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Are you Obsessive?
If you’re an Internet entrepeneur, reseller, freelancer, or writer, then there’s a good chance that you’re obsessive and ruthlessly self-critical.
I’m the same way. I thought I would lose my determination and work ethic if I let myself slack off for one second. Needless to say, this state of mind undermined my mental health for most of my life.
After being consumed by depression and OCD for so long, I needed to nurture a healthier mindset.
Practicing self-compassion has been the most significant piece of the puzzle in improving my mental health. I’ve done this mainly through meditation, but you don’t need to meditate to increase your capacity for self-compassion.
I’m still a beginner with compassion, but the main way I practice in everyday life is when I notice I’m ruminating or feeling anxious, I pause, notice the tension in my body and let it go, and ‘relax’ my mind by detaching from the internal story.
Then I focus on my breath and the sensation of my lower abdomen rising and falling right below my belly-button.
3 Ways to Stay Mentally Healthy
Nurturing ourselves with self-compassion is the most significant mindset shift we can make.
But, self-compassion is just one piece of staying mentally healthy. Here are a few more things I do on a regular basis so my neuroses don’t consume me.
1. Eat (Clean) Protein
Eating more protein is a good way to lessen depression (see the book The Diet Cure).
Our neurotransmitters are made from protein, so without adequate amounts you might be low in dopamine or serotonin, which will make your mood worse.
Protein doesn’