What Do I Know About Mental and Emotional Health?
Long story short, because my mental and emotional health struggles are not what you came here to read about, I’ve spent most of my life learning how to manage my mental and emotional health. I have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and there’s a possibility there’s some undiagnosed ADHD going on as well. My issues used to control me, but these days I control them. And I believe by sharing these lessons I’ve learned along the way, I can help you take control of your own issues.
Full disclosure: I am not a certified mental health professional. If you think you have a mental health issue, please go see your doctor. Also, I can tell you how I balanced my mental and emotional health, but I can’t do the work for you. You have to do that for yourself. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
Why 43 Lessons? That’s A Random Number
Because I’m 43, and this year has been revolutionary for me. I turned 43 this spring, and by the time I sat down to write this at the end of September, all these major life changes took place:
- My youngest natural child (I have two stepsons who are younger) graduated from high school and moved out on her own.
- I ended a successful but soul-sucking career in the corporate world that consumed more than a decade of my life to pursue something I love (writing and creating).
- Moved 2-3 hours north of most of my friends to (finally) cohabitate with my husband.
- Launched two businesses and websites (this blog and my freelance writing biz) with no previous experience in doing either.
- Landed my first big, recurring client in my freelance writing business.
- Entered and got accepted into Fab Over 40, a contest full of influencers, models, and fitness competitors. This is something I would ordinarily never do, but I’m a sucker for supporting a good cause.
So yeah, I thought, to honor this revolutionary year I’ve had, I’ll offer one lesson for every year I’ve been on this planet. Also, that’s as many as I came up with without repeating myself. 😂
I should mention that by “lesson,” I mean something I learned that helps me care for my own mental and emotional health that I think will help you care for yours. Some of these are minor; some are major.
Okay, So What Are The 43 Mental and Emotional Health Lessons?
Keep reading to find out!
I tried to organize the 43 mental and emotional health lessons from easiest to do when you’re in the dark place where every little thing feels monumentally hard to those that you already need a bit of balance to master. That way, if you find yourself in a slump, you can start with #1 and work your way down the list toward mental and emotional balance.
1. Create A Safe Space or Relaxation Corner
This does not have to be fancy, but it should be comfortable, quiet, and somewhere safe that you can retreat to when you’re feeling blue and need some time away from everything. If space is a challenge, it can be as simple as a fluffy pillow, a soft blanket, and a set of aromatherapy candles in the corner of your bedroom.
2. Find Mental and Emotional Health Quotes That Support You and Look At Them Often
You’ve seen those quotes that make you feel even more depressed than you already were. Those are not what I’m talking about. Avoid those at all costs. But do make note of quotes that help you feel a tiny bit better. Make them your phone background, hang them up in your bedroom or office, or otherwise put them somewhere where you will see them often. Not feeling creative enough to make your own? I searched “framed mental health wall art” on Amazon and found cute options for almost every budget, and you don’t have to put pants on to buy them. Check them out here.
3. Diffuse Relaxing or Uplifting Essential Oils
It may seem silly, but scents can impact your mood (according to Spence, C. (2019). Using Ambient Scent to Enhance Well-Being in the Multisensory Built Environment. Frontiers in Psychology.) Diffusing essential oils encourages relaxation and improvements in mood, and all you need is an essential oil or two of your choice, a diffuser, and some water. This simple solution can make your living space more of a safe haven.
Essential Oils For Relaxation
- Sweet Orange
- Ylang Ylang
Essential Oils To Uplift Mood
- Sweet Orange
4. Change Your Soundtrack
This one is super-effective for me. A change in what playlist you listen to can change your mood. It could potentially even save your life. I’ve said for years that the album “Tranceport” by Paul Oakenfold has saved my life on more than one occasion. Something about those songs helps me find hope when I need it most.
There was a time about a year ago when I was driving back to my office after grabbing some lunch, and per my usual, had Pandora playing over the car stereo. I wasn’t paying attention to the music at all. I was lost in my stress, overwhelmed, and generally unhappy with my work life at that time. My mood was so low that I said out loud to myself, “It’s (depression) really bad today.” Right at that moment, my phone lost signal, and Pandora went into offline mode. This caused a change in the station from the down-beat indie folk that was on to a fast-paced EDM station with more uplifting lyrics. That change in music got me through the rest of the day.
