinctual.

Cognitive Distortion #3: Mind Reading

This one sounds a little silly – of course, you can’t read minds! – which is why it’s so dangerous. When you try to guess what other people are thinking and make your decisions based on them, and not your own thoughts, you can end up expecting things from others that you’re never going to get.

Cognitive Distortion #4: Fortune Telling

We all love to predict the future, but when it’s done in a negative and pessimistic light, it might just be a cognitive distortion. Popular versions of this thought process are ‘I will never find that special someone’ or ‘every job I ever have will be terrible.’ You don’t know what’s going to happen to you, but by guessing the worst-case scenario you’re only causing more stress and anxiety.

Cognitive Distortion #5: Emotional Reasoning

Probably my least-favorite cognitive distortion of all-time, emotional reasoning is when you approach your feelings as if they are facts. For instance, if I feel like I’m worthless, I believe that I am worthless. Whatever I feel is true. Wrong! As we know, feelings are not facts, but no matter how many times I repeat this to myself, I still mistake what I feel for factual things.

While there are many different types of cognitive distortions, these five had played the biggest role in my life. I won’t say that they’ve disappeared now that I am aware of them, but in understanding my thought processes I have taken the first steps to gain a more positive mindset.

 

Three Things to Remember When You Feel Guilty

Guilt almost ate me alive last week – I’ll explain. I didn’t wake up on time for work and was about an hour and a half late.

That’s it! That’s all that happened. It wasn’t fatal to my job, and I got all my work done that day. But I felt very guilty about it. And it took much longer than it should have to make that guilt go away.

Why did I feel guilty? A more accurate question would be why did I not feel guilty? I felt like a bad employee and that I let my team down, which consequently led me to think about the worst-case scenario of the ramifications of my actions. I felt lazy and unreliable and perceived my lateness as a character flaw. I didn’t look at being late as a rare occurrence but as an indicator of who I am as a person. Is that true? As I came to realize, it is not, and that is not who I am.

I’m sharing this because I know I’m not alone in this experience. Guilt plays a much bigger role in our lives than I’m sure we want – at least, it does it mine. If guilt doesn’t affect you, please let me know how you’re able to exist in this way because I am all ears on that topic.

But let’s say you’re like me, and feelings of guilt are hard to get rid of. How do you get rid of them? I came up with three things I continued to repeat to myself until my guilt subsides.

This is not who you are – you are more than this

This is my favorite of the three things because, as I wrote earlier, my guilt comes from the fact that I believe my mistakes – even if I only make them once – are all character flaws. Reminding myself that there’s so much more to me than what I feel guilty about is a reminder that I am a complex person who is not defined by any one thing – good or bad.

Is it really that bad?

I’ll be honest; sometimes the answer to this question is ‘yes.’ Sometimes we do things that are just as bad as we make them out to be. But the reality is that our guilt permits us to make things out to be much worse than they are. Was being late to work one time, after not being that late all year, really all that bad? In the grand scheme of things, maybe not.

Who does this effect?

Another way my guilt becomes exacerbated is that I think that so many people will suffer from my mistakes. Did I miss a meeting when I was late? No. Did someone need me during the time I was missing? They did not. In reality, this situation affected me and my boss, who was wondering where I was, and no one else. The office didn’t come to a halt; people moved on with their day. Sometimes our guilt can make us think that our mistakes are the end of the world – oftentimes, the opposite is true. Most of my mistakes only affect me, if I’m being honest. That minimizes the impact of my mistake and gives me a good perspective to look from.

I don’t have all the answers. I continue to feel guilty about plenty of things – mistakes or not. But taking steps to assuage your guilt and remind yourself of who you really are, and that you’re more than one or two bad choices, is key to overcoming the debilitation that guilt can produce.

What’s something silly that you’ve felt guilty about? I want to know!

On Negative Self-Talk

Selftalk is a buzzword for me – I feel like I use that phrase once or twice a week when discussing my mental health. What do I mean when I say ‘self-talk’? On one hand it’s exactly what it means – talking to yourself. But it can be much more complicated or involved than that. It’s not just the words you say out loud, but the thoughts you consciously – sometimes unconsciously – have. Whether they’re about you or someone else, it’s safe to say that all of us engage in self-talk in one form or another.

