I would say my mental health has come a very long way over the years. I often look back at where I was even just five years ago and feel sad for the overly-anxious insomniac I was. While my mental health still goes through ebbs and flows, I recently noticed how much I actively do to ensure that the ebbs are few and far between. Like a muscle you work out at the gym, your mental health requires time, energy, and commitment to keep it in a positive state. So, today I bring you the top six things I think emotionally healthy people tell themselves to stay in a good place.
1. These are my feelings and I can stand them.
This is a phrase I heard from a wonderful therapist named Pia Mellody and it truly resonated with me. Whether it’s anxiety, sadness, jealousy, or lust, I’ve noticed that the vast majority of people will feel a strong (and usually negative) emotion and want to distance themselves from it at all costs. However, the message you send yourself when you do this is, “Get away from me, emotion, I can’t handle you!!!!” This only adds fuel to the emotional fire. Instead of pushing an emotion away, healthy people tend to say, “Huh, I’m feeling a really intense feeling of anger. While it’s incredibly uncomfortable, I know I’ve felt this before and can handle it. I’ve got this.” Remember how many times you have dealt with whatever uncomfortable emotion has arisen as a way of giving you that dose of confidence you need to deal with it again.
2. It could be worse.
People who are dealing with depression tend to think that there’s a bullseye on their back and that everyone in the world has it out for them. This depression often shifts their attention bias—that is, it causes them to look out for only the negative things in their life rather than the positive. This isn’t about just taking an inauthentic ‘but-people-are-starving-in-Africa’ stance, it’s about truly acknowledging that things seriously could be worse no matter what. For example, maybe you aren’t enjoying your job very much at the moment and are prone to looking at all the negatives. But this might cause you to forget that at least you’re in a job that’s giving you relevant work experience in your field so that you can later pursue something more aligned with your vision. Things could always be worse. Every time you start focusing on the negative, tell yourself, “Even though _______, at least I can be appreciative for ___________.”
3. There will be bad times and that’s okay.
I have to say, I find our culture’s obsession with being happy all the time mildly annoying. People will sit in my office and say their goal is to “be happy” and I wonder how on earth they came to the conclusion that being happy 24/7 is a realistic expectation. Psychologists will argue this point, but I’d say there are seven main emotions: joy, shame, fear, disgust, anger, guilt, and lust. Given that there are seven main emotions, it is only reasonable to expect that you will feel joy one seventh of the time. So, if you feel sad one day, my response to that is: yes, you are feeling sad—and sadness is a natural part of life! Of course, there is cause for concern when an emotion is consistently being felt too frequently or severely (which may garner a mental health diagnosis) but know that negative emotions are a part of life… and they’re precisely what keep it so interesting and exciting!
4. I’m enough and I matter despite my flaws.
My definition of healthy self esteem comes from the wonderful Terry Real: healthy self esteem is recognizing that you are no better or worse than the person standing next to you. A person who is lacking self esteem would look at the person next to them and say, “Wow, they’re so much better looking than me, they’re so much more successful than me, and therefore I am less than.” Someone who has an overabundance of self esteem would look at the person next to them and say, “I’m smarter than that person, funnier than that person, and therefore I am better than.” Obviously neither is healthy. Oftentimes, people fluctuate from one extreme to the other rather than just seeing themselves as a person who has worth and value no matter what.
Real talk: having healthy self esteem is a daily practice that honestly takes a lot of work. I, myself, continually engage in a daily practice of monitoring where my self esteem is so I can respond accordingly. And in those moments where I start telling myself that I’m not enough, I literally say, “Kristina! You are enough and you matter despite your bad haircut” (or whatever it might be). Could this sound a little cheesy and ridiculous to some of you? Yes. But is it a helpful practice? Also yes.
5. Now what?
Life is unpredictable. Sometimes it throws us unexpected curveballs that seem to do nothing but make us upset or frustrated. While it’s important to truly feel any emotions that arise from these curveballs, it is also important to eventually ask ourselves what the next step is. So many people become stuck from failing to ask themselves this question. In these cases, feeling emotions turns into dwelling and ruminating, which turns into having pity parties, which turns into complacency, which turns into negativity, which turns into feeling crappy about everything in general. I’m reminded of that awesome scene in Bridesmaids where Melissa McCarthy’s hilarious character shows up at Kristen Wiig’s house and says, “It’s interesting to me that you have absolutely no friends. You know why it’s interesting? Here’s a friend standing directly in front of you trying to talk to you and you choose to talk about how you don’t have any friends. I don’t think you want any help, I think you want a pity party… You need to stop feeling sorry for yourself because I do not associate with people who blame the world for their problems. ‘Cause you’re your problem, Annie, and you’re also your solution.”
6. I am responsible for me.
I’ve talked about the difference between having an internal versus external locus of control in other blog posts. When someone has an internal locus of control, it means they are more likely to believe that they are responsible for what happens to them rather than external circumstances. And research tells us that these people are less likely to be overweight, have higher self esteem, and show lower signs of psychological distress. Very often, people who are dealing with depression or anxiety are more likely to focus on how others might be causing them distress versus how their own thoughts, behaviours, and feelings might be worsening their symptoms. While it’s important to hold others accountable for their actions, it’s equally as important to hold ourselves accountable as well.
The Bottom Line
Most of the beliefs that healthy people have revolve around maintaining their self esteem and keeping things in perspective. This work is not easy, but it's 100% a case of practice makes perfect. Keep these beliefs in mind on a daily basis whenever you can and with time, it'll become more second nature.