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Let’s face it – at some point, everyone feels overwhelmed. Whether it’s school, your work or another aspect of your life, there are times when we feel like the world is closing in on us and we feel trapped. While it’s more common for some to feel this way than most people, make no mistake – most people you know have felt overwhelmed about their lives at some point.

As someone who frequently feels overwhelmed, I’ll say that it used to crush me. Sometimes I wouldn’t be able to function that day – I’d count it as a loss and try to regroup for the next day. The things I did were not entirely healthy, but they were effective. Over time, however, I began to pick up healthier responses and actions taken when I began to feel overwhelmed, and so I wanted to share some with you all!

Control Your Breathing

I’ll never forget the time someone told me to ignore focusing on deep breaths and take ‘medium breaths’ instead. This way, I was trying to return my breathing to its normal state and gaining control over my breathing. I become hyper-aware of my breathing when I feel overwhelmed, and having that control is a good reminder that I am not completely out of control.

Make a List

Whenever someone would ask me why I was feeling overwhelmed I would give vague, existential answers to explain why, and it was extremely unhelpful. Then someone challenged me on it and told me to make a list of everything that was overwhelming me. Once I made the list, I realized that most of the things that overwhelmed me were in my head, and not tangible things. Making a list of reality-based problems is a good way to ground yourself and remind yourself that things aren’t always as bad as they seem.

Take a Walk

Whether it’s for five minutes or all afternoon, getting out of your room, classroom, the office, etc. is a must when you’re feeling overwhelmed by work. And it doesn’t matter if you’re an outdoor person or not – that time spent in a different environment will give you time and space to relax, and you can walk back into your situation renewed and refreshed.

Read

I initially was going to write ‘Read a Book’ but decided against it because honestly, reading anything is helpful when you feel overwhelmed. When you read, you’re keeping your mind occupied and transporting yourself to another place in time, reality and space. It doesn’t matter what you read or how long you read for – that simple act of getting outside yourself and losing yourself in someone else’s story can keep those overwhelming feelings at bay.

Release Your Frustration (In a Healthy Way)

Whether it’s going for a run, hitting the gym, breaking a few pencils or screaming at the top of your lungs, there are plenty of ways to release the frustration that comes with feeling overwhelmed. It doesn’t mean that overwhelming goes away completely, but it does give you a little space to tackle those emotions and try to deal with them in the healthiest manner possible.

Remember – Do What Works for You

While these are things I do when I feel overwhelmed, I know everyone’s different. Maybe you’ll try one of these things and it will work for you; maybe you’ll try something completely new and go with it every time. Regardless, you need to find what’s best for you. At some point in your life, you’ll feel overwhelmed, and you’ll need a strategy to fight that feeling.

It’s hard to deal with feeling overwhelmed – these are just a few of the strategies I’ve learned over the years. What works for you when you are feeling overwhelmed?

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I don’t really like myself. That is not a put down, that is not a criticism. That does not mean the world, or my world, is ending. That is just what I believe.

I remember the first time I told someone I didn’t like myself. The pity the person showed could have been worn as a sweater, it was so obvious. Since then, I’ve mentioned this fact to a few other people and while the responses vary, that sense of pity is what seems to be the most common.

People feel bad that I don’t like myself, and I understand why. If you like who you are and you meet someone who doesn’t like who they are, you feel for them. You want them to feel good about themselves because you know how good it feels to like who you are. But just because I understand where those people are coming from doesn’t mean that I agree with it.

I’ve spent years trying different tips and tricks to boost my self-esteem. Books, tapes, prayers, activities. I’ve repeated mantras and listened to my therapists and while I’ve had a minor breakthrough or two, nothing major has occurred. I like where I am in life, and I am excited for where my life is headed – but still, I don’t like myself. And I’m okay with that because I know what that means and more importantly, what that doesn’t mean.

It doesn’t mean I think my life is worthless. It doesn’t mean I think I am a bad person, or a mistake. It doesn’t mean I wish I wasn’t here. It just means that right now, at this point in my life, I don’t think highly of myself. And to be honest, that’s not the worst thing in the world.

One of my goals of therapy is to try to figure this issue out and solve the problem. But honestly? It’s not that high on my list of priorities. I decided long ago that if I was doing what I’m supposed to be doing to live a mentally healthy lifestyle, I wouldn’t concern myself as much with some of these existential questions. If I am physically, mentally, and spiritually fit and doing what I need to do, is not liking who I am the worst thing in the world? To me, it’s not.

You might disagree with this, and that’s okay. You might even think it’s ridiculous; that’s okay too. You are entitled to your thoughts and feelings, just as I am to mine. There’s room for everyone!

In short, there are things I can and can’t live without. And loving myself, thinking I’m the best person to the world and brimming with confidence, is not something I need. It would be nice, but I can live without that. I’m more concerned with bringing love and value to everything I do. And if that means that one day I wake up and like who I am? Well I wouldn’t be so mad at that.

