Do you ever feel like nothing more than your ability to regulate your own emotions is keeping you from the life you want?
Your mental health dictates the level of energy you’re able to put into improving your life. When I say mental health, I’m using the colloquial version of the term.
I’m not a doctor or a psychotherapist, but I don’t need to be in order to understand basic elements that can help or harm your mental health. And neither do you.
Often, strategies to improve your mental health are simple and obvious. You just need to do them. Sometimes mental health is about making your mind stronger, not just focusing on your reactions to situations.
There’s a time to be strong and tough as well as a time to be vulnerable and introspective. There’s a time to suck it up and a time to pump the breaks and take care of yourself. Until we’re able to honor the yin and yang of mental health, however, we’re not going to be able to have honest conversations about it.
All too often we fall into the self-care trap, where every reaction to adversity is to pump the breaks. Instead, you’re better off learning the nuanced yet simple strategies you can use to fortify your mind.
Let’s look at some of my personal favorites.
There’s a common misconception that you must always vent your feelings. If you’re feeling down, have problems in your life, or just ‘have something to get off your chest’ the logical answer should be to get it off your chest, right?
Sure, sometimes. But there is something to be said about stiffening your upper lip as a tool to improve your mental health. There’s a reason why stoicism has exploded in popularity. Deep down, we understand the power of holding firm in adversity without complaining.
This goes against another narrative in society that promotes constant emoting, constant conversations about feelings, and constant complaining aimed at those higher on the totem pole.
Venting can be helpful, but often venting reinforces the negative feelings you’ve been experiencing. Many people get caught in a constant loop of venting and complaining, which creates an identity of helplessness and moves them further away from an overall improved mental state.
You see this at happy hours across the country. A group of coworkers gets together to complain about their jobs — to vent. Over the long-term, does this make any of their lives better? Do they ever come up with solutions after these venting sessions? Or do they usually wake up with a hangover and a reminder that they’re still stuck in this job they don’t like, doomed to repeat the cycle?
You don’t want to become repressed, but you can spend some time focusing on the actions that might alleviate your problems. I worked jobs I wanted out of. And I’d use the frustration from those jobs as fuel. Instead of venting and releasing it, I harnessed for fuel.
Negative feelings aren’t always bad, per se. They’re just negative. They’re signs for action. Choose to look at them that way, as fuel, for a while, and see how it works.
Not only does this habit help you work through your issues, but it’s also been known to spark high levels of creativity. Some of the most influential thinkers, inventors, and artists swear by it.
So what’s this magical habit? Going for a walk.
I live in a townhome complex that surrounds a lake. I go on a daily walk around the lake. No phone, no watch, nothing to indicate anything about time or the outside world, just me and the path around the lake. Regardless of how I feel before the walk, I always feel better after it.
The reasons why walks are beneficial are obvious, but they’re worth stating because we’re in this society that has over-complicated solutions:
Walking without distraction is like meditation. You have two choices — engage fully in the present moment or work through the thoughts in your head because you have no choice. You’ll do a combination of both.
And there’s just something about the environment and the behavior that gives you insights you can’t find elsewhere. Thoughts tend to arise instead you trying to force them. You find answers to problems you’ve been struggling with. Ideas reveal themselves to you.
Again, this is a simple piece of advice, but do you actually follow it? Start a streak of daily walks and you’ll become mentally and physically lighter.
The trend of people identifying as victims scares me. Not because it will affect the way I feel, but because I see the harmful and even deadly impact it can have on other people. Society continues to trend toward a victimhood narrative and it’s not helping anyone.
There’s a difference between being victimized and being a victim. The system victimizes every last one of us in one way or another. It really does.
Societies are built to constrain the freedoms of individuals, laws disproportionately affect different groups of people, and the mix of incentives and human nature leads to situations the harm others.
That being said, you get to choose what negative situations mean to you. You can identify with the bad circumstances in your life or you can try to succeed in spite of them. Also, it’s up to you to decide which narrative is true.
