I’m running a 30-day mental health challenge on Instagram in honor of Mental Health Month and it’s provided a lot of reflection for me in just these last few days. My mental health journey was such a deep and sacred experience for me – spanning years. I learned so much about myself and how brains work and how to encourage mine to work better.
One of the more life-changing aspects was learning that I was allowed to challenge my own thoughts. (Read this post from 2011: Change Your Thoughts – I’m Learning How) I’m allowed to question them. I’m allowed to question their veracity. I can ask myself if I should act on them instead of impulsively acting on how they make me feel.
It’s such an important coping skill.
When I was hardcore struggling with my mental health my feelings controlled how I acted 100% of the time. There was no logic and no rationale. Everything in my life was turbulent because my emotions were all over the place and I did what they told me to do.
I broke up with my boyfriend at least every week. The instant I got even a little upset my impulse was not to check in with those thoughts and feelings but to just act. I got frustrated at work and instantly tried to quit. (Thankfully my manager was super kind and convinced me not to).
I never thought that it was possible to have any control over how I reacted.
Until I learned that I could.
Thought: “I never do anything right.”
Challenge: My thoughts don’t define who I am.
Throughout life, you’re going to think a lot of different things about yourself and many of them are going to be untrue. Sometimes those thoughts are rooted in low self-esteem, other times just frustration, and in some circumstances because of abuse that you’ve experienced in the past.
Your thoughts do not define who you are.
When you’re having a moment and you’re thinking an abusive thought toward yourself, try to change that narrative. What’s the truth? Are you just frustrated in the moment? Are you being unfair to yourself? Do those words have the echo of someone who once tore down your self-esteem?
Thought: I feel like doing ‘x‘ so I should go do that right now.
Challenge: I can take time to process my thoughts without reacting first.
You don’t have to do everything that your thoughts and feeling ask you to do. Take five minutes. Take ten minutes. See how you feel after giving yourself time to process.
I used to act without processing and it turned me into a verbally abusive person who self-sabotaged at every turn. I had to learn how to put myself on pause. Feel the feeling without immediately reacting to it and in that pause – find a way to react in a healthier way.
The first step is just forcing yourself to take that five or ten minutes when you don’t immediately react.
And then learning how to curb those often self-destructive impulses. Which brings us to the next one.
Thought: “I have no control over my reactions.”
Challenge: (Yet!) I can learn how to control how I react.
Changing your default reaction to things is not easy but it is possible. I used to be an infamous angry-texter. If you pissed me off, I was going to send you 15 long text messages about how you’re a terrible person, I hate you, and I never want you to talk to me again. (With apologies to follow in an hour when I calmed down)
I started opening the note app on my phone and writing out those angry messages and then making myself not send them. I graduated to short responses that were less hate-spewing essays. Then I started putting my phone down and doing something distracting. And this is where I started to research healthy communication. And THEN I graduated to “I feel upset right now because…”
It was not, by any means, an instant process but that’s how those things start.
Thought: My emotions are who I am.
Challenge: My emotions are my brain processing info.
And sometimes the brain is not the best processor and we need a few upgrades: therapy, medication, talking it out, coping skills.
I, 100% believed, that I was an angry and depressed person and I was going to be that for the rest of my life. And now I am so far from that person it doesn’t feel like it’s me.
There’s light on the other end of the tunnel.
With all that being said, your feelings are still VALID.
As with everything, there is a line to walk. Your feelings and thoughts are valid even if they are not true. Questioning them isn’t meant to invalidate them but it does provide a more well-rounded understanding. Sometimes I’ll be like “Hell yes! I am allowed to be pissed off about that!” and other times I’m like “Whoa, that feeling was triggered by a past experience and it’s not accurate to what’s happening *now*”
Learn how to be discerning. Learn how to search for the truth of what you feel and what you think and then go from there.