I Tried Breaking My Phone Addiction for 10 Days

I started an initiative for myself–an unplug initiative, if you will–to use social media and my smartphone less. The reasons were numerous and the effects were concerning: shorter attention span, need for instant gratification, using my phone to distract myself from my real feelings, spending far too much time scrolling endlessly, sad or pissed off at the end anyway.

I’m going to share what I’ve learned, what else I feel I can change, and what has already changed for the better. I’ll also be taking a look at the goals I set for myself at the end of that first post about breaking my phone addiction. Did I achieve them in week 1? Let’s first talk about my general thoughts, feelings, and takeaways of week 1.

Week 1 Reactions to Breaking My Phone Addiction

  • Irritability, at first. Lots of irritability. Think: road rage, without being on the road.
  • Picking up my phone, frequently. With no goal. Scrolling through the home menus, searching for nothing.
  • Watching too much YouTube. Seriously. It’s a slippery slope and it’s hard to stop once you’ve started slipping.
  • Loneliness. I felt lonely, at first, from not chatting with Twitter friends every day or supporting people on my favorite self-improvement subreddits, or leaving comments for my Facebook friends. It made me crave human interaction, so I reached out more to friends I hadn’t spoken to in awhile.
  • I need to learn to have fun again, without my phone. So I picked up collaging again, with just materials I already had on hand. I also dug out some old coloring books and realized I’m unironically into word searches. Admittedly, I still spent more time watching YouTube, but it was cool to rediscover these interests and hobbies I still have. I’ve also been doing WAY more creative writing, something I had not thought I would pick back up.
  • Seriously. Have I mentioned YouTube? That’s clearly still a problem. Yikes.
  • I crave drama. Scandals. Something entertaining that engages the “grab some popcorn” section of my brain. Previously I’ve gotten that from Grey’s Anatomy, before season 9 got all weird. I also seem to fulfill this through some of the more “drama”-centered subs on Reddit, like r/relationships or r/trashy. I now entirely rely on YouTube for that with critiques and analysis of pop culture things.
  • I’m reading Medium more, which is cool, but I find myself scrolling it to look for “juicy” stories about divorces and couples drama a lot. Again, I must be craving drama. I do read a variety of things, but I’d say a good chunk of my reading there is based on someone’s life lessons from a sticky situation.
  • It’s okay to want to waste time, do a mindless activity, or just not be productive. The goal of breaking phone addiction wasn’t to just be more productive. It was to be happier, to feel more in control. I just wanted my phone activities, YouTube and Medium included, to be more in-check and controlled. It’s also been a push-and-pull struggle of realizing when I need downtime, and when I’ve gone too far and need to gently nudge myself into something else.
  • The FOMO of not being on Twitter especially is real. I feel like I’m invisible anytime that I try to post or interact lately because of Twitter’s visibility algorithm. It seems to reward you the more you post, the more you comment, the more you’re on. I want to use it to engage with others and keep putting my blog out there, but if I’m not on enough, it seems I fade into the background. I don’t want to use it just for the fear that I’ll no longer be seen, but they’ve got me in a bind. My goal was to use Twitter mindfully, but I’ve only even been on to scroll/engage a couple of times and I found myself getting restless very quickly.
  • My desire to have fun vs my desire to do something that makes me feel accomplished is way harder to manage than I thought it would be. Coupled with my need for competence, things get tricky, and I still don’t think I have a balance figured out.

My Goals for Breaking Phone Addiction – Revisited

1. Find enjoyable ways to decompress when I get home from work that don’t include watching YouTube videos, or scrolling social media endlessly.

Well, I inconveniently got sick during this, so it made it really hard to do anything on some days, besides watch TV or YouTube. But aside from that, I still wanted to approach decompressing in a new way. By the way, I define decompressing as something that helps me relax and unwind after work before getting into my goals for the evening.

I did eliminate mindless scrolling, but an increase in YouTube time doesn’t feel like the response I was looking for. Even when I only watch a couple of videos, I still can’t help but wonder if there’s a better habit I could have instead. My rediscovered and established hobbies, like collage art, coloring, word searches, creative writing and yoga, feel like “work” to me. I like doing them all and feel accomplished after doing them, but my brain still categorizes them as being far more effort than what I need at that time. Therefore, I need to come up with something that’s not YouTube that helps me relax before I get into any heavy mental lifting.

This is a topic I still want to explore.

2. Delete social media apps, including Reddit.

I did delete all social media apps! Success! This doesn’t mean I deleted the accounts or want to stay off them forever. I wanted to use them with intention. If that’s considered the only goal here, then it was a total success, A+. Considering that I wanted to use social media with intention, like interacting with my friends/followers and posting engaging content that’s related to my blog, though, I have failed. I haven’t gotten on for days at a time, and when I do, I haven’t stayed long or done much.

The thing about getting off social media is that once you get over not checking it all the time, you realize you don’t miss it. Getting on feels like a rushed check-in, some chore I’m marking off the list. And I am not at all trying to sound edgy or cool by saying that–I still love the friends I’ve made and the ones I know in real life. I want to interact with them and enjoy that aspect of social media, plus post relevant content. It’s just that the other crap feels even more insufferable the more time I’m away.

If I’m going to use it, I need to be habitual about my use, making sure I have time limits in mind, and content to post for my blog, too. I had the idea of using HootSuite to batch post a bunch of stuff at once so I don’t have to continually pick up my phone when I have a thought. But I did that exactly once and just haven’t had the desire to go back.

3. Resist picking up my phone and using it as a distraction, from waiting or from feelings.

I was semi-successful with this one. Let me explain.

Overall, I’ve been able to avoid mindless pickups to check Reddit or Twitter, well, because I don’t have the apps. But I don’t check the mobile versions either. However, many times, I will watch YouTube. It’s led to a LOT of YouTube. One day my screen time was 7 hours because I watched so much. Since I haven’t been feeling well, and as a result, am more tired, I allow myself more leeway. If I’m bored at work, it’s also a go-to because I can easily watch videos while working at my desk. It’s a slippery slope. While it doesn’t make me feel the same way mindless social media scrolling does, it’s not exactly helping my phone addiction. It’s making it worse. The content is engaging and mentally stimulating in ways that social media isn’t, but it’s often satisfying boredom and my need for drama–which only nurtures the parts of me that I don’t want to grow.

I’ve journaled less and less, but written more poetry. So as far as being in touch with feelings, I’d say I’m in the vicinity. I’ve had several moments where I was feeling bored or ashamed or something that makes me want to reach out to my phone, and I mindfully decided to explore that feeling instead. Waiting around at work, another trigger, has also been a window for me to explore my impatience and desire to fill that moment. On one hand, I have been able to recognize when feelings come up that I want to push down, but on the other, I don’t know if that’s really leading to anything except awareness. I suppose that’s something, at least.

Related: How to Exercise When You Have a Mental Illness

4. Develop a better time limit for fun stuff and understand why I put off harder stuff.

I’ve learned a lot about Self-Determination Theory, and it’s really helped me get in touch with what I really need to be motivated, namely my desire for competence. This even explains why I so often would blow off personal goals in favor of video games. Not only are they fun, but they’re rewarding; they make me feel like I’m really doing something. The illusion of accomplishment.

My goal when I found out about SDT was to do more things that make me feel competent, so I could get that need out of the way, and then move onto the hard stuff. Except, my brain interprets everything except YouTube, apparently, as work. But, it’s not that I consider collage art, for instance, to be work, it’s just that it’s MORE work than playing video games or watching YouTube compared to the output or reward that I’d receive. I still enjoy collage art, or anything else that I see as “hard” but still rewarding. The results I get make me feel accomplished and good about my abilities or skills, but collage art is very tedious and requires more patience and work before getting to that point.

So, we’re still at square one here. I’ve gleaned some insight, but I’m still trying to figure out how to make my brain do the thing. I want to get my dopamine fix from delayed gratification, too, not just instant, drive-by fixes. Admittedly, sometimes I just have to brute force it–use the 2-minute rule of procrastination to just sit down and start something that I want to get done, because I know I’ll like the outcome in the long-run.

My pursuit of fun, lack of structure, and just hedonism, I guess, is still a mystery, and still hardly in check. Stay tuned.

5. No watching YouTube while I eat

Absolutely failed this, and I honestly haven’t even tried very hard. I really struggle with this one, and I’m not sure why. I enjoy it so much. There must be some sort of emotional connection, so much so, that it’s upsetting for me not to do it. I may need to actually research this. I’ve been brushing it off as a legitimate problem, but being reminded that this was a goal can set me back on course.