Are you a victim? Are you oppressed? Or are you being tricked into thinking this way? Only you know the answer.
You can try to rationalize your way out of the truth, but the truth has this annoying tendency to stick in the back of your mind no matter how hard you try to push it down.
Sometimes I get flack because I don’t identify as oppressed whatsoever even though I’m black. I just don’t see the narrative as useful to me. I understand racism exists, but I just decided that I don’t care about the opinions of racists and that I’m going to succeed as a black man in America, which is exactly what I’ve done. And, honestly, no one has tried to stop me in a direct way at all.
Sometimes the scariest realization is the realization that you’re free, that no one is in your way but yourself, that your level of personal responsibility dictates your success more than the outside world does.
Again, I don’t know your situation. It’s up to you to make up your mind. But I’ll tell you this. If you identify as the type of person who overcomes challenges even when life isn’t fair, you’ll have a level of self-confidence nobody can take away from you.
You don’t have to start a business, but having something outside of your 9 to 5 job either side project or hobby, gives you a mental refuge in your sometimes chaotic life.
I touched on this in an article I wrote called The Life-Changing Magic of Hobbies:
There’s just something about concentrating your energy on getting good at something that changes your worldview. You’re more alive.
You’re more interested in life and because of that, you become more interesting. You don’t need constant outside stimulation to have fun — Netflix, happy hour, and other distractions. If you’re feeling directionless, bored, apathetic, depressed, indifferent, stuck, whatever. Get a hobby and watch your life change.
For years, I’d wake up before I had to go to work and I’d write for an hour or two. Regardless of what was going on in my life, from my career to my marriage to the endless errands to the noise from the outside world, etc, I had that sliver of time to find something that put me in the zone.
And that’s what you’re looking for. That flow state where you get lost in the joy of the moment, whether that’s writing a blog post, shooting a bow and arrow, making handmade earrings, or hiking up a bluff, doesn’t matter.
You want a hobby or a project to work to interrupt the recurring loop that drives people insane — nothing but work, T.V., and distracting weekend activities.
Distraction and entertainment can numb you enough to get back to the grind, but something engaging gives you energy, especially if you’re working on a business.
As my business grew, my confidence and energy increased while at work, and the extra income inspired me to keep at it, leading to a total transformation where I have much less stress because I do what I want on a daily basis.
Find something you enjoy doing. Not necessarily love, but enjoy, and make a habit of trying to get better at it. This, like all the other strategies, seems simple, but the beauty is, again, in the implementation.
The habit of having a hobby extends out to the true secret weapon to a strong mine. Broad application of this would cure all the outrage in society. Of course, this will never happen, but it’s a fun thought experiment.
If everyone found a purpose for their life and a long-term objective to obsessively aim at, all the dark energy in society would melt away.
Aimlessness and lack of purpose caused this mess we’re in right now. And I get it. I don’t blame people for lacking purpose in their life because society teaches you to lack purpose. I don’t blame you for being upset when you have a media structure that baits you constantly.
There are serious problems in the world and our discourse is totally shot. So what do you do, personally? You aim.
Without something to aim at that helps you put blinders on to the chaos of society, you will get lost in the shuffle. I mean, take a look around, do the vast majority of people in society seem healthy to you?
These prescriptions seem so simple — get some exercise, stop complaining so much, find a hobby, build something, create and achieve long-term goals. We live in a society that favors the complex over simplicity.
The biggest fix for the mental health of many people in society is just getting their shit together. Try getting your shit together first before coming up with this elaborate explanation for why you’re unhappy.
Do whatever ‘that thing’ is, that thing you’ve been wanting to do for a while. Keep doing it. Never stop doing it.
Will this cure all your anxiety, stress, and doubt? No. But it will make a hell of a dent. When you’re aimed in one direction for a long time, you realize what’s important and what’s not.
Parsing out the truth and the beneficial aspects of life versus the distraction and BS noise will give you sane no matter what’s going on in the outside world.
These truths reveal themselves to you once you get on your path and stay on it. You know it’s true, so just do it.