As the title indicates, I wouldn’t be bringing this up on a mental health blog if I had a problem with my self-talk being too positive. No, when someone asks me what’s wrong my answer usually is…

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(courtesy of Netflix)

I don’t know when it started, but my thoughts about myself have never been all that great. Call it low self-esteem or an unwillingness to care, but I have a tendency to deflect compliments and downplay achievements. Since I’m not your therapist (or my therapist) I’m not going to explore why this happens, but I will tell you some things you might not know about negative self-talk – and how to be aware of it.

Another Buzzword – Cognitive Distortions

‘Cognitive Distortions’ are thoughts that our mind tries to convince us are true. There are tons of them and they can happen in plenty of different situations. While there are tons of ways they can manifest themselves, they all have a few things in common:

  • they’re not true
  • they’re often illogical
  • they can cause psychological damage if left unchecked

There’s plenty of resources available on cognitive distortions if you Google it, but this post from Psychology Today could be a good place to start. Cognitive distortions are basically the various ways our negative self-talk can occur.

It’s More Common Than You Think

Great, so now you’ve read about cognitive distortions and realize you engage in negative self-talk more often than you think. Bravo! But are you aware of how much you really do it? I know I wasn’t. One time to find out, I decided to write down every negative thought I had about myself during a day. Multiple pages later, I realized I had a problem on my hands.

Again, I’m not a therapist so I will not pretend to counsel anyone, but I know there are plenty of things you can do to rewire your thoughts and try to think more positively about yourself. Some things that have worked for me in the past have been

  • changing my tone
  • not taking every thought so seriously
  • don’t suppress these thoughts – acknowledge them and move on

Like any change in behavior, it’s easier said than done. But don’t think that being aware of the issue will solve it.

There Will Be More

There’s a lot more I can – and will – say about negative self-talk, but I think being aware of it is a good first step. Next week I’ll talk more about cognitive distortions and the role they play in negative self-talk.

How did you become aware of negative self-talk and cognitive distortions? I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

(Slowly) Going Off My Medication

About a month ago, I decided that I would try to get off the medication I’ve been taking for the past two and a half years. I’m not going to get into what I currently take (I hope I can explore that in future posts), but instead, I want to talk about the process of getting off the medication. My psychiatrist suggested reducing my meds every month until I was completely off them, a process that will last into the summer. I am currently on my second reduction and will go back in a few weeks to reduce my meds a third time.

So far, a month and a half into the process, I don’t feel any different physically. I have been taking two medications for the past two and a half years; one in the morning and one at night. My dosage of the AM pill is half of what it used to be, and my PM pill has been unchanged since it’s at the lowest possible dosage. My schedule has not been any different in recent weeks which is helpful, but I think that I’ve also been taking the proper steps to take care of myself physically.

There are a few reasons I’m trying this now. One of the big reasons is that I don’t want to have to jump through hoops while I’m abroad about how to get my medication. It’s been enough of a hassle trying to get it here with good insurance – I can’t imagine what I’d have to do when I’m in Europe.

While that’s a logistical thing the other important reason is that I am in a good mental state and have the time and resources to give this a shot. I really want to know if I will need these meds going forward.

Why I am I sharing this? Because I want to communicate a few things with you guys. One is that I want to be transparent about what I am doing and why. I would not be as mentally healthy as I am today without the meds I have been taking, and I can admit that without guilt or shame. But now that I am in a good place, I want to know how much of my depression and anxiety was brought on my external/triggering factors and what was beyond my control.

But I also know that stopping a medication, any medication, should be approached with caution. I did not decide one day to just stop taking my meds. Instead, I took a calculated approach toward reducing my medication to see how it will affect me.

If all goes well, maybe I don’t need medication for the time being. I’m aware that it might not go well and I’ll have to get back on it, but I feel like I owe it to myself to give it a try. Send any prayers, thoughts or good vibes my way – I’ll need it!

Have you ever tried getting off a medication? What was it like for you? Let me know in the comments or drop me a line at mybrainsnotbroken@gmail.com!