Finding the Right Words

How would you describe yourself? What words would you use? Would you describe yourself using full sentences, or create a list of adjectives? When I think about the way I describe myself, my brain freezes. It’s not that I’m afraid of using the wrong words, of talking about myself in a way that’s disingenuous. Actually, it’s the opposite; I’m worried I won’t include words that would clearly state who I am. I get scared that there’s a part of me that will never be known, things that will never be shared.

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By the Numbers: The State of Mental Health in the US in 2023

Every year during Mental Health Awareness Month, I find statistics and data that help show the state of mental health in the United States. Mental illness and mental health challenges are extremely prevalent in today’s world, and diving into the data is one of the clearest ways to show that. The more we can rely on the numbers, the sooner we can stop relying on assumptions and anecdotal evidence to talk about mental health. Here’s the most recent data I could find about mental health in 2023.

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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!

Breaking Down Mental Health Terms: What is a Thought Spiral?

Over the years, I’ve learned a number of words, phrases and definitions that have helped me understand my own mental health. Some of these are connected to mental illness or medicine, while others are connected to mental wellness. In this recurring series, I break down some of the mental health terms I’ve learned over the years. Today, I’ll be breaking down thought spirals: what they are, what they look like and what we can do about them.

What is a Thought Spiral?

There are many other names it goes by (anxiety spiral, downward spiral, spiraling thoughts) but simply put, a thought spiral is a series of thoughts that become increasingly overwhelming as a person gets stuck on them. They are typically linked to anxiety and anxious thoughts, but thought spirals can also exist when people are experiencing depression or other mental illness.

Another similar term (or perspective to think about this term) are the cognitive distortions catastrophic thinking and magnification. Both of these cognitive distortions can happen when a person’s thoughts have been spiraling out of control. Whether they are becoming increasingly overwhelming or unrealistic, our thoughts can spiral out of control and lead us into believing things that are simply untrue. When thoughts turn from rational to irrational, it’s time to take a look at what’s happening in our brain.

What Does a Thought Spiral Look Like?

One of the tricky things about thought spirals (at least for me) is how they can sneak up on us. Sometimes our thoughts will lay dormant, not bothering us at all. But then an intrusive or negative thought could enter our brains and if we’re unwilling or unable to acknowledge it, it gets stuck in our head. Before you know it, one thought has piled on another, and your thoughts are spiraling in a much more negative or overwhelming direction than you’d anticipated.

An excellent example of a thought spiral (image via

As someone who has to be aware of thought spirals on a daily basis, I’ve gained a better sense of when I’m susceptible to thought spirals. Simply put, there are just some roads of thinking I don’t need to go down because I know what could happen. That doesn’t mean I’m always successful, but that bit of awareness has helped my mental wellness in ways that are invaluable. Thought spirals have the same method, but the unique properties of it – what those thoughts are, and how they’re triggered – will look different for everyone.

What Can We Do About It?

In my opinion, the most important thing we can do when it comes to this topic is to be as open and honest as we can. I think that all of us should be aware of thought spirals because they can happen to anyone. Sometimes I feel like my anxiety or depression might make me more susceptible to thought spirals. But also, anyone can land in a situation where they aren’t thinking as clearly as usual.

Recognizing a thought spiral isn’t always easy, but awareness is the first step. If you notice when your thoughts are getting increasingly overwhelming, name it and acknowledge it. When I can name or define something about my mental health, the challenge to overcome that obstacle eases. Be on the lookout for an upcoming post about other tips and techniques for dealing with thought spirals but in the meantime, I hope that awareness is helpful!

For a long time, I experienced thought spirals but never knew what they were. Now I want to hear from you! Have you heard of thought spirals, or do you know them by another name? What is/was your experience with them? Let me know in the comments!

A Reminder About Healthy Foundations

Earlier this week, I wrote about how everything we do serves a purpose when it comes to our health and wellness. I focused on physical exercise and my therapy sessions, but it applies to all areas of life. Each activity can serve a different purpose, and each moment can help us in a different way. Today, I want to elaborate further on that point because something else needs to be shared along with it. In the same way everything serves a purpose, there’s not one thing we need to do that will “solve” our mental health. There’s no magical elixir that will solve all our issues. It may sound obvious but it’s often forgotten, which is why that’s the reminder I want to share in this post.

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Breaking Down Mental Health Terms: What is High-Functioning Anxiety?

Up until a few years ago, I hadn’t heard of the term high-functioning anxiety. To me, anxiety was something that got in the way of functioning. It made decisions more difficult and tasks harder to complete. The idea of a high-functioning version of mental health challenges is new to me, so I decided to do some research. Today on the blog, I want to break down high-functioning anxiety, what it looks like and how we can manage it.

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Why I Can’t Stand Feeling Tired

It happens to all of us often – several times a week, I get stark reminders that I’m only human. Sometimes those are conscious reminders, but many times the reminders are because of my physical limitations. Like many people, one of the biggest reminder of my physical limitations is that I get tired. I push myself physically, mentally, emotionally, etc., and by the end of the day (or few days) I am exhausted. But because of my mental health challenges, I have a lot of negative connotations with feeling tired, and it’s something I’ve come to loathe. Here’s how I figured this out – and how to figure out what’s next.

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A Look at Mental Health in the LGBTQIA+ Community During Pride Month 2022

For the past few years, I’ve done research surrounding mental health and the LGBTQIA+ community during Pride Month. I think it’s important to understand what mental health challenges exist for unique communities and groups of people, and these statistics help paint that picture. There is a lot to unpack here, but one thing is clear – there are many, many LGBTQIA+ people, both youth and adults, who are unable to get the mental health care they need and deserve.

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Do I Know How to Rest? Probably Not.

Exciting news – for the first time in a while, I’m going on vacation! I’m going to see my family, enjoy time off work, and hopefully reset and recharge in the way many of us do on vacation. But one thing I’m nervous about is that I’m going to try doing something that doesn’t come easy to me: I’m going to try to rest. I recently learned that not only am I pretty terrible at resting, but it’s probably something I’ve never learned how to do. So how do I handle that?

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Five Things I Do When I’m Not Feeling Like Myself

Earlier this week, I wrote about what I do when I’m feeling restless or “off.” I think this self-awareness is important for everyone who is trying to understand themselves in a better way. Getting to know yourself is a lifelong journey, and there are many chances to get to know ourselves in a better way, almost daily. I mentioned that there are some things I try to do when I’m not quite feeling like myself, so I wanted to share them today as a chance for reflection, and hopefully some inspiration to anyone aspiring to do the same!

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