Summary

Phone addiction has made me less happy, less fulfilled, and given me the attention span of a rat, and while social media was a big factor to that, removing it wasn’t a cure all.

While I cherish my hobbies and interests, including ones I’ve rediscovered, I still have issues getting on YouTube, and relying on that for entertainment.

I’m finding I still don’t fully understand myself, and I’m struggling to strike a balance between decompressing, having fun, getting personal goals accomplished, and making sure I feel like I’m hitting all three components of Self-Determination Theory somewhere in there.

Breaking Phone Addiction: My Plan to Stop Mindless Scrolling

I have an existential crisis probably once a year, at least. Sometimes, it’s not that dramatic, and I’ll just find myself directionless and in a rut.

Such a thing has happened to me lately. I haven’t the benefit of hindsight yet to dub this as just a rut or an existential crisis, but I decided to analyze what factors contributed to it.

Upon reflection, here is what I learned:

  • I don’t feel like I have one, true purpose.
  • The things I do find purpose in, like writing, or other things that I’m passionate about, have fallen by the wayside for one reason or another.
  • Despite all my healthy changes, I still come home from work feeling tired, un-energized, and unable to motivate myself for awhile, as I sit on the couch and scroll Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, and eventually YouTube videos. I often say to myself, “How has so much time passed? What have I been doing?” It never feels that long when you’re doing it.
  • While I still accomplish some of the learning goals I have with Coursera and exercise 4-5 days a week, I default to playing video games, or something else I consider to be fun. This results in me pushing off other goals that would require more work because I see them as “hard”. I’d rather do the fun thing. By that point I’ve expended my energy for hard things and just want the sweet dopamine release that comes with instant gratification.
  • A lot of time is wasted on my phone. In general, I feel I am too reliant on my phone and use it for the wrong reasons most of the time.

I think this is all tied together somehow. Each point feeds into the next. I believe my phone addiction is the root of it all. Here’s why my phone addiction is hurting me and how I’m relating it to everything listed above:

False Sense of Not Wasting Any Time

I reflexively pick up my phone constantly throughout the day, when I have a spare second, especially when I’m waiting on something else, like things at my job, video game loading screens, something cooking, etc. I do data processing for a mail company, and there are several applications and processes that have to “run their course”. While I’m waiting, I often grab for my phone. This is the insidious and seemingly innocuous part of phone addiction. It feels innocent because how can I be wasting any time on my phone if I’m just doing it to pass time while I wait for something else? However, this adds up to what feels like a hundred times a day of picking up my phone and many hours of screen time (my average screen time has been as high as 5 hours per day, which is surprisingly above average).

Constantly picking up my phone like this, even when I consider it to be “multitasking”, is a ridiculously false way of thinking. Most importantly, this isn’t a productive or worthwhile practice, since I am just doing it to kill time. Secondly and thirdly, it divides my attention, creating an overall shorter attention span, and deepens my phone addiction by causing a Pavlovian response between waiting and picking up my phone. Often, it makes those initial work tasks take longer because I get sucked into the vortex of endless scrolling on Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit.

I Pick Up My Phone As a Way to Avoid My Feelings

Similar to the Pavlovian response above where waiting causes me to pick up my phone, I also have this desire to pick up my phone in response to many negative feelings, like guilt and shame. I notice that when I thought or memory comes up that makes me feel bad, I instantly have the urge to pick up my phone. The idea is to probably distract myself from that thought, or to confront it by sharing it on Twitter. But this has evolved into a way to avoid how I feel, instead of facing it with the proper coping tools. It’s amazing how many times I noticed, after becoming conscious of this habit, that I would have a thought or feeling and instinctively grab my phone.

Phone Addiction Has Tried to Serve (Poorly) As a Decompression Tool

My phone use goes up dramatically because I use my phone to decompress at the end of the workday. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. I don’t feel more relaxed, I don’t feel better or happier. In fact, I feel worse. Social media tends to cultivate strong feelings of inadequacy, anger, and annoyance in me. Comparing myself to others, disagreeing with strong opinions and hot takes, letting myself get upset by things that are shared or said. It’s all trivial in the grand scheme of things–to be upset by social media, yet I am, and I struggle to oppose this inclination. There are good things about social media, too, like connecting with friends, sharing your lives with people you care about, having a sense of community, learning cool things, and laughing at funny things. However, I find the pros to significantly pale in comparison to the cons. I take away far more toxicity and internalized negativity than anything else, usually.

Social Media for All the Wrong Reasons

I originally started getting on Twitter more to nurture my brand for this blog. I wanted to post more about mental health, self-improvement, and productivity. Before this, I very sparingly got on Twitter. I’d go a year or two at a time with no interaction there. But I wanted to connect with other like-minded bloggers, so I developed a friend group there. I set up a Facebook page for my blog for the same reason. Even if I wasn’t sharing my own content, I could share things relevant to those topics and engage with the community. Instead, I usually have nothing to post on Facebook, and I mostly rant on Twitter or treat it like a diary. It’s morphed into this outlet for my own personal feelings, instead of an outlet for all things mental health and self-improvement.


I don’t want to break my phone addiction so that I can be more productive or stop procrastinating. I certainly could be more productive, especially when it comes to those passions I’m pursuing, things that do require more effort, especially when I have no motivation. But my goal is to be happier. To free up my mental bandwidth. To stop dividing my attention. To do things with intention and purpose. To find relaxing and enjoyable ways to decompress.

The Plan for Breaking Phone Addiction

Here is what I plan to do to break the phone addiction:

  • Find enjoyable ways to decompress when I get home from work that don’t include watching YouTube videos, or scrolling social media endlessly. YouTube is a gray area because I can learn interesting things there, and I like critique and analysis channels, but I’m going to have to be cautious with this. Perhaps put time limits and restrictions around it so I don’t fall down the rabbit hole.
  • Delete social media apps, including Reddit. Note: this doesn’t mean deleting my accounts or totally abstaining from social media forever. It’s to curb the unnecessary amount of time I spend on these app, which has been the source of my phone addiction.
  • If I am to get on Twitter, Facebook, or Reddit, I will do it intentionally and with purpose, on my laptop. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these platforms and all have their benefits, but I want to develop a more meaningful way to interact with them. Doing so on my laptop, with the express purpose of connecting with others, sharing something worthwhile, or looking for information, will hopefully accomplish that. Some scrolling and seeing what’s new may be permitted, even necessary, especially as part of the “connecting with others” factor that I enjoy, but there will be a time limit on this. I’m still undecided exactly how to execute this. Twitter and Facebook will also be used to post more content in-line with my blog.
  • Resist picking up my phone and using it as a distraction, from waiting or from feelings. Just going to try to feel my feelings and cope with whatever comes up.
  • While not directly related to phone addiction, I want to use this extra time I will hopefully have to cultivate a better working culture around the goals and passions I have that are harder. Things that I often lack motivation for or lose my drive for. I want to find out why I feel this way, and if I need to move on, or keep trying. If I want to keep trying, what’s holding me back, and can I create a better atmosphere and routine in order to work? I do believe getting phone addiction under control can contribute to this, as I should have more time, and won’t have such a negative mindset going into it.
  • Along with this, I want to develop a better time limit for fun stuff and understand myself better. Why do I always default to doing this fun stuff, even when I know there’s benefit to doing my Coursera work or writing? I don’t want to always shrug off those goals and plop down to play video games for the rest of the day. I always feel guilty, but can’t bring myself to do anything that requires more effort. Am I just shorted out on willpower already (although there’s no current scientific evidence for this)? Am I demotivated about my other tasks for some reason? Am I so dopamine hungry from the constant phone use that I have forgotten the benefits of delayed gratification? Have I screwed myself over and shortened my own attention span? I hope to find out the answers to these questions.
  • No watching YouTube while I eat. What starts as an enjoyable combination, leads to more videos, which leads to more wasting time. Mindful eating is a whole other topic, and it’s always made me upset to think about practicing this (that is, eating without watching or reading something, or otherwise being entertained and stimulated while you eat). But it would behoove me to find a better way to enjoy things and reward myself, rather than a tasty meal while watching something entertaining.

This is the start of a new journey. I hope to find out the answers to my questions, develop a healthier relationship with social media, and break my phone addiction! In doing so, I hope the byproduct is healthier decompressing tools, better attention span, a reignited spark for all my passions and goals, and more well-rounded afternoon and evening routine.

