What’s Possible for Your Mental Health

It’s possible.

I’ve been trying to work these two words into my vocabulary for months, trying to say it out loud as much as I can. It’s possible. There are a ton of ways to say it too, based on your inflection, so it was also important that I was saying it in the right tone of voice. At first, I was saying it wrong and turning into a negative phrase, but after some repetition, I’ve been turning it into a more positive reminder and tried to strip those words of their negativity.

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My Brain Will Not Slow Down

I’ve been of a kick on this blog writing about worry and anxiety recently, and it’s opened my eyes to the ways I approach my anxiety disorder. Over the years I’ve developed some good strategies to cope with my anxiety and be productive despite its effects, but there’s one area where I still struggle: I can’t slow my thoughts down, and I can’t remember the last time I had that ability.

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It Feels Like Something’s Always Wrong – And That’s Okay

Every so often, I look up the symptoms of my mental health disorders. Usually, I do it if it’s been long enough that I can’t remember the last time I did it. Sometimes I get lost and end up in a DSM wasteland (that’s the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders), but I try not to get too deep into it because I am not a mental health professional.

Anyway, I was doing this last week when I decided I hadn’t checked out the symptoms of GAD in a bit. Generalized Anxiety Disorder, aka GAD, affects 3.1% of the entire U.S. population, so it’s not like it’s an entirely foreign disorder. But since everyone is different, certain symptoms of GAD can impact people more than others. For me, it would be the ‘excessive anxiety and worry’ symptom that strikes time and again.

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How to Fight the Mental Health Stigma

I have battled mental health issues for more than six years and, for just as long, I have been battling the stigma of mental health. There are plenty of reasons as to why the stigma surrounding mental health continues to exist, but its results are usually the same. People are given an inaccurate picture of what mental illness looks like and, based on this depiction, they treat people with mental illness a certain way. This leads potentially making people feel ashamed of their struggles, and not seeking help for those struggles.

While progress has been made, the stigma surrounding mental health persists in our world today (which I wrote about on the blog last week). But there are several things you can do to lessen the stigma surrounding mental health. While not all of them are easy, any action taken toward shrinking the stigma goes a long way not only for that person but for any of us who are struggling with our mental health. Here are some things to try to lessen the mental health stigma:

Be Open and Honest

When someone asks you how you’re doing, it’s natural to say that we’re ‘fine.’ But if you’re with someone that knows you well and you feel comfortable around, it might not hurt to tell them how you’re really doing. People are afraid of the unknown, but when you thrust mental health into everyday conversation, it becomes easier for people to accept in time.

Word Choice is Important

Labels – and knowing the right labels – are important when it comes to mental health. Your friend being sad for a few hours doesn’t mean they have depression. I’ve heard people get called bipolar all the time if they act even remotely out of the ordinary. And of course, there’s the constant labeling of the mentally ill as ‘crazy’ – a misspoken phrase that unfortunately is quite common. Once you pay attention to the words you use, you can begin to recognize when people around you use language that’s hurtful to the mentally ill.

Mental Health is Equal to Physical Health

This is something that I personally try to encourage as much as possible – that mental health is just as important as physical health. Mental illness is a disease just like all the other physical diseases out there, it’s just harder to see. Once people around me understood that I live with a disease, it was easier for them to accept why I sometimes couldn’t come to parties or hang out with them.

It’s All Relative

Mental health is not a one-size-fits-all type of thing. People are all on different journeys and in different places with their mental health, and what works for one person may not work for another. Recognizing that we’re all individuals with our own stories might seem like common sense, but mental health is something that’s often put into a box because of the lack of awareness or education. Don’t be afraid to tell your story and let people know that it’s just that – your story.

These are just a few of the many ways we can work to shrink the stigma. It’s hard to know what will work best in a given situation but one thing is certain – that stigma won’t go away if we don’t try to get rid of it!

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Is Mental Health Still Stigmatized?

I have a short answer and a long answer to the question above. The short answer? Yes, it is. The long answer? Give me a second.

When I ask questions in my posts, I often turn to Google to gauge how legitimate my question is. This time, though, I looked for something more specific – the dates of the results on the search page. I knew there would be articles, posts and web pages asking my same question, but I wanted to know if they were old or new. And what I found was that there was a mix of both. I’d see a study from 2012 next to a blog post from 2015 all jammed between two articles from May 2019. What did that show me? That this question is an ongoing discussion about how we deal with mental health in the United States.

The long answer to this question: while it is still stigmatized, it seems like that stigma isn’t as strong as it once was. That’s what I feel comfortable saying.

That answer doesn’t sound long, does it? Look at what I wrote though. The stigma isn’t as strong as it once was. What I’m saying is that I believe it’s not as bad as things used to be. Usually, that would imply that things are good in the present. But the argument that things are better than before is a dangerous argument to make (see: most of History). Will taking that approach with mental health help in the long run?

I’m encouraged at the number of celebrities who are being more open about their mental health. I feel proud when I see a professional athlete say they’ve gone through tough periods of depression or anxiety because I was an athlete growing up; I understand how brave you have to be to do that. I know these stories help other people who struggle with their own mental health and that’s wonderful (I can’t emphasize that enough. It’s truly wonderful). But we also have to acknowledge that if there wasn’t such a strong stigma, a famous person talking about mental health wouldn’t be so groundbreaking in a country where 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness every year. And yet, it is.

Has the stigma surrounding mental health decreased? Sure, you could say that. But if you do, look at where it used to be. That might reframe how you answer the question. And honestly, there’s plenty of ways to discuss/debate this topic. Is the stigma decreasing? Are people being more open about mental health? How can we reduce the stigma, or just overcome it?

All are valid questions, but there’s a reason I asked the question the way I did – I wanted you to react. When you read that question, you had an instant reaction. It might have been yes, no or somewhere in between, but you thought something. A key way to break down a stigma – any stigma – is to talk openly about it. So we need people to think about it and talk about it. Whether they think they’re right or wrong, opinionated or not. Because as long as mental health is stigmatized, there’s still work to do.

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Why I Can’t Accept a Compliment

Compliments happen all the time; they’re a natural part of life. I won’t do you the boredom of breaking down what a compliment is and why it happens (even though I did find an interesting study that says it feels just as good to give a compliment as it does to receive one – food for thought!) – instead, I’m going to tell you why it’s so hard for some people to accept a compliment.

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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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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.