I believe in the power of music to improve your mental and emotional health so much that I created a few playlists of songs that uplift my mood when I’m having one of those terrible, no good, very bad days. One is geared toward firing up my inner goddess, one is all about money mindset, and one is just a damn good time to dance to while I clean the house (more on the benefits of cleaning house later). Click the links to start listening on Spotify.
5. Get Some Vitamin D
Literally, you can sit in the sunlight for 15 minutes a day, and your mental and emotional health will improve. If you live in an area where the climate makes it too difficult to be outside in the sun, a vitamin D supplement is better than nothing, but sunlight is best. Regular and moderate sunlight exposure can also improve your bone health and even prevent cancer. (Source: Holick, M. F. (2001). A perspective on the beneficial effects of moderate exposure to sunlight: bone health, cancer prevention, mental health and well being. Comprehensive Series in Photosciences, 3, 11-37.)
6. Break Up With Your Phone (Or At Least Take A Break)
If you haven’t read my post on why you need more fun in your life, you may not know that social scientist Catherine Price says that breaking up with your phone is one of the secrets to physical, mental, and emotional health. Curate your social media experiences to be as positive as possible, and limit the time you spend on your devices as well. The less screen time you have, the happier you will be.
7. Use Positive Affirmations
There’s a misconception about positive affirmations that they are toxic because they deny the negative experience. As a sufferer of mental and emotional health disorders, I respectfully disagree. Positive affirmations are not meant to deny that bad things can and do happen. They are a way to re-train your brain’s focus and set your thoughts on a healthier track. Positive affirmations have helped me turn my life around, which is why they are one of the nine habit shifts that can create a life you don’t need to escape from that I talk about in this blog post. If you read it, you might notice a few more of these lessons are also listed in the nine simple shifts.
8. Challenge Negative Self-Talk
No matter how many positive affirmations you listen to or repeat out loud to yourself while looking in the mirror, negative self-talk will creep back in. Notice it but don’t judge yourself for it. You have not failed in your mental and emotional health journey because of negative self-talk. But do challenge it. If your negative self-talk says that you’re a bad friend, remind yourself of all the times you’ve been a good one. If it tells you that you are ugly because you don’t look like the model in the magazine or the wanna-be model on Instagram, tell it to f*ck off and that you don’t have to look like her to be beautiful. Click here to learn simple techniques that help you rewrite your self-talk story with more ease.
9. Have an Attitude of Gratitude
This is another one of those nine simple shifts I was talking about in #7. It can feel hard to be thankful for anything when you’re down in the dumps but do try. The more you do it, the better you will get, like with anything else. Are you still alive? Say thanks. Is the weather nice? Say thanks. Was your coffee this morning perfectly brewed? Say thanks. Acknowledging the little blessings causes a shift in mindset that makes you feel better and attracts more good stuff into your awareness.
10. Accept Them, Don’t Escape Them
When you have negative emotions, don’t freak out more than you already are. Notice them, but just like with self-talk, don’t judge yourself. Don’t try and escape them either; that will only make them worse. Bottling up or denying negative emotions is counterproductive. You might have to delay the release but keep the delay as brief as possible. For example, if you are in an important work meeting when the urge to cry buckets hits you, it could make the situation a lot worse to let loose right then and there but do have the release as soon as it’s safe to. Like, in the bathroom stall after the meeting.
11. Recognize That You Are Not Your Thoughts Or Emotions
You are not your thoughts or emotions. Read that again. Thoughts and emotions are like electrical or energetic currents that run through us; they are not components of who we are. You are not your thoughts or emotions. You are a being that experiences thoughts and emotions. There’s a difference, and it’s an important one. Once you truly grasp this distinction, negative thoughts, and emotions become a lot easier to release.