The Nutrition and Supplement Plan that Improved My Mental Health (Including No More Brain Fog)

My struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder and anxiety have felt lifelong at this point. The past decade of my life has felt like twice that because of how the symptoms have affected me. I’ve searched for any way to help mitigate these effects–DBT self-taught exercises, therapy (in person and online), journaling, self-esteem, self-compassion, trauma healing, and finally, physical health changes. I consider all of this to be a holistic approach to mental health, and one method is not necessarily better or more helpful than another; it’s a joint effort, and they all contribute to my mental health in different ways.

However, I want to talk about my diet and supplements and how they’ve affected my body and mind. My struggle with brain fog, lack of energy, joint pain, and low mood plus mood swings was such a way of life, I was convinced that there was no cure. I thought it was just part of being mentally ill and I either hadn’t worked hard enough to overcome it, or it just wasn’t going to happen.

I had heard time and time again about the mental health benefits of getting enough sleep, about eating a healthier diet, and about exercising

I decided to get serious at the end of 2019 with my diet and physical health. Here is an in-depth look at my journey with diet and supplements, what helped, and how it affected my mental health. This is just my experience; I’m not advocating that everyone has to do this to see results for their mental health. Rather, I encourage you to research these things yourself and do what’s best for you.

Low-Carb Diet for More Energy, Less Brain Fog, and Fewer Mood Swings

When I came to terms with the effects of sugar and how it was wreaking havoc on my body and brain, I was devastated about having to start a low-carb diet. I was convinced it would be the hardest thing I would do. I mourned the loss of macaroni and cheese, pizza, Cheerios, and bread. My life revolved around carbs, but they were my enemy. In December of 2019, I decided to get serious. I spent an entire weekend researching recipes and culling together a list of things I wanted from the store. It took a lot of research, trial and error, and many weeks to figure it all out completely. I won’t downplay the difficulty. It didn’t all happen at once, but after a few weeks, I settled into a routine. Now I eat an average of 50g of carbs per day, with some days as high as 80g. I’m in the habit of cooking a big casserole, or more recently, a frittata, to parcel out for the week so I don’t have to do some crazy cooking every day. Meal prep and meal planning were intimidating at first, but they have become a godsend. Preparation is truly your greatest weapon against the fear of a new diet.

It was hell adjusting to the carb cravings, without giving in, and I found it hard to stay balanced in my diet. However, the benefits of the low-carb diet were obvious pretty early, and they only got better. No more brain fog. Actual energy to speak of, mental and physical. It seemed like a miracle. No aching joints. No random mood swings (I mean, I’m prone to those anyway, but they weren’t so severe or frequent). I felt in control of my mind and body again after several weeks. I can still confidently say that the low-carb diet life has significantly improved my mental health, as well as my energy levels, my mental clarity, and my overall physical well-being. These physical side effects also worked to improve my mental health, since I was able to pursue hobbies and work out much easier. With brain fog gone and energy to spare, I felt I could do anything.

Also, I don’t have to give up the good carbs forever. If I never indulged in pizza again, I would not want to live in that world. I just have to prepare myself for the consequences. Carbs make me feel like crap. I don’t want to feel like crap. So I limit them in my diet (getting them mostly from vegetables and high-fat dairy) and enjoy the occasional cheat day.

Here’s a sample of what a typical day looks like for me, though I do vary it up sometimes and switch out the meals when I get bored:

  • Meal replacement shake
  • Greek yogurt with 5% fat
  • String cheese
  • “Seed” bar snack (with pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and sunflower seeds)
  • Casserole (with chicken, broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, and cheese) – Sometimes I eat red beans with cauliflower rice instead.
  • Mini bell peppers with spinach and artichoke dip
  • Scrambled eggs with breakfast sausage or a vegetable frittata
  • A spoonful of peanut butter or almond butter

This doesn’t seem like a lot for a full day, now that I see it written out, but it’s perfectly satiating. It took some time for my insulin levels to even out, and for my body to stop always craving/demanding carbs (which I confused for genuine hunger at first). I don’t starve myself or let myself go hungry, which is what I thought in the beginning that people did. No, there’s just an adjustment period to life without so many carbs! Your body needs to learn to run off fat, primarily.

Related post: I Went to Planet Fitness for the First Time and Didn’t Die

Whole Food Multivitamin (with Ashwagandha) for Diet Supplementation and Stress Management

A multivitamin is just good sense, regardless of what your goals or other treatments are. I chose one with Ashwagandha because this Indian root is a natural stress-reducer and can improve depression and anxiety symptoms. I sometimes take Ashwagandha on its own, but it gives me a headache, so I have to be prepared for this outcome. On its own, it gives me laser focus and zen-like calm. Having it in a daily vitamin is such a helpful addition to my treatment plan and has been vital in improving mental health for me.

Besides just the Ashwagandha, I chose this multivitamin because it has a little bit of everything that I was looking for, and it’s made with whole foods, so I feel confident in the type of nutrition I’m getting to help supplement my diet. By the way, this is not a plug for the brand, nor am I getting paid in any way, not even as an Amazon affiliate. It’s just how I selected my multivitamin. I have tried other brands, too, that meet a similar criteria. This is my favorite though because of the stress blend.

Whole Food Meal Replacement Shake to Supplement My Diet

Looking for an alternative to my breakfast cereal, I decided to swap in a meal replacement shake. This one, like my multivitamin, is made from whole foods. It’s also Amazon’s top seller in the category and one of the best deals on the market for the quality and type of ingredients versus serving size. It doesn’t keep you full for hours, but I find it takes the edge off my hunger in the morning while providing necessary vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

In case you’re wondering, I researched vitamin doses, toxicity levels, and upper limits. I learned that vitamin overdose is pretty hard to do. The levels of the fat-soluble vitamins, like A, D, E, and K, are not nearly high enough, between this and my multivitamin, to cause concern of toxicity or overdose. The rest of the vitamins and minerals are mostly water-soluble and will filter out through the urine if there is excess.

The meal replacement shake has been helpful in keeping me low-carb and vitamin enriched. It’s not a necessity, and if I had a blender, I’d probably make a smoothie that’s a little more filling, but this is convenient and working for me right now.

Berberine for Blood Sugar Management

This came to my attention because I have PCOS and struggle with insulin-resistance. I have read that Berberine is an effective blood sugar-manager, like Metformin, which is often prescribed to women with PCOS and people with Diabetes, alike. It is not a weight loss supplement, but managing insulin has been a key step to help me lose weight and to help even out my blood sugar. I thought low-carb alone would help because I am not obese, but as I struggled to lose weight, I thought I’d better try Berberine. I’m glad I did. This hasn’t been part of the mental health aspect directly, but I wanted to include it because it’s been just as much apart of my holistic approach as anything. Although, in a sense, it helps my mental health because it’s helping me to manage blood sugar and my weight, which definitely affects my well-being and mood. It takes a huge load off you when you’re not worried about losing weight.

Turmeric Curcumin for Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Known for its anti-inflammatory properties, I picked up Turmeric (specifically with Curcumin because it’s the most active compound in Turmeric) because it has been scientifically-proven to have an effect on depression, arthritis, as well as possibly aiding in preventing Alzheimer’s, cancer, and heart disease. This combined with a low-carb diet have both been instrumental in helping my joints. I used to feel like I was in pain from doing very little. I often felt like I was just moving in quick sand. I worried about how working a physically-demanding job in retail was taking a toll on my body. Now, I’m both able to work out effectively, and just make it through my every day life without feeling the creaks and groans of someone twice my age.

Magnesium to Combat Depression Symptoms

Another one proven to help with depression symptoms, as well as muscle weakness, muscle cramps, and fatigue, magnesium is a helpful mineral, one that most of us don’t get enough of. I started taking it as a supplement, but two weeks in, I noticed that I was incredibly tired every day. Not just regular tired from lack of sleep or a long day, but a deep body and mind exhaustion. I knew something was off. In addition to this, my mood seemed to be rapidly declining and leading me down a dark path. I listened to my gut and looked it up; taking more than 350 mg of a magnesium supplement can cause a mild overdose, with symptoms including lethargy and depression (not to mention a feverish feeling and nausea, which I was also experiencing, but I had chalked up to other explanations).

