How I Learned to Make (Mentally) Healthy Choices

Making good choices is tough. Making ones that are also mentally healthy can be even more difficult. Here's some things I have learned about living (mentally) healthy.

(Image via @frizzkidart)

Mostly learning from messing up.

A lot of mistakes can impact your mental health, especially if you’re a perfectionist. And as college students, there can be a lot of pressure to make the grade, get the internship, maintain a GPA, have the “best four years of your life,” and ultimately get a good job. And any time we don’t do that, it can feel like the biggest mess you’ve ever been in.

We can’t learn anything without making mistakes. I’ve made a lot, and I am still making them. The biggest thing you can do for yourself is accept that. Know that you are going to mess something up, because it’s one of the most freeing things you can do for yourself. Then, remember that you can learn from your mistake.

By recognizing what was a mistake.

Not every choice is like touching a hot stove. You won’t learn from every mistake right away. It can take any number of times to recognize when you’re caught in an unhealthy loop.

One of my biggest problems is taking on too much at once. I tend to think that I do better when I’m busier. I also get burned out pretty quickly.

Learning how much I can manage at once has taken a long time. I’m still not sure I’ve really mastered this. But I do know what is too much, and I think I know what is too little.  

By figuring out what I could have done to change something.

Once you know you’ve made a mistake, ask how you could have stopped it from happening.  Take those answers, and use them. You might need to turn them into new questions when looking at

When I was over-involved, I could have prevented myself from making a mistake by realizing how much time it would take. Asking myself how much time something would take, and how losing that time would impact me were the questions I should have been asking myself. Those are the questions that I’ll be asking myself in the future.

Talking it out and getting help.

The most mentally healthy choice you can make is reaching out to anyone. I’ve found that talking to multiple someones can be the best way to go. A text saying “are you busy?” isn’t enough though. Make sure to tell people that you aren’t doing well and just need someone. Otherwise they won’t know why you need them, and you might end up feeling angry at them when you probably shouldn’t be.

Sometimes the person you really want to talk to isn’t available, so reaching out to more than one person can make all the difference. Friends, parents, relatives, professors, and counselors are all good people to talk to. Running an issue past anyone can give you a perspective you hadn’t thought of. It can take all of these people to help you figure out what you should do.

For the small things, and if no one’s around, there's a piece of advice a professor gave me. She told me that I should ask myself what I would tell a friend to do if they were in the same situation I was in. What would you tell the blonde (or brunette, or redhead) version of yourself? What would you tell your best friend?

For the big stuff, though, problems I couldn’t solve myself, I went to parents, and eventually counseling. There are some things that we can’t (and shouldn’t) expect our friends to be able to fix. I have seen four different counsellors over the past six years, and it has made a huge difference. It didn’t always help, or I didn’t notice a change right away, but some of that was because of something I could fix.

Being honest.

Do this both with the people around you, and with yourself. One of the biggest reasons I have had trouble getting help or not learning from my mistakes is by lying to myself and the people around me.

I didn’t tell people what was going on with me, or even that something was wrong. Telling people wasn’t possible. It took a lot of guts for me to tell my parents and friends that I was depressed. But it only got easier once I started.

When I first went to counselling, I wasn’t really honest with my counsellor. I didn’t tell her all of the reasons why I wanted help, and just focused on what seemed like “real” reasons to go to counselling. And it didn’t work. It didn’t help me because I wasn’t honest about it.

Using words is so important. You have to explicitly state what you’re struggling with for people to get it. No one is a mind reader. They won’t get it unless you tell them. If you don’t feel like you have the right words for it, think of a few things that come close to what it is you’re feeling and tell them that. Anything that gets people close to what you’re feeling is going to help someone help you.

Once when I couldn’t describe everything I was feeling, I was given a big piece of paper and some Sharpies and was told to draw what I was feeling. Of course, then I didn’t really have an image for it. I made a mind map of my stressors. I worked on it for about ten minutes, and after that my counselor was able to help me better because I had managed to tell her everything that was bothering me.

Keep learning.

Seriously, I think the most important thing in life is to learn. We will make mistakes and we will learn from them. And I don’t mean the kind of ‘learning’ that so often takes place in school. I mean finding things out, exploring, taking risks, making mistakes and failing.

It doesn’t have to be a big risk. Little things count. Challenge yourself.