12. Connect With Nature
Scientific studies show that time spent in nature has a positive effect on your mental and emotional health. So, get outdoors as often as possible. If the weather allows, place your bare feet and/or hands in or on the soil. Have as many green plants or trees around your home as possible. Urban potted plant gardens totally count! (Source: Daniel T. C. Cox, Danielle F. Shanahan, Hannah L. Hudson, Kate E. Plummer, Gavin M. Siriwardena, Richard A. Fuller, Karen Anderson, Steven Hancock, Kevin J. Gaston, Doses of Neighborhood Nature: The Benefits for Mental Health of Living with Nature, BioScience, Volume 67, Issue 2, February 2017, Pages 147–155)
13. Keep A Journal
You can keep a traditional diary in a notebook or use a themed journal like the ones below, but putting your thoughts onto paper is cathartic. So do it, and daily. All it takes is 5-10 minutes.
Gratitude Journal for Tired-Ass Women by Kristie Breen
A Journal to Become Zen As F*ck by Monica Sweeney (I have and love this one)
One You Can Destroy To Let Go Of Perfectionism by Keri Smith
A Journal for ADHD by Kathryn Eyre
And an environmentally friendly online journal to help you find your balance, created by yours truly!
14. Forgive Yourself
You’re not perfect. No one is. Make a list of your flaws and/or mistakes that are eating you up inside. Now, go through the list and forgive yourself for each one. You can practice EFT tapping during this if you feel like that will help. Once you’ve gone through the list, burn it. Your flaws and past mistakes no longer have control over you. For an extra-cool list-burning experience, try using flying wish paper. Oh yeah, and burn safely.
15. Stick To An Essential Self-Care Routine
It can be hard to practice proper hygiene and self-care when in the depths of depression, but that’s when it is most crucial. I have been there and had unwashed hair, unbrushed teeth, and a dining room table covered in empty pizza boxes to show for it. Start with the basics, like brushing your teeth, showering, and basic skin care. Having clean hair and teeth makes a world of difference. You can add to your routine as you heal. If your mental and emotional health reverts, as sometimes happens, go back to your essential routine until you feel up to caring for yourself more.
16. Practice Breathwork
I’ve gone into this before in the Nine Simple Shifts post and also in my post about using your breath to cope with public anxiety attacks, but breathwork is magical stuff. When you change the pattern of your breathing, physiological changes occur in your body and mind.
17. Daily Meditation is Life Changing
Buddhist monks have devoted their lives to this concept, but you don’t have to sit in meditation all day every day to benefit from it. Fifteen minutes a day is enough to work magic, but this is one of those areas where less is not more, so work in as much meditation into your day as you can. This doesn’t mean you have to sit still with an empty mind. There are many ways to meditate like walking meditations, driving meditations, and mindfulness meditation, where you focus all your attention on a particular task, like washing the dishes.
18. Read/Listen To Mental Health Books or Podcasts
This is a great activity for those times when you cannot people. Learning about mental health not only removes some of the stigmas and reminds you that you are not alone, but you also might learn a tip from one of them that helps you greatly on your mental and emotional health journey. An easy way to get access to great books and podcasts is by signing up for an Audible subscription.
19. Find A Support Group
Friends and family are great, but if they don’t have the same struggles that you do, they might not be able to understand and offer you the support you need despite their best intentions. Find yourself a support group of people who have the same or similar struggles as your own, like the one I created to be a village of single moms who support and uplift one another. Having someone to talk to who can commiserate helps you feel less alone and more normal.
20. Get Informed
Learn as much as you can about the symptoms and recommended treatments for your mental and emotional health issues. Knowledge is power, and knowing what you are dealing with makes it less terrifying. But don’t self-diagnose. Leave that to the professionals. You did take my advice at the beginning of this post to work with your doctor, right?
21. Get Help
Speaking of doctors, it might be a good idea to talk to one who’s trained specifically in mental and emotional health disorders. I’m talking about therapy. Whether traditional therapy with a psychiatrist or online counseling with a service like BetterHelp, there’s an option that’s right for you. There’s no shame in getting help.
22. Move Your Body
If you, like me, don’t love the gym, this one may sound hard AF, but it’s really not. Simple exercises can be as effective. Take a walk, do some restorative yoga, or dance by yourself in the living room. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing as long as you’re moving. Try something that’s so much fun you forget you’re even exercising.