While getting magnesium from diet is recommended, only 350mg is recommended in supplement form. I was taking 500mg of magnesium, not to mention getting it from my multivitamin and protein shake. It just goes to show how some supplements can walk the line between help and harm depending on how we use them. It’s much better to try to get magnesium from foods, like leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, dry beans, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. I have to skip the last two (I eat dairy, but I opt for high fat because they are generally lower in sugar), but I think I’m covered now in other areas. If I ever want to go back to the supplement, I believe I’ll cut my tablet in half because the benefits are too good to pass up.

L-Theanine to Manage Anxiety and Stress

An amino acid from green tea, l-theanine has been proven effective for anxiety, general stress, trouble sleeping, and increased focus and attention span. I take 100 to 200mg with coffee because the relaxed feeling it promotes, while not the same as drowsiness, can make me feel too relaxed. Ironically though, the first time I took l-theanine was at night, and I had some of the worst sleep of my life. It’s like my brain was so focused on being awake or something. I couldn’t shut it down. I do love it for the increased focus and more relaxed feelings I have during a normal work day. L-theanine has been so critical for my mental health, not only in helping me relax and fend off symptoms of anxiety, but in sharpening my cognitive functions.

CBD Oil for Mood

I fell in love with CBD oil over a year ago. It took some research for me to understand what to look for in CBD oil, but it was well worth the effort. Unfortunately, I cannot take it everyday because it’s easy to build up a tolerance. Plus, good CBD oil is expensive, and I don’t want to blow through it super quickly. The biggest effect I noticed when I first took it (and this was before I even started doing diet and supplemental changes) was that it didn’t make me happier, it just made it easier to get out of a bad mood. My mind felt more pliable and receptive to change. It didn’t make me happy or feel “high”, like with its counterpart from marijuana, THC. I found it was simply easier to let things go and change my mood. I still had to put in the work though to get there. I’ve heard plenty of anecdotal evidence that it’s also good for reducing chronic pain/inflammation and helping with sleep. I don’t take this daily because of the tolerance buildup, but it’s good for an extra boost to fight against bad or low mood.

Mental Health Treatment Is a Holistic Approach

Exercise, getting enough sleep, proper nutrition, and continuing my self-treatment plan have all been vital in caring for my physical and mental health. I’m nowhere near fully healed or fully recovered, and maybe I never will be. That’s not my goal. My goal is to feel better for longer amounts of time. To be able to cope with intense, negative emotions. To be able to love myself and see myself as worthy. To increase confidence. To have energy to follow my passions. To be happier where I am, instead of constantly pursuing some goal that makes me think, “okay, now THIS will ultimately make me happy”.

My nutritional plan and supplements have been incredible in changing my life, but I also have learned valuable skills and coping mechanisms through DBT, self-led exercises, journaling, and therapy. It’s a whole puzzle–without one of these pieces, it’s incomplete (also, it’s confusing and frustrating, like a puzzle).

Related post: Exercising When You Have A Mental Illness

I Went to Planet Fitness for the First Time and Didn’t Die

I’ve never been a gym person. I feel like it’s the equivalent of being on display, like an animal at the zoo. But people pay admission to see the animals at the zoo and marvel at their greatness. I pay money to go feel self-conscious and awkward.

I picked Planet Fitness, not because of their completely irrelevant amenities and disappointingly small class options, but because of the price and accessibility. I liked how they marketed themselves as a judgment-free zone. A place for beginners, even. A place you could just go and workout, without the “gym-timidiation”.

Yeah, it was more like Planet Awkward. I felt super self-conscious. Among all the gods and goddesses, who owned real gym bags, probably, I dared to walk–a mere mortal, in cheap leggings and a T-shirt. I didn’t know the rules of the gym or how to use most of the equipment. The front desk associate signed me up for a class on how to use all of it, but that wouldn’t be for two more days.

I felt like a fraud as soon as I pulled into the parking lot. I have always done at-home workouts. I was sure it would be obvious to everyone around me that I was an awkward, yoga-doing weirdo who didn’t belong. Maybe I should have stayed home, I thought. It was clear that this entire environment wasn’t for someone like me, who lives in her own head too much and cares too much what other people think.

I surveyed the scene. It was pretty busy. Without knowing how to build a workout routine, or even what half the machines did, I figured I could handle the treadmill or one of the bikes, at least. Yeah, those would be easy. First, I had to dump my stuff into a locker. They had a few lockers out on the main floor. That would be perfect, I thought. I quickly put my stuff in there, before freezing dead in my tracks and realizing I was wearing jeans. Shit. I had forgotten my leggings were underneath. I regathered my stuff, trying to be casual about what I felt was an embarrassing mistake, and then found the women’s locker room.

I waited to be laughed out of the gym. When that didn’t happen, I decided to try one of the “laid-back bikes”. I call them that because you’re sitting in a chair-type contraption, rather than upright, like on a real, hard-work kind of bike. My first mistake was not knowing I needed to keep my keycard on me at all times, because you use it to login to the machines. I tried for ages to see if I could find my barcode on my online account, thinking I could copy and paste it for the manual entry. No such option existed, nor could I use my online login details instead. So I had to meekly slip off the bike and walk back to the locker room, feeling like the whole world was watching me mess this up. The bikes are in the front row, by the way, so that feeling was magnified.

After what felt like an eternity of figuring out the locker situation and retrieving the keycard to login, I was finally settled on the laid-back bike, ready to do some cardio. I thought they’d be the most chill cardio equipment because you’re practically reclined. Only a few minutes in, my legs were burning though, and I wondered how lame I would be if I got off right then. I didn’t though. I kept at it. Partly motivated by the people around me, that I was absolutely SURE were timing me to see how long I stayed, I kept pushing, even though I had to ramp down the difficulty.

(Also, side note: this was originally written on 2/4/2020–my legs were RIDICULOUSLY sore the next day. I’m talking, like, I couldn’t walk around in the morning. I needed to stretch and take ibuprofen before being able to stand for any period of time without wanting to cry. So, laid-back bike it is NOT.)

This was to say nothing of how awkward it was to hold my phone since there was only one cupholder (used for my water bottle and keys), and I had no pockets. There was no convenient stand or tray on the dashboard, either. It seemed so logical to have one. I ended up holding my phone forever, before eventually just throwing it on the floor, annoyed at my lack of pockets.

To distract myself, I looked ahead at the weight equipment, trying not to stare. All the gorgeous, fit-looking people, who had clearly been born in the weight room, were killing it with their reps and circuits and bunjooles. That last one is a real thing, right? They held a confidence I didn’t know. They seemed at home in the zoo.

It was at that perfect moment that I noticed signs on the back of every other weight machine in front of me. It said, “You Belong!”. The thumbs up logo was shrouded in the Planet Fitness purple and yellow, reassuring me that it meant what it said. I looked over all the signs, how the phrase repeated down the line. You belong! You belong! You belong!

It felt like a slap in the face though. I didn’t belong. They were trying so hard to convince me, but I just didn’t believe it. I don’t exactly know why though. No one was doing anything to me or saying anything to me to make me feel uncomfortable. It was my own self-criticism that was ringing in my ears. All along, I had been my biggest critic. I was the only one speaking negatively about myself and scrutinizing what I did and how I looked. It’s a shame that I’m the one who also has to motivate myself, finish my workouts, push myself to be disciplined, and do my best in spite of this. In spite of myself, I had to succeed.

What is wrong with me?

I let this rhetorical question bounce around my head, while I kept pedaling. No matter how many reasons I come up with, I cannot come up with a solution. I never have, in the 16 years I can remember feeling like this. So the best I could do was just finish my workout…in spite of myself.

Next, I tried the treadmill. I didn’t aim for speed or difficulty. I just wanted to get my heart rate up and get out. If not with my dignity, then at least with somewhat of a decent cardio workout. There were so many people. I had tried to escape the front row of bikes to a less crowded area. Treadmills are very popular though, so it was not possible to escape. I picked one and hopped on, trying my best to pretend I knew what to do. It’s walking, I thought. You can walk.

When I was done, I awkwardly avoided eye contact as I scurried over to the cleaning spray bottle. As I cleaned the machine, then went to put it back, then walked back to get my stuff, feeling my anxiety intensify with each trip, I waited for someone to point out something obvious that I had done wrong or make a sarcastic quip about me. That moment never came. So I retreated to the locker room, after 15 minutes on the laid-back bike and 20 on the treadmill. I didn’t know how to feel, as I changed back to my regular clothes and gathered my things. Physically, I didn’t feel anything yet. But emotionally, I was just glad I survived something scary.

