10 lessons I've learned in therapy that have improved my mental health
To kick off Mental Health Awareness Month, I wanted to share my journey with therapy & how it's changed my life!
It wasn't until my early 20's in college / post-grad that I realized how many people struggle with their mental health. At this point, I had never experienced any anxiety, depression, etc., but a few months after starting my first corporate job in 2017, I knew something wasn't right. On my daily commute to work, I would feel like I couldn't breathe. Between the shortness of breath, my heart racing, & having a constant feeling like I got the wind knocked out of me, I finally realized I was experiencing full-blown anxiety attacks that had stemmed from my work.
Fast forward to January 2020, I decided to make a new year's goal to "improve my quality of life". I wasn't struggling with anything per se, but I just felt like maybe learning & understanding more about myself would help me to be the best version of Liz!
So, I started therapy in January 2020 & 2 months later the pandemic hit...I was so grateful to have established a brief relationship with a therapist before quarantine as that year was very difficult for everyone. I've now been seeing my same therapist via telehealth for over 3 years & it has truly been the best decision of my life.
Here are 10 lessons I've learned in therapy:
Comparison Is The Thief Of Joy
Everyone is on their own timeline (especially in your 20s & 30s). You cannot compare yours to anyone else! Trust your own timing & don't get wrapped up in where you "think" you should be. Embrace the present & the NOW!
2. Practice Gratitude
Practicing gratitude will change your outlook & perspective on each day. When you implement daily gratitude into your daily routine & take time to appreciate the good things in your life, your focus shifts to a more positive mindset.
Gratitude is strongly & consistently associated with greater happiness & helps to improve your health, deal with adversity, & build strong relationships.
3. You Can't Control The Future
For those who are future-oriented or constantly worry about the future: tell yourself, "my future self will handle this"
The "What If" questions can lead to spiraling & be so toxic, so it's best to nip those thoughts in the bud as soon as possible!
The Serenity Prayer always helps me: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
4. Show Yourself More Love
It might sound obvious, but it is a very important reminder. Don't forget to be compassionate & patient with yourself.
How you talk to yourself matters. Your self-talk can impact how you respond to stressors and events in your life. When you learn to communicate positively with yourself, you'll start to become more confident and motivated. Your outlook on life, and on yourself will be better.
Listen to your mind & body to take care of yourself always, especially when you need a little extra TLC!
5. Box Breathing
Remember to use box breathing as a resource when you are short of breath, in a stressful moment / situation, having an anxiety attack, etc.
Putting your head in a bucket of ice is another tip for anyone who might be experiencing a panic attack, anxiety, etc.
6. Stop Striving for Perfection
Nothing & no one is perfect. This has been very trying for me in my own life including my work, my relationships, etc. & while it has been uncomfortable letting go of striving for "perfection", it really is not a way to live your life. Perfectionism can also be linked to anxiety, OCD, & other mental health disorders.
7. Being Introspective / Having Self-Awareness Is Powerful
One of my greatest takeaways from therapy has been how incredibly in-tune I now am with myself. I feel like over the years, I have gotten to know myself very well -- I am aware of how I handle situations & why, my reactions, my emotions, & how all of this impacts relationships, work, etc.
Introspection gives you access to understanding yourself, self-reflection lets you process what you learn, and insights are the answers you come up with and that you can act upon. Through self-awareness, you become less likely to veer off track when difficult emotions surface.
One of the biggest things I've struggled with is acceptance. Accepting the things I cannot change, letting go & moving on, and having an "it is what it is" mentality.
Through work with my therapist, I have grown so much in this area. Acceptance involves opening up and allowing the emotions to be rather than fighting, resisting, running from, or getting overwhelmed by them.
9. "Pill Shaming" Is a Bullshit Stigma
For about a year I disregarded my therapist when she suggested I talk to a psychiatrist about possibly trying medication after finally getting diagnosed with OCD (something I probably had my entire life). I felt that being on "meds" for mental health issues was shameful. Turns out, this medication has completely changed my life.
I had been struggling with intrusive, future-oriented, uncontrollable, recurring thoughts that were impacting my day-to-day life. This cognitive side of OCD was leading to anxiety & unnecessary stress in my life. Once I was prescribed Fluvoxamine Maleate, I've never looked back! Going on medication to help with this was the best decision I've ever made & I am not ashamed of it one bit!
Therapy helps individuals by providing personal education & a better understanding of their thought processes, behaviors, personality types, & more.
Because of this, therapy helps to empower you to look inward, learn more about the "why", develop coping strategies to help manage stress & anxiety, & give an unbiased opinion when navigating change or difficult situations. Having all of this is so POWERFUL & so important.
Mental health & suicide awareness are so important to me. As an advocate, I try to be as vulnerable and open as possible in an effort to break the stigma and share my resources with others.
Below are some mental health & suicide resources:
988 - suicide hotline
Psychology Today - find a therapist for you (you can filter by so many things, it's amazing!)
We Met At ACME - therapist "referral" board
AFSP - American Foundation For Suicide Prevention
DylanStrong - a foundation that is very close to Vinnie & I's hearts as we lost his best friend Dylan in 2017. Please consider reading his story and / or donating to this amazing cause.
I hope that we as a society can continue to have more open conversations that increase awareness, break the stigma, & save more lives!