23. Clean and Organize
If you can gather up enough energy to do it, cleaning and organizing your surroundings will clear as much clutter from your mind as it does from your physical space. There’s a saying that goes “as within, so without.” What that means is “messy mind, messy house.” Living in a chaotic mess of an apartment does not improve your mental and emotional health. As soon as you can manage it, clean up. Trust me on this one.
24. Get Enough Sleep
I am not giving you permission to lay in bed all day and wallow in misery. That is not sleeping. That is refusing to leave your bed. What I am giving you permission to do is prioritize sleep. Make sure you are not scheduling your days so full that you don’t have adequate time to wind down and get your eight hours of sleep a night. Have a hard time falling asleep? This next lesson is for you.
25. Establish A Calming Bedtime Ritual
A calming bedtime ritual sends a signal to the brain that it’s time to shut down for the night. For example, you might put your phone away and get out your journal, sip a warm cup of chamomile tea like this one from The Republic of Tea, and spray your pillow with a calming sleep spray.
26. Establish A Solid Morning Routine
Since getting started in the morning can be the hardest part of the day, especially if you are getting ready to go to a job that you need but don’t like, a solid morning routine is a must. This is a great time to drink some water, express gratitude for another day (and anything else you can think of), move your body around a little, and eat something that has healthy fats, fiber, and vitamins to get your day off to the best start. Whole-grain toast with avocado and a poached egg is a good choice.
27. You Are What You Eat
While it’s tempting to fill the hole in your soul with fried, fatty, and sugary junk foods (emotional eating is one of the eating disorders) if you’re full of junk, you’ll feel like junk. Instead, aim for a diet that contains healthy fats (like eggs and avocados), lean protein, magnesium, Vitamin C, and all the B vitamins. Also, make sure to ingest sufficient quantities of the seven essential macro-minerals and consider adding adaptogens to your diet. Eating some cacao-rich chocolate every once in a while helps too. I can’t say enough about the personal mental, emotional, and physical health benefits I experience when I eat this way. And since this post is already long as hell, you don’t have time for that. I’ll have to save that for another blog post.
28. Change Your Scenery
If possible, schedule some vacation days and get out of town. If traveling is not in your budget, a weekend at a friend or family member’s house can be enough of a change of pace to help. Even a day trip to a neighboring town can help you reset your mood. If you can’t leave the house, consider redecorating or rearranging the furniture.
29. Stop Self-Medicating
Limiting or eliminating the use of alcohol and recreational drugs will improve your mental and emotional health, as they increase anxiety and depression. They may make you feel better short term, but in the long term, regular use will make you feel much worse about yourself and your life.
30. Pet Your Pet (Or Get One)
If you don’t have a pet, and you can afford one and are allowed to have one where you live, get one. Spending time with domestic animals like dogs and cats has been linked to better mental and emotional health. A cat even purrs at a frequency that stimulates healing in the human body. Healing of the body also heals the mind, as the two are inextricably linked. You can read more about the mind-body connection here.
31. Hang With Your Funny Friends
As the old adage goes, “laughter is the best medicine,” and science has proven it. Seek out your funny friends, the ones that make you laugh until your stomach hurts. Chances are, they laugh a lot, and laughter is contagious. That means that even if you show up in no mood to laugh, most likely, you’ll be laughing it off by the end of the visit.
32. Find Friends With Good Mental and Emotional Health
Earlier in this post, I told you to find a support group of people who have similar issues to yours, and you should do that. But make sure you’re not hanging around a bunch of Negative Nancys all the time, too. There’s another popular saying (I seem to be full of those today) that you are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with. Keeping that in mind, choose to hang out with people who do a good job of managing their own mental and emotional health, and their good habits might rub off on you.
33. Celebrate Small Achievements
Did you get out of bed today without hitting snooze? Complete your essential self-care and your full skincare routine? Manage to turn a frown upside down? Eat exceptionally well today? Celebrate every win, no matter how small.