Yes, the gym is scary to me. I’m trying to face more fears and do more things. So this accomplished both. I needed something to push me to workout more, since at-home yoga routines weren’t cutting it. The lack of variety in my workout and the need for more consistent, old-fashioned cardio was also a significant factor. This was the push I needed. It’s felt more like a shove off a cliff, but it’s the first step. They’re always a little rockier.

It’s like being on that treadmill. I know how to walk. So why is it such a hard mental battle? One foot in front of the other. That’s how I’m going to succeed in a new workout regimen. I’ve made some big changes to my diet in the past few months. That didn’t happen overnight or without trial and error. It’s a lot to handle, and taking care of yourself properly feels like a part-time job. But I have survived by taking it one step at a time. One foot in front of the other.

I told a few friends about my first trip and how intimidated and self-conscious I felt. I truly was beginning to think the gym wasn’t for me. All four of them told me they were proud of me. It motivated me to not cancel my membership. The $22/month I’m spending is also motivating me. But I’ve decided it really is worth it to at least keep trying. Like so many things in life–it’s worth it to at least try.

I’m looking forward to the trying. I can see myself learning more about weight-lifting, getting into a routine, and feeling more at-ease as I go. We all start off not knowing. This is just my beginning. I can already tell that having a place to go to for my workout will be better than just doing yoga in the backroom. There’s something about getting ready and going to the gym to workout that makes it feel worthwhile. It’s inspiring knowing I can do more and be more, if I just get ready and go.

And again, that $22/month is really inspirational.

My Personal Kindness Revolution

It’s a cliche at this point to say “the world just needs more love,” or “if everyone were nicer, the world would be a better place”. It’s idealistic, fantastical, even. I stopped believing in being able to change every single person with some worldwide revolution.

But, what if I could change a single person with my own personal revolution? I’m not going to pretend like I’m the nicest person in the world, or the most patient, or the most loving. But, you don’t need to be Mother Teresa to have a compassionate heart or want to do nice things. In fact, it’s simpler than you might think.

Start with the Right Attitude

There are a lot of people out there who are out for themselves. They don’t seem to be concerned at all with how their actions affect others. They might not intend to be disrespectful or rude to others–or maybe they do. They’re selfish, either oblivious or apathetic toward other people’s needs, and seemingly incapable of showing a shred of compassion toward anyone else.

Decide to not be like them.

It would be incredibly easy to succumb to your base desire to treat them the way they treat you. Instead, treat them how YOU want to be treated. It’s the Golden Rule, after all.

You don’t know why they are the way they are, but everyone’s journey is different. Maybe they were never taught how to act because they grew up in a cold and harsh household. Maybe they’re fighting an internal battle, and it affects them outwardly. Maybe they just don’t process the world around them the way others do, and it causes clashes with other personalities.

Whether it’s a good reason or not, resolve to rise above that mentality and treat EVERYONE with kindness. Rise above it, not so you can say you were the “bigger person”, but so you can say you were the kind person. Sometimes that’s what a person needs. Sometimes, that person is you. Showing kindness can benefit you just as much as the recipient.

Re-Define Kindness

What do you think when you think of the word kindness? Does it conjure images of “turning the other cheek”? Speaking softly and meekly? What about being “too nice”? That’s where you’re wrong, buddy. Those things can be associated with kindness, but the official definition is “friendly, generous, and considerate”. You can meet this criteria with any action or deed done for the benefit of another person. You don’t need to be a perky, upbeat person, either. You just have to be yourself. Anyone can show compassion or do a good deed.

Another thing: don’t do it for the gratitude. If your feelings are hurt by someone not showing appreciation, don’t take it personally. Some people have a lot of pride, and it’s difficult to express thanks. Perhaps they just don’t know about the importance of gratitude. You can feel good that you did the right thing, even if the response you get doesn’t make you feel that way.

Related Post: How to Be More Empathetic (And Why You Should Care)

Look for Opportunities of All Sizes

Some “acts of kindness” are viral sensations on social media. They’re branded as a marketable commodity, often to make the brand or influencer seem kinder, gentler, or heroic, even. This isn’t always a mirror for real life, though (and I have my own thoughts on whether this inspires others to do nice things, or if it’s just generating positive good will for the person or company posting it).

Not every act of kindness is a grand gesture. And they’re definitely not all social media-worthy. Opportunities to be good to other people come in big and small packages, some are obvious, while others are not.

For example, I have a friend that is a great creative mind with big ideas, but he struggles to stay organized or know where to start. He’s not big on practicals or logistics, but I am. I help by offering to look things up, show him options or strategies, and help him set plans and make any arrangements. 

Have an anxious friend? You could make appointments or phone calls for them, or accompany them somewhere they’re feeling apprehensive about (a new gym, church, a doctor’s appointment, etc.). The key here is listening for them to say that they’re nervous or anxious about doing something, and then offer to help. Most people with anxiety won’t ask for help with this stuff–probably because it makes them too anxious.

I’ve been on the receiving end of this, too. I talked for nearly two years about changing my eating habits. It felt too difficult, requiring far too much prep work, mental energy, and planning. With the help of internet friends and real-life friends, I received advice, encouragement, and awesome recipes. It felt like an act of kindness for me because I find this stuff stressful and exhausting, so the help meant a lot to me. For someone else though, this might be an easy way to help someone else.

If you’re looking for more simple, easy-to-execute acts of kindness, check out this post from Nyxie’s Nook. It’s a refreshing take on kindness. I love to see content like this.

Can Acts of Kindness Change the World?

I could posit that if everyone followed this ideology that the world would be better off, but as I already pointed out in the opening segment, that’s far too naive and reductive. Of course the world would be better off if everyone instituted this mindset! But that’s not likely to happen.

More realistically, this is about changing the world around you. That’s the people you come in contact with on a daily basis–friends, strangers, acquaintances, enemies. This isn’t a call for the entire world to change, but a pragmatic approach for any person with the will to change the world around them.

You’re not out to affect 7 billion people. Just looking for opportunities right in your own backyard.  

How Gratitude Has Affected My Mental Health

Inspired by Cassie from Upcycled Adulting, I wanted to talk about something that has impacted my life. 

Gratitude, or more specifically, the practice of being grateful has shown positive effects in multiple scientific studies. The correlation is clear: being grateful is linked to increased happiness, overall better mental health, increased empathy, and better physical health.

You could play Devil’s Advocate and say, “well, there are other factors at play here. This doesn’t prove definitively that gratitude makes you happier and blah, blah blah.” And to that I would say, yeah, that’s true. You could say there are other factors that affect these results. But isn’t it just a big ole coincidence then that a bunch of case studies just happen to all include gratitude as a variable? So, I’ll err on the ever-so-cautious side that gratitude = good. 

So, how do you do it? Writing a letter of gratitude to someone, even if you don’t send it, or keeping a gratitude journal are two ways of flexing your gratitude muscle.

I know, barf, right?

When I first heard about the benefits of gratitude, I rolled my eyes and thought it was corny. It seemed contrived and insincere, like going around the table at Thanksgiving and saying what you’re grateful for. I can hear some cliche answer from divorced Aunt Julie, who believes in the healing power of crystals and strongly advises you to get your tarot reading, about being “thankful for my health” or “being here with my family”. It’s not that I don’t feel grateful for things; it’s that it feels phony to point them out or celebrate them. But if that’s easy, then it wouldn’t be any trouble to start practicing it, even if it meant nothing, right?

So I decided to just try it. I added a line in my self-made mood journal that’s for gratitude. I list at least one thing I’m grateful for. 

When I sat down to think about it each day, I realized just how easy it truly was, but not for the reasons I thought. Gratitude isn’t just a feeling. You don’t have to feel this humble sense of reverence and awe at how the fate of the universe cast this burden of good fortune on you, though you’re a wretched and undeserving soul. It can be approached logically and methodically.

I am in relatively good physical health. I don’t have a terminal illness. I have all my limbs. I have an awesome son, who is still here on this Earth with me. I still have both of my parents. Both of my siblings. I have a nice office job, after nearly 10 cumulative years in retail. I make decent money in a low-stress environment where I am afforded the opportunity to learn new things. I have a great boyfriend. I’m working toward things I love, which is so cool and exciting. 

These things vary in significance, but they are the same in that I am grateful for them. Oh, and this feels like a good time to say this: gratitude is not a substitute for negative feelings. No one gets to tell you, “hey, you have so much to be grateful for. Don’t be mad/sad/upset about this other thing.” It’s manipulative, and it trivializes your feelings. However, naming what you’re grateful for does help put things in perspective and allows you to see the forest for the trees, or the silver lining, or the bright side. Pick a trite saying. It doesn’t erase anything bad or negative in your life; it just reminds you of the positive and cultivates warm, fuzzy feelings in response.