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I’ve been reading a book called “The Empath’s Survival Guide” which is all about how to live and succeed if you’re an empathic person (no, I did not mean empathetic – there’s a difference!). I’m hoping that once I finish I can offer a solid review of the book but for now, there’s some word choice in the book that’s caught my eye and led to some questions.

In particular, the author’s constant reminder to ‘stay grounded’ and to ‘ground yourself’ was something I noticed immediately. It was in nearly every chapter, sometimes making multiple appearances, and it made me think – what does it mean to ground yourself? I don’t mean in the sense of staying humble and keeping your ego in check, but actually keeping your feet on the ground and remaining present.

This I how I think of ‘grounding yourself’: being present in the world around you and not living inside your head. I’m sure there are many other aspects of being grounded, but these are the main criteria that I try to follow if I’m looking to be a grounded person.

So, how do you stay present? Different things work for different people, and understanding that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution in this situation can go a long way toward maintaining toward being mentally healthy. Some people meditate, others pray to their higher power. People write in journals, listen to soothing music and go for a run. Sometimes it involves exhausting your body; other times it involves exhausting your mind. Regardless, you’re challenging yourself to be in the moment and seeing how long you can stay there.

Some people need more time than others to stay grounded. I know people who only need five minutes a day to meditate and they are refreshed and ready to go; others need more time or need to do more strenuous activity. I am one of those people, and I’m okay with that. The important thing to remember here is that you have to do what works for you. While it’s okay to try things that you’ve seen work in others, don’t put yourself into a box when it comes to staying ground. If it’s healthy and effective, that is all you need to worry about.

I stay grounded in a number of ways, but one of my favorites in the past month has been to go for a run. Now that the weather in DC is nice, I’ve been able to exercise outside, and it’s made me more grounded than anything else in recent weeks. I’m able to exist among the trees and plants on the sidewalks and enjoy the fresh (city) air as I exercise. Though I only currently run twice a week, it’s become something I look forward to and keeps me present – it’s hard to exercise that long if you’re not present in your task!

One more thing – sometimes trying to be grounded doesn’t work. That’s okay. Don’t put pressure on having an activity ‘cure’ you or boost your mood. Sometimes being grounded just means that you remain busy. By remaining busy, you might be able to keep things like depression and anxiety at bay. Whether it’s a big victory or a little one, a win is a win when it comes to mental health challenges. I wish you good luck with yours.

What do you do to stay ‘grounded’? What do you wish you’d do more of to be present in the moment? I want to know!

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking as we come to the end of Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s been an interesting month for me – since I am in the middle of the process of weaning off my medication, I have been a little removed from mental health advocacy. I’m focusing on making sure this process goes smoothly and answers my questions – mainly, do I need to be on medication right now? I might have to go back on it weeks, months or years from now, but making sure the process goes well is my main focus.

Anyway, this month has been encouraging. I think the best thing I’ve seen is that this month has distinguished the difference between mental health and mental illness. Mental illness might not affect everyone, but mental health does. Taking care of yourself is important in all aspects of life, and this includes mental health.

Bringing awareness is also a very underrated aspect of improving the mental health conversation. Because it’s such a nuanced topic, it’s not enough to just say ‘be aware’ about mental health and leave it at that. It needs to be a discussion, an ongoing conversation to make sure people are looking out for each other and themselves. We make choices every day that improve or worsen our mental health, and it’s important to recognize the impact of these choices.

I was encouraged by the #RealConvo Instagram campaign and learned a ton from Mental Health America about how we can use different things in our life to boost our mental health. I read posts from people who don’t normally talk about mental health – they were honest and open and I loved seeing it. I feel like the conversation surrounding mental health improves every year, and things like Mental Health Awareness Month are a good reminder of how far this conversation has come.

Even though the month might be over, we can’t stop talking about mental health. Maybe it doesn’t have to be in the most obvious or outspoken way. There are plenty of ways to discuss mental health, and you need to do what works for you. Maybe that means writing a social media about that the fact that sometimes, you’re not okay. Maybe it’s just checking in with a friend or loved one and asking, ‘how are you, really?’

The most important part of this is that the discussion doesn’t end. Mental health, as with many things in life, is ongoing. We don’t always have the luxury of picking it up and putting it down as we see fit. So, however, whenever and wherever you have this conversation – even if it’s just with yourself – I hope that you can continue to remind those around you that our mental health is important – whether or not it’s Mental Health Awareness Month.

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I am currently plodding through work, wading through the vast amount of things I need to catch up on, and I’m fighting the post-vacation blues. I visited family in Texas over the Memorial Day weekend holiday and had a great time! As is typical with short vacations like this, I didn’t feel like I had enough time, but I really enjoyed seeing everyone being able to soak up the beginning of summer.

After I take trips like this, I tend to get in a bit of a post-vacation funk. I typically gauge the success of my vacations based on how sad I get once they’re over. The sadder I am, the more I realized how much I enjoyed that trip. When I woke up for work this morning, I was sad. I wished I was back at that lake in Texas, staring out in the water and not having a care in the world. I wondered why I didn’t do this more and why I wasn’t particularly excited to get back to my life. While I am making big moves in the future (I can’t wait to update you all soon on some exciting things I’m working on!), I’ve felt a little stagnant for the last few years, a feeling that grows stronger once I return from a trip somewhere.