34. Do More Of What You Love
Are you unhappy because you are doing something you don’t want to be doing? Or is the real reason that you are not doing enough of what you love? What is it that lights you up inside? Pay attention to who you are with, where you are, and what you are doing when you feel yourself light up. Then, do more of that.
35. Do Something Nice For Someone Else
Another one from the Nine Simple Shifts post. It’s simple, doing something nice for someone else releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel better. This is why we love to give gifts. When you feel down, find a way to help someone else. Sign up to help at a woman’s shelter, food bank, soup kitchen, or homeless shelter. If you aren’t able to have your own pet, volunteering at your local animal shelter is a great way to serve others and get furry cuddles.
36. Forgive Others And Let Go Of The Past
You made it to the lessons that are much easier said than done. These next few will be tough. Forgiving others (and, of course, yourself) and letting go of the past is not the easiest thing to do. Releasing the negative emotions tied to your past frees your soul. Holding on to them poisons it.
37. Set Healthy Boundaries And End Toxic Relationships
It’s important to note that forgiving and letting go are not the same as forgetting. To forgive and let go is to release the anger, hurt, hatred, jealousy, and other negative stored energy from your heart and mind. It doesn’t mean allowing someone who abused you to do so again. Healthy boundaries are encouraged. So is ending any toxic relationships poisoning your life. Someone once said, “Before you call yourself depressed make sure you’re not just surrounded by assholes.”
38. Focus On Solutions, Not Worries
If you have an anxiety disorder, you’re familiar with the broken record of worries that gets stuck on repeat in your head. To turn it off, focus on finding solutions to your worries. Find ways you can take action to ease fears or improve your position (or both). For example, if a big storm is coming and you are scared, can you place sandbags to prevent flooding, put storm covers on doors and windows, and come up with a plan of action for what you will do if the storm does breach the safety of your home?
39. Tolerate Annoying People Without Being Triggered
Don’t seek them out to spend time with them or anything, but there will be times when you have to deal with someone who annoys the you-know-what out of you. Your mental and emotional health will benefit if you can be around someone who gets on your nerves without getting all triggered. How? To be honest, I’m still working on that one. Maybe this book by Bob Phillips and Kimberly Alyn can teach you.
40. Learn The Art Of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is spending as much of your day as you can with your thoughts focused on the present moment and not rehashing the past or worrying about the future. Whenever you notice your thoughts drifting off, pull them back to the present moment by focusing on something you can hear, feel, see, touch, or taste. Focusing on your breath is an excellent choice because you can hear and feel it and sometimes even see or taste it. Your breath stimulates many senses, making it a powerful tool for pulling yourself back to the present.
41. Recognize That Bad Days Happen
Yep no matter how much you improve your mental and emotional health, you will still have bad days. You will still have moments when you wonder what’s wrong with you. You will still have that inner critic in your head, even though you’ve gotten better at challenging negative self-talk. Some days, you will still want to pull the covers over your head and say f*ck it, “Today I’m not doing anything,” to quote an old Bruno Mars song that my responsible and hard-working dad loves.
42. Befriend Your Inner Critic
Feel free to challenge her (or him) when wrong, but also recognize that your inner critic is there for a reason. She (or he) has something to tell you. It’s kind of like a nagging boss or spouse. Maybe they overdo it, but the intentions are good. In the case of the boss, there might be an important deadline looming that they’re stressed about. The spouse may be worried that if you don’t fix the leaking rain gutter, a leaking roof will be next. And your inner critic might be right when it tells you that you’ve been doing too much of this or too little of that. Listen to the message your inner critic has for you, embrace what has merit, and toss the rest.
43. Love Yourself
And finally… we come to the last lesson, which is possibly the most important. LOVE YOURSELF WITH your mental and emotional health challenges. You are the whole package just as you are. You are worthy of love just as you are. So, go all Lizzo and scream-sing “I love you b*tch!” to yourself in the mirror. You’ve got this!
Holy f*ck! You made it all the way to the end of the longest blog post ever! You deserve a prize. The first five people who email me and tell me what song I quoted last in this blog post (hint, it’s in the paragraph above) will get a $10 gift card emailed to them.
Thanks for reading!