Are you really better off this way? YES! Because you can then see through the fog and know you can survive. You may be in a bad place, but you have x, y, and z. Life is about balance (life is about a lot of things, but one of them is balance). Your depression won’t go away from writing down what you’re grateful for–but you can say, “at least I have this” and derive some sense of pleasure or joy from that. It’s a lighthouse in the storm, at least.

I added this single line to my daily journal, and after two weeks, I did see a difference. It could be my overall self-care/mental health routine. It could be I’m listening to what I need more than what I want. And it could be that being more grateful has added to my robust self-care agenda and increased positive feelings in my life. Being grateful for things is more than just not taking them for granted or making sure you know what you have before you lose it. It’s a harbinger of better things to come, of all the good that exists in your life.

I feel like I’m never satisfied. I am always looking at the green grass on the other side. I’m not doing enough. I just struggle to really feel good or satisfied about much in my life. Gratitude allows me to slow down and say, okay, but I do have this thing, and I’m glad about that. It does put things in perspective, so yes, I’d say it works. Plus, with other parts of my self-care/mental health routine, I’m able to feel more content with my life where I am now.

Try it out! Do it as a rote writing exercise. You don’t have to feel anything. You don’t have to focus on achieving a particular effect. Just do it for a week and see what happens. 

Life Lessons I Learned When I Worked in Retail

I used to be pretty promiscuous when it came to keeping a job. I’d jump from job to job, fed-up with the toxic environment, the terrible managers, or crappy pay/hours. Sometimes all three. I’ve been fired from a few, too, but that’s another story.

As a result, I’ve worked nearly 30 jobs in almost 15 years of employment. About 10 of those years have been in retail, where I genuinely had some awesome experiences with both co-workers, customers, and company. I also had some very difficult times, and overall, retail is an exhausting industry with unpredictable schedules, physically-demanding work, disgruntled customers, managers who often don’t care, and little sense of self-worth, much less anyone else seeing your worth.

I can look back now that I’m out and see what I’ve learned. The retail industry has taught me life lessons, both good and bad. Here are some of them:

1. Patience Is a Damn Virtue for a Reason

Only Saints are capable of having true patience–or is it retail workers? I wouldn’t know first-hand. I am not a super patient person. I can’t say that retail taught me to be patient, but it taught me to appreciate the art of patience. I recognize and admire anyone who can treat an insufferable or ridiculous situation with a poker face and a stone will. It’s not for the faint of heart out there. 

2. Good Service Should Be Appreciated

Nothing helps you appreciate those who work in the service industry or retail like having to do it day in and day out yourself for years. This is where my patience actually comes into play. I’m the first one to tell your manager how well you did. Hell, I’ll tell YOU what a great job you did. If something goes wrong, I’m understanding and kind about it. Even if you don’t have the best attitude at all times, I know you’re human and probably having a shitty day. I tip well. I fill out customer surveys. It’s basically made me the perfect customer. At least, I think…

3. You Can’t Change People

Oh, how many times did I have to learn this one. I learned it, but I didn’t like it. Coworker, customer, whatever. They’re all the same because they are P E O P L E. Might as well get used to it. Coworker calls out again and leaves you all alone at 6am until the next person comes in at 10? She doesn’t care! Customer can’t read the signs at customer service or on the back of his receipt and refuses to believe he can’t return his 2-year-old item? Oh, well, get that store credit ready. Another negative customer survey response because too many employees were standing around talking and not helping in busy areas? Tough cookies! They don’t give a flying fugly rat’s behind. And it will keep happening, probably. I have no faith that it will change. That’s retail, baby.

4. Stupid Can’t Be Reasoned With–I’ve Tried it Too Many Times

It damn sure can’t. Maybe I’m the stupid one for continuing to try.

Sure, lady, you bought your Valspar paint here at The Home Depot, not at Lowe’s, where it is their exclusive brand of paint. Yeah, I must be wrong, despite my basic ability to understand simple concepts. Oh, yes, sir, we definitely just stopped carrying this item you swore you saw here two months ago. I must be new or misinformed, but no, not you, oh retail consumer. You must have a photographic memory and not get things confused ever. Ah, of course, ma’am, I am an idiot who can’t do my job because you fail to read signs, abide by company policies, and throw a shit-fit every time something doesn’t go remotely your way. And you’re right, the manager will placate you by giving you everything you want. Damn, I really am the stupid one, aren’t I?

5. The Most Interesting People I’ve Met Work in Retail

I say that in all sincerity, too. It could be my bias since that’s where the majority of my jobs have been, but it’s true. They come from all over the world. They’re of all backgrounds, cultures, personalities, and proclivities. Some you’ll love, some you’ll hate, some you’ll forget, and some you’ll wish you could forget. It opens your eyes to people from all walks of life, which is an enriching, rewarding experience.

Someone post-military trying to get used to civilian life again; someone in their retirement years, looking for something to do with their extra time; someone who used to work in various industries or trades and is just trying to find something stable; someone who’s an artist in their spare time, or an advocate, or a novelist, or a business owner. Or maybe just some swine who can’t clean up after himself, and you wonder how could be so disrespectful of others and so nasty, but you just have to accept that because you can’t change people (see above). 

Overall though, I like the types of people who work retail. There are a lot of rebels, a lot of “get-shit-done” folks, a lot of “play by my own rulebook” kind of people. People who have neat interests and cool stories to tell. People who know how to work hard and play harder. Those who can’t sit still and won’t shut up. They’re good to joke with, confide in, and go to when you’re in a bind. That’s my kind of people.

6. Corporate Sees the Number, Not the Person

I worked at a famous retailer once that wanted our receiving department to cut its hours in half, but still do the same amount of work. The department head asked the District Manager, “how exactly am I supposed to do that?” He looked at him sternly, bordering on indignant that he would be asked such a question. “You increase your productivity,” he said. As if it were obvious. 

That story sums up what it’s like to work under a corporate office that is out of touch with what the job is and how to do it. I’ve seen it in every, single job I’ve worked in retail. Planograms that are not humanly possible to execute with Earth’s current understanding of physics; ridiculous demands for customer reward/credit card signups (and the subsequent threats that come if you don’t meet them); shoving the concept of upselling down our throats and “talking to” those of us who couldn’t meet a certain dollar per transaction amount; writing up people who don’t meet sales goals; cutting labor during peak shopping hours and expecting us to just call for backup (if we’re ALL busy, how can anyone help?).  The insanity goes on and on.

Corporations will always see us as a product, a result that they can achieve. They talk to you in orientation like you’re some valuable asset, but you’re the most dispensable commodity under their reign. I was always at some level of peace with that and kept it in the back of my mind. It was the true reason I could never quite conform enough to be in a real leadership position. I can’t kiss ass. I can’t push policies I don’t believe in. I can’t be a mouthpiece of The Man. I mean, I’ll let him sign my paychecks. But I’m going to stay off the radar and out of the way as much as possible.

I’m Out of Retail Now and Never Going Back…Or Am I?

Misery loves company, and I certainly commiserated with the best of them. Retail had a lot of low points. Exhausted mentally and physically, sometimes I’d stare at the ceiling at night and wonder if I could do it again the next day. I’ve cried at work. More than once. I’ve won conversations in my head with dumb customers or incompetent coworkers that I couldn’t say to their face. Basically, it sucked. Every morning I had to battle with myself to go in–even for the best of companies that I had an overall positive experience with.

It’s certainly a more active and engaging job though. I do miss that. You meet all kinds of people, too, which I mentioned is a perk of the job. Even the bad times came with some great friends and good memories. I have fond memories of many customers, too. It IS possible! It wasn’t all bad. 

I don’t regret my time in retail. It’s hell, sure, but it’s a special kind of hell. I certainly find it fun to laugh about now. And who knows? Maybe I will make a reappearance as a part-timer someday, if I ever needed the extra money.

What are some of your stories from retail or service industry life? Did you learn anything? Or was your only lesson that you’re glad you got out (or wish you could)?

12 Wins in 12 Months: A 2019 Retrospective

Inspired by Lauren’s post at Bournemouth Girl, 8 Things I Have Achieved in 8 Months, I decided to do a little list of my own to say goodbye to 2019 I want to share my accomplishments for myself, to prove that I can conquer my fears and silence inner critics to get what I want out of life. I want to inspire my future self to believe that I can do anything–and here’s proof! I also want to inspire YOU. What have you achieved so far this year? Have you faced any fears? Tried anything new? Crossed something off your bucket list?

I’m not really much into New Years’ Resolutions. I think any day is as good as any to start resolutions and make goals. I understand the appeal of a “fresh” start in a new calendar, but it’s hard to stay motivated on just the seduction of the earth having gone around the sun one more time. It’s a setup designed to fail, and most people do.

Instead, I’m about looking back on the positives of the year and reflecting on what I enjoyed and what I’m proud of as we move into 2020. It’s worth it to re-evaluate your goals, priorities, and progress throughout the year, not just at the end. I do think it’s useful to reminisce, celebrate, and re-calibrate.

So let’s do it.

2019 Accomplishments (in no order)

  1. I moved to another state to support my partner’s quest to finish his degree. It was a giant step to leave my family and friends behind, but this sacrifice will be worth it for both of us.
  2. After being in a total rut, to put it mildly, I moved out of my ex’s apartment, where I was living on the couch, and found a place of my own. This new place was not a great improvement in many ways, but I had a space of my own and that was glorious.
  3. I landed a nice office job, far away from the perils of retail, that suits my skillset and has me working with a good group of people in a laidback atmosphere. Retail served me well for awhile, but it was exhausting, both emotionally and physically. I was poised to make my return there after a month of unemployment following a temp assignment, but got the call just in time. It’s something I’m still grateful for nearly two months later.
  4. I made a commitment to write more this year and learn about the more successful tactics of blogging (thanks largely to Britt at Unapologetically You). Though it’s been difficult for me to maintain, I’ve put forth a lot more effort in at least learning what I can do for my blog and have written far more this year than I ever have.
  5. I learned Excel at an intermediate level in time to ace an assessment for a temp agency. At my current position, I continue to hone my skills in Excel and Word for resume purposes. I’m also building new skills by writing and updating company training manuals.
  6. I’m teaching myself math through Khan Academy. I was never great at math as a kid. Being homeschooled, it was difficult to get the same education that my friends did. I always thought I was bad at math, but I asked myself a few years ago, “Why can’t I learn it?”
  7. I’ve developed a regular yoga practice where I follow online yoga videos. The mental and physical benefits have been awesome. I’m not tracking weight loss or anything like that. I track my physical strength, how flexible I am, how much better I can do a pose. It’s much easier to see and celebrate progress this way!
  8. I’ve handled conflicts better than I ever have in my personal and professional life, leading to better resolutions and less self-guilt afterward. Particularly with my former roommates and co-workers.
  9. I have tackled a low-carb diet to manage my PCOS symptoms better. This has required me to drastically alter my diet and mourn the loss of all my favorite carbs. I’ve also had to implement meal planning and prep, two things I’ve never had the mental or physical energy to do.
  10. I’ve tackled self-care and mental health in a whole new way. It’s an ever-evolving practice with me, and this year, I’ve tried to take it to yet another new level. I’ve treated self-care as something that’s good FOR me, not just something that feels good. I’ve embraced self-esteem work in an effort to capture and denote all the good, positive things in my life worth celebrating. I utilized an online talk therapy option to confront anger issues and insecurities. And I’ve faced a lot of problems in my relationship by just talking about them. Honestly and openly just being real about my feelings, however irrational or crazy they might seem. Revolutionary, I know. Plus, I continue to use mindfulness, since it’s the absolute easiest coping skill to use.
  11. I secured a babysitting job for extra income. Significant because it required me to reach out to a stranger on Facebook in my new town and develop this relationship and sort of “sell myself” for the position. Not only did I pass with flying colors (despite massive nervousness and fears), but the kid in question seems to adore me. It will take up two of my evenings after work, affording me virtually no free time, but I’m proud of myself, and I know the experience will be worth it for my wallet and my overall well-being.
  12. I decided to mend some fences with people in my life. Some of those fences I tore down myself. Others I just perceived to be torn. I’m realizing how easy it is to turn on someone, not knowing their true intentions or understanding why they might not be giving 100%. Not everyone is toxic and shitty. Sometimes it’s you for writing them off too quickly. That’s just my lesson learned.

What does 2020 hold?

I re-evaluate my goals and accomplishments every few months, re-calibrating as necessary. On the whole, I think I had a lot of things to be grateful for and proud of in 2019. But there’s still room for more good things in 2020.

  • I want to get back into volunteer and stay in it (I briefly did a stint at an animal shelter in early 2019). I’m discussing a really special opportunity with an organization that I’m really excited about! Volunteering has so many good benefits; it’s a great way to enrich your life and someone else’s. In my case, I’m going to use it as a way to strengthen skills and get experience in a field I’ve been missing out on. Fingers crossed!
  • I’m narrowing down my passion focuses. All my interests and hobbies can fill a page or two, but I’ve found that by focusing on everything, I have not accomplished anything. I’ve done things here and there, as the mood strikes me. But I have nothing to show for that. I’m going to buckle down and focus on one or two things at a time before moving onto the next thing.
  • I’m going to get out there more. I want to do things that push me to the edge of my comfort zone. I want to make new friends, do cool things, and just enjoy life. Attending a real-life yoga class has been on my mind since I’ve moved, so I think that’s my first stop. I’d also like to go on more outdoor adventures and maybe even join a special interests group for writing or photography.
  • Continued focus on mental health and self-improvement. This is super general, but everything is affected by mental health and a complacent attitude. I want to keep my mental health in a good spot. It’s not a one-time fix. You have to keep devoting time and attention to it. Same with self-improvement. If I’m going to stay disciplined and productive, I’m going to need the appropriate skills.

Let’s go, 2020! What accomplishments are you proud of from 2019? What are you eyeing in 2020?

Tips for Borderline Personality Disorder That You Can Use Right Now

Borderline Personality Disorder can be a nightmare, if you have it. If you love someone who has it, you might be baffled at the way they see the world and experience emotions. We don’t even have a sleeve on which to wear our emotions–we’re that emotionally thin-skinned. To put it bluntly, it sucks. The smallest offense can hurt us. A perceived threat will send us into a meltdown. We have volatile relationships. Intense friendships. Skewed perspectives of the world.

At the same time, we love deeply. We are passionate people. We are empathetic, by nature, and compassionate to a fault. We will go to the ends of the earth for you. We are not unfeeling monsters–it’s quite the opposite. We feel too much. We feel everything.

BPD is believed to be borne out of childhood trauma or neglect, though there is a hereditary component as well. Though it isn’t our fault that we see the world this way and have strong reactions to it, it is our responsibility to try to find better coping mechanisms and create a safe world for ourselves. But how do we do that?

As a long-time sufferer of Borderline Personality Disorder, I’ve searched for answers and treatments that work, especially for those of us who are financially indisposed or maybe need extra help outside of therapy. These quick-start tips are what’s been proven to help. I have science on my side for these techniques.

Here’s a quick and dirty guide of 10 things you can do right now to help with BPD.

Recognize Cognitive Distortions (AKa Thinking Traps)

Thinking traps are unbalanced, skewed, or fallacious ways in which we see the world. They’re so pervasive and ingrained in our thought process that they’ve become automatic. They can be tricky to identify, much less fix. But the first step is to notice them. This excellent PDF shows some of the most common thinking traps. Familiarize yourself with them and see if you can identify examples from your life where you fall into thinking traps.

Learn Basic Mindfulness SKILLS

DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) was originally developed for people with Borderline Personality Disorder. It’s considered the most comprehensive and overall most effective treatment for BPD. It can be intensive and lengthy though and is best done with a therapist. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get started on your own.

The number one best skill to learn from DBT is mindfulness. It’s arguably the easiest to practice and integrate into everyday life! It’s essentially the practice of being in the moment. It’s not meditation. Mindfulness can be practiced while you wash dishes or fold clothes or take a shower. It teaches you to be present, so when difficult situations arise, you can feel and acknowledge your emotions without judgment.

This is a great start-up guide for practicing mindfulness.

Practice thinking about the worst case scenario *

This one is purely anecdotal, but it’s based in exposure therapy. People with Borderline Personality Disorder often face intrusive thoughts and massive anxiety about perceived threats of abandonment or not being good enough. These thoughts manifest as the absolute worst-case scenario and are rarely based in any fact. Distraction is generally the first step, but when it doesn’t work? I say to just embrace the chaos. Why not? Exposing your mind to all the negative possibilities, instead of pushing them away, can help you realize that your thoughts and feelings will not kill you. They may be very uncomfortable, unpleasant, or overwhelming, but feelings are not forever. They cannot hurt you on their own.