Instead of sharing some wisdom or advice on how I deal with it, I’m turning to my readers for tips. How do you deal with the post-vacation blues? What helps you get back into the swing of things? I’m willing to take any and all suggestions. I’ve struggled with this for years and I have yet to find a good solution. What do you think I should do?

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I feel like I’ve had nothing to say all week. I haven’t actually posted since last Tuesday, and that bothers me. Every time I’ve tried to brainstorm this week I’ve come up empty. The words I want to write just aren’t there, and I feel guilty. Why?

Maybe it’s because I feel like I owe it to my readers that I have something to say every week. Maybe I think I owe it to myself, I don’t know. But I have this innate feeling that by not writing, someone is missing out. There’s someone I could be reaching, but I’m not because there’s nothing for them to read.

I could chalk it up to the fact that I am finally off my medication and that’s what is affecting me – but that wouldn’t be true either. Truth be told, that process has been good so far (it’s only been a few days), and though it will be weeks until I am out of the woods I feel good about how it’s been going. Maybe I’m just making excuses for being lazy.

As a writer, what do you tell yourself when you have nothing to say? Do you remain silent, or do you try to conjure something out of nothing?

I’d liken this situation to fighting against mental illness. Sometimes the fight seems fruitless and that you’re getting nowhere. Sometimes you just want to remain quiet and won’t write again until you ‘feel like it.’ But if we all waited until we ‘felt like it’ to do something, things would never get done, goals would not be created and dreams would not be reached.

Sometimes success isn’t just in doing something well, but in doing something at all. I don’t know what I hope to accomplish with this post, but I know that I’m winning just by writing it at all. That might not mean much, but it means something to me. And isn’t that enough?

Is there something you want me to write about on the blog? Let me know in the comments or @brainsnotbroken on Twitter! 

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I’m a little nervous this week. As I shared a month ago, I’m currently in the process of weaning myself off the medication I take for my anxiety and depression. Since I am at the lowest level of one of the medications, I have been slowly lowering the dosage on the other medication until I am off it entirely, and I have finally reached the time where I go off that medication entirely – a very big step to take.

In our various appointments, my psychiatrist has shared with me that this will likely be the most difficult part of the process. There’s a good chance that while my body goes through withdrawal and gets the medicine out of my system, symptoms of my depression and anxiety could return. While he wasn’t guaranteeing anything (and did mention that all people are different), it’s a very real possibility that he wanted me to be aware of. I would be silly not to be a little scared, right?

That being said, don’t be afraid if you don’t see a post from me at the times I usually post. I will do my best to keep the blog going and keep posting, but I’ll admit that it won’t be easy. One encouraging thing is that I am in a good place to try and do this – the decision was not made on a whim. I have been on my current meds for the past two and a half years, and by taking all the proper precautions I’m ensuring that I am doing this in the safest way possible. Wish me luck this week – I’ll need all the good vibes sent my way!

Have you ever weaned off a medication (any medication) you’ve taken for a long time? Was it weird? I want to hear about it!

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I am not very good at waking up in the morning. I’ve written about this in the past, but it hasn’t made things any easier. When the alarm goes off, I hit snooze. I’ve calculated how long it takes me to get ready in the morning, and I am prepared to use the minimum amount of time to get dressed and head off to work. I’m not proud of it, but that’s my reality.

I’m also not very good at going to sleep at night. This often happens because it’s hard to turn off an anxious brain, but other factors play into it as well. There are plenty of tips out there about falling asleep in an efficient manner, and I’m pretty sure I’ve tried almost every single one. Some have worked better than others, but I haven’t found that secret formula that gets me to fall asleep in a timely manner; I usually sit in bed for a half-hour or more before drifting off to sleep.

But one thing I am getting much better at is not staying in bed. If I’m not sleeping, I’m not in my bed. It’s an important distinction and one that has improved my mental health.

The connection between sleep and mental health is deeper than you realize. Getting the most out of your time in bed could be a key factor in improving your mental health and even though it’s hard for me, I understand those benefits. Though sleep is essential to your health, staying in bed for too long or being in bed too often makes it harder to cope with your mental illnesses. When my depression is the worst, all I want to do is stay in bed and sleep. It’s my refuge, my place of safety from the world. And though it makes me feel better in the moment, I always regret staying in bed for too long and hate myself for it. It’s not a great long-term solution, and it does not improve my mental health.

I remember in college, I could stay in my bed for hours at a time – watching television, doing schoolwork, even eating meals. I developed a dependency on my bed that was not only unhealthy but extremely unhelpful. I don’t have that relationship anymore, and I think that’s because I realized how much of a hindrance this behavior was in my daily life.

I’m not asking much of you this week, but I’d encourage you to be aware of how much time you spend in bed. Is it a place for sleeping, or do you spend more time there than you realize? I’m not asking you to change how you deal with your mental health or mental illness, but becoming aware of your habits – good and bad – is a good thing to do.

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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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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.

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.

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