As a person who lives with bipolar disorder, I’ve had to learn how to manage my illness and how to stay mentally healthy. My experience as a college basketball player playing for the legendary coach Pat Summitt and my days of striving to become an Olympic athlete helped shape how I deal with surviving in this crazy world.
Here’s my top 10 list of how to stay mentally healthy in a crazy world!
1) Know what you’re thinking
When you live with bipolar disorder and learn how to manage it, you quickly learn about racing thoughts. But the truth is lot’s of people have anxiety and that can also cause thoughts to race from one subject to the next, making it difficult to concentrate. If the thoughts are negative it can turn a good day bad in a heart beat.
What I’ve found helpful is to pay attention to what you’re thinking. I check in to see what my thoughts are telling me. Am I saying, “I’m not worth anything.” Am I telling myself, “I’m a failure.” Whatever negative thing you are telling yourself effects everything you do in your day.
My old coach Pat Summitt used to always tell me, “Amy, you’re your own worst enemy. You’re too hard on yourself.” I would sit across from her desk and nod. I knew she was right, but I didn’t know how to fix the problem. I was striving to be perfect, beating myself up when I made mistakes and torturing myself mentally with repetitive thoughts.
So, if you’re going to stay mentally healthy, take time out during the day or in the moment and think about the things you’re telling yourself. Learn to replace those negative thoughts and it will change your day for the better.
2) Keep the negative news in perspective
Every night my 82 year old mother can’t wait to turn on NBC news and watch Lester Holt. In fact she’ll turn on the television and say, “Gotta watch Lester.” I roll my eyes and laugh. If I don’t have anything else to do I’ll sit and watch the news with her.
But what I’ve found is that almost every news story is filled with negativity. We get told over and over again everything that is wrong with humanity. If we watch the local news it can be worse. One station spends about 15 minutes going through all the people who went to court for the day.
It makes people look bad. But in my 20 year career working for Fortune 500 companies, traveling all around the world with my sports teams and for personal fun, and working with an advocacy group–I have found most people are good. Most people care about others and want to live a peaceful and happy life.
I like learning about what’s going on in the world, but I’d rather not be inundated with negativity. Watch the news, but realize the whole world isn’t going to hell.
3) Focus on what you can control
We have become a fear based culture. Almost to the point we are paranoid about where we go and what we do for fear of running into someone who wishes to do us harm. Paralyzing fear keeps people from venturing out and living life in a carefree way.
The truth is we can’t control what happens. In fact, we have little control over few things. I’ve found the key to stay healthy is to find the things I can control and focus on those things. It’s much more pleasant than worrying about all the things that could happen.
I’ve also noticed that trying to change someone else’s views or opinions is like walking up the Rocky Mountains with no shoes on. I can’t control the fact that some people refuse to listen to an opposing viewpoint. It’s hard to do. But in finding the best solutions to challenges or problems it’s great to have different perspectives and experiences at the table. We just can’t control who is willing to listen and who is not.
I practice taking a deep breath and keeping things in perspective, realizing there is very little I can control. But how I look at things is one of them. I choose compassion and empathy, it’s something I can control and it makes me feel good.
4) Balance social media
I was having a conversation with my friend Betsy. We were talking about how important it is to balance how we use social media. She said, “I’ve disconnected–deleted all my social media accounts. I was spending sometimes 8 hours a day on social media. Almost addicted to Facebook and Instagram likes.”
I thought about what she was saying and then ask myself the question, “How much time am I spending on social media?” The answer was it ebs and flows. I’m not addicted to it, but I try to use it constructively. I don’t allow myself to compare my life to others, especially because I know people often portray their lives as perfect on social media.
Balance is the key. And remember there was a day when counting the number of “likes” just didn’t matter. I find it helpful to simply disconnect at times. It helps me stay grounded in what’s most important.
5) Learn how to stay present
There is no greater joy to me than having an intimate conversation with someone who is fully present. We can all sense when someone is paying attention to us and when they are not.
It’s a discipline to learn how to stay in the present. But I’ve found it to be the most helpful way I can live. Sometimes my past has been painful and staying in the present keeps me far away from reliving the pain all over again.
6) Surround yourself with positive people
There are a few people in my life I can’t avoid, but I cringe when they get on a negative roll and don’t stop. It’s as if the world is coming to an end and every human being in it are evil. Well, I’m exaggerating-but sadly only a little bit.
But seriously I’ve learned the more I’m around positive people we lift each other up. We focus on the positive experiences and share those with each other.
When I have a depressive episode it’s even more important to be around someone who is positive. They always Life my spirits and help me keep on fighting.
7) Check your attitude
Oh…this is an important one. Attitude is everything. How we approach challenges and problems. How we feel with agree and disappointments. Having a positive attitude even in the darkest of times fuels the fight for survival.
8) Practice gratefulness
One of the things that helps me in my continuing recovery journey is being grateful. The little reminders of things and people I’m grateful fills up my heart. I take a deep breath and thank God for giving me my new day. I’m grateful for all the people who have crossed my path. I’m grateful for the ability to put things in perspective. Honestly, when I feel gratitude it makes me happy.
9) Learn to say “no”
The is a tough one for me. I like to help people, but have realized I can’t do everything. I have to set limits to stay healthy. I have to know my boundaries. And above all I’ve learned that it’s okay to say “no.”
10) Don’t be afraid to get professional help
Staying mentally healthy is critically important to everyone. But sometimes we need a little bit of extra help. Some days it’s just nice to talk to a therapist who is completely removed from the situation.
Sometimes people need a little extra help with medications to get through some tough times, difficult and overwhelming anxiety, depression etc. And for those of us with chronic mental health conditions it’s imperative we stay with our treatment plan especially if it’s working well.
If you had cardiovascular, respiratory, or digestive problems would you seek professional help? Things that effect our thinking, emotions and behavior-our mental health-sometimes need professional help too. Don’t be ashamed to get the help you need.
Hoping my top 10 list helps somebody today. Wishing peace. Amy