Think about the worst case scenario. Let yourself picture it all, every terrible possibility. Use the mindfulness skills you’ve learned to guide you to acknowledge the feelings that are coming up. How is your body responding? React internally. Feel the feelings that you’d feel if it really happened. You can experience the negative scenario without any repercussions this way. I’ve found that these scenarios are never based in any sort of reality, and “feeling” the worst case scenario seems to re-calibrate my brain. I’m able to acknowledge it in this way and can let it go much easier.

*If you’re in danger of lashing out against someone or yourself, I would not advise using this practice.

Practice describing your emotions and Identifying how your body responds to them

The first step in regulating your emotions with BPD is to recognize what you’re feeling. After all, when we have a blow up, or lash out, hurting someone else or ourselves, we do it for a reason. The reason may not be obvious to us, but it’s there. We do it because of intense emotions that we do not know how to cope with properly.

Identify what you’re feeling and notice how it makes your body feel. Tense? Knot in your stomach? Clenched jaw? Racing heart? Those are some examples of what to look for. Use your mindfulness skills to observe your body’s reactions. Don’t make any judgments (“I shouldn’t feel this way”) or take any action. Just observe. Try to find the root of your emotion and what’s causing it. Name it. Don’t avoid it, or tell yourself that you should be happy or that it’s not a big deal. You’re feeling it and it’s manifesting viscerally, so it’s a big deal.

Here is a great page for tips and exercises on describing emotions.
Here is an awesome beginner’s guide to a Body Scan Meditation, which can help you identify how your body is responding.

Make a list of things that comfort you and things that give you pleasure

Comfort and pleasure may overlap in some ways, but they’re fundamentally different. One is to soothe and calm, the way a warm blanket or a warm cup of coffee can. Things that give you pleasure or joy may be more stimulating or actively enjoyable, like playing video games or working on a new skill you’re learning. Of course, there is that overlap I mentioned. Reading a book might fall into both categories, for example. A list like this is handy when you need to distract or soothe yourself from intense emotions or difficult situations. If you make this list in a neutral state of mind, it will be much easier than trying to figure out what to do when you’re paralyzed by a Borderline episode.

The Road ahead for borderline personality disorder

These five tips have been integral to my success in coping with my BPD symptoms. I’ve been to therapy, I’ve done workbooks, and I know I have several root issues, like low self-esteem and lack of self-compassion, that I am also addressing. These techniques have been lifesavers though. They’re the core to my every day BPD treatment, along with journaling and workbooking.

Do you have a quick and easy tip for emotional regulation?

Exercising When You Have a Mental Illness

For the past month and a half, I’ve been practicing yoga regularly for the first time in years. I’m talking at least 4 times a week, sometimes up to 6 times. I haven’t done yoga with any regularity since 2013 or 2014, so you can see why this is huge for me.

It’s also a big deal because of my struggles with mental illness. When things are bad, they affect all areas of my life. Certain symptoms really factor into my lack of exercising–depression, low energy, feeling burnt out, obsessing over perfectionism, low self-esteem, lacking mental clarity, or feeling numb. It’s hard to want to do anything when you feel like this, much less a physically strenuous activity.

It feels like fighting a mental illness is a workout of its own.

Exercise has so many benefits, physically and mentally. That’s why I wanted to find a loophole for my bad mental health days (or years) and find a way to get back into it. Don’t do it because it’s a substitute for medication though; do it because it’s a supplement to an overall treatment plan.

Here are my tips for getting into exercise–and making it stick–despite your mental illness:

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your muscles

In other words: take it one day at a time. Don’t worry about any other workout except the one you’re about to do today.

In the past few years, I’ve self-destructed quite majorly when starting an exercise routine. One of the biggest obstacles was thinking of the end goal too much. It psyched me out. I would think of how many days I needed to go to see results. I obsessed over my progress and if I was doing too little, or if I needed to push myself more.

I felt like I was standing at the bottom of a huge mountain that I couldn’t see the top of. All I could think of was how painful and tedious the journey would be. I didn’t stop to think about how beautiful each step could be.

It’s ironic how we want so badly to be this ideal version of ourselves, but we don’t want to put in the work to get there.

I’ve been back into yoga for the past 6 weeks or so. It isn’t much in the grand scheme of things–but it’s more than zero. One day will feel so small if you compare it to a year. So don’t compare it to year. Let your goal be this: doing more than zero days. And do that every day.

Except…

Don’t Self-Destruct if You Miss a Day

I’m guilty of this. If I screw something up, I want to quit. I think it’s pointless to continue with exercise or healthy eating if I have one or two bad days. But it’s going to happen! You’ll get sick, you’ll have something big come up that takes up your free time, you’ll be tired and skip a day just because.

And that’s okay!

Skipping a few days of workouts won’t undo your progress. Forgive yourself. Show yourself kindness. Think of how you’d treat someone else who felt bad about missing a few days in a row. Guilt eats us up and destroys the good things we’ve built. Don’t give it the satisfaction.

It’s Substance Over Style, Not the Other Way Around

I don’t have a yoga mat, or those fancy yoga blocks. I wear pajama bottoms and a t-shirt, sometimes an old tank top. I don’t look the part of the glamorous yoga teachers that I follow online. Typically, I’d let something like that set me back. I don’t have the proper equipment, gear, setup, or workout space.

I let the pursuit of perfection destroy me, but not this time. I decided I wasn’t going to let lame excuses like not having the right leggings derail me. The main reason I keep going back to yoga, besides the fact that it’s kind to my joints and is a versatile workout, is that it requires nothing! Yeah, they all have mats and a real yoga class will have mats, but you don’t actually need one to follow along.

Don’t let lack of gym membership, weights, or “proper clothing” stop you. There’s a workout for whatever you have (or don’t)!

Focus on a Being Stronger or More Flexible, NOT Losing Weight

Another discouraging thing that’s kept me away from regular exercise for the past four years is how damn hard it is to lose weight. I was usually into the idea of exercise because I didn’t like the way I looked and I wanted to lose weight.

This discourages me because of what I mentioned in the first entry about how far I have to go and how long it takes to see progress.

This time around, I take it one day at a time, but I also stopped making weight loss my goal. I told myself I wanted to be stronger, maybe more toned, and more flexible. I wanted other benefits of working out, like the rush of endorphins, better heart health, and better sleep. I wanted an improved mental health and an overall healthier body, inside and out.

Once I took the focus off weight loss, measuring progress became easier because I wasn’t comparing numbers on a scale or my waist line.

I notice when I’m in a particular yoga flow if I feel a little more fluid in my movements, or if I can hold a pose for longer, or if I can balance myself better. You can measure your improvements in a more precise way than if you were to monitor weight loss. It happens so much faster, too! I seriously saw results like this in a week of yoga routines. It’s super empowering, and encourages me to keep going.

More on the mental health side of things

You’re going to have your bad days. Mental cloudiness, feeling a heaviness in your spirit, or just straight up depressed. It’ll feel like it won’t matter to do exercise. It’ll feel like nothing matters. You’ll need to just get by with the bare minimum of surviving and start over tomorrow.

Take those days, or weeks, when you need them. You’re not going to overpower the actual chemicals in your brain because you do an excellent Warrior II now.

Self-care is such a buzzword at this point that it’s practically meaningless, but it means to take care of yourself. If you need to not work out to take care of yourself, do it.

I encourage you not to give up though. What I’ve learned about my feelings and when I don’t want to do something is that I can’t always be trusted! Feelings aren’t facts. They’re valid, and they can tell us important things, but they don’t last forever and it doesn’t always signal the end of the world. I’ve learned the hard way that I don’t always know what’s best for me. I trust the science and the benefits behind working out though. I know I feel better when I do it. So if it’s just a regular, crappy day where I want to wallow in negativity or just laze around, yeah, I push myself to do yoga! And I feel better because of it, at least physically.

There’s a balance here. Life is about balance. Yoga, in part, is about balance.

I’m not going to push myself on a super bad mental health day just because I think yoga will cure me. At some point, it will become counter-productive and there will be better things you can do to take care of your mental health.

I’ve learned how to tell the difference, and thus, how to know when to push myself and when to surrender.

Learn to listen to yourself enough to know when you need to ignore yourself.