It’s Sunday morning. I’ve just released what is likely my most vulnerable article to date, around mental health and burnout. As a writing break, I head over to the kitchen for a coffee refill and to make some breakfast.
I throw on an old Lauryn Hill album, and Doo Wop (That Thing) came on. Hill’s words reached through my speaker like a trusted teacher tapping me on the shoulder, rendering a question so important she sings it three times in a row: “How you gonna win when you ain’t right within”?
“How you gonna win when you ain’t right within”?
I mentioned in my last blog that it’s intention wasn’t to offer advice, so I’ll offer some here. The topic of mental health is not something to sweep under the table like crumbs falling off your plate. When these issues knock on your front door, it’s best to sit with the discomfort and embrace them with warm arms.
In other words, if you wanna win, you better get right within.
I’m far from an expert. I’m the guy that broke down at work, remember? But here are a few things I’ve experienced that have helped me or a loved one when they’re feeling shitty:
Don’t Go At It Alone
See someone, talk to someone. It can be a loved one. It can be a family member, a best friend, a therapist. The point is to not leave your emotions all bottled up with no one to talk to. That only makes matters worse and makes a tough journey a lot tougher.
Write it Down
Journaling is an age-old strategy that works like a charm. It helps me get out of what Tim Ferris would call the “monkey mind.” I’m not sure about you, but my mind is flooded with thoughts when I wake up that can range from anxiety about an afternoon meeting to a craving for a chocolate chip cookie.
I journal in the morning to see where my head’s at. I’ll write down ideas I hear throughout my day. When I’m feeling pissed, upset, stuck, I’ll pick up a pen and jot some things down. As Anne Frank said, “Paper is more patient than people.”
Let’s follow the wise words of Azis Ansari here. It doesn’t need to be “fine leather goods”, but offer up some self-care. A friend of mine used my article on Monday as a trigger to use one of those face masks at night. Another friend booked a massage at a Japanese spa. I’ve heard taking a bubble bath or a shopping trip helps put some at ease.
It doesn’t have to mean a big hurt to your bank account either. Fuck your diet for a day and eat ice cream for dinner, just this once. For me, throwing on a great album and sipping a delicious coffee usually does the trick, a $3, 60-minute investment in my happiness that pays many dividends.
Mood Follows Action
“Mood follows action”
Our feelings come from our mind. Worrying, sadness, frustration – they’re all in our head. So sometimes the best thing to do is get out of our head and into our body.
I’ve found that my worries seem to melt as quickly as I begin sweating. It’s scientifically impossible to worry about work when you have a barbell on your back and you’re propelling down into a squat.
That fight with your boss doesn’t seem like such a big deal as you’re holding downward dog for 30 seconds or on mile 4 of a morning run. As a kid, I’d pretend that a bully or teacher’s face was on the tennis ball I was about to whack across the net. Whatever your flavor is, try getting out of your head and into your body.
Okay, so this is the opposite of treat yo self. Another reason that we can get stressed is because we’re only thinking of ourselves: the deadlines we have upcoming, the sales quota we need to hit, how we’re going to look in our bridesmaid dress. We are led to believe that the world revolves around us.
If you do something for others, your whole mindset shifts. Try buying coffee for the person behind you in line or offering a genuine compliment to your co-worker. Notice how their smile releases the tension you’re holding.
Put your life in “Airplane Mode” from time to time. Most days, I wait 30-60 minutes before checking anything on my phone – texts, emails, tweets. I use this time to understand how I’m feeling, maybe write a few things down, maybe move my body a little.
The same strategy applies to nighttime. I throw the phone on my charger about 30 minutes before I’m going to bed so that it doesn’t distract me and keep me up.
Screw it, maybe you’ll spend a whole Saturday afternoon not checking your phone.
It’s easy to get caught in the mayhem of a good Trump debate on Twitter or in a 3-hour Netflix binge. When you’re faced with the urge – try creating instead. Make something, that’s the only rule.
Write in your journal. Go to a glass blowing class. Make a badass breakfast. Create a vision board with your goals on it.
You don’t need to show anyone. You don’t need to post about it on Instagram. Do it for you. There’s an undeniably good feeling about creating something that didn’t previously exist.
Napolean Hill calls faith the “eternal elixir”. It could be a number of things: God, Buddha, The Universe, Karma, Fate, you name it. What you call it isn’t the important part: the faith is the important part.
It’s healthy to believe in something bigger than yourself. This doesn’t make you lazy or complacent.
Anne Lamott described her spiritual practice as “praying that you’ll catch the bus and then run as fast as hell to catch it.” That sounds about right.
I currently define faith as having a belief that no matter how shitty today is, tomorrow can be better. And if you don’t have that, chances are that tomorrow won’t be much better.
Look, this is no joke. This isn’t soft shit. A recent study showed that depression in millennials has grown 73% since 2013.
But that’s not everyone. If you feel sad or burned out, it’s not a life sentence. There are ways to tackle the illness head-on and end up victorious.
But mental health isn’t just a gift, you have to earn it. Take care of yourself.
If you read this blog, you want to grow. You want to win.
But how are you gonna win if you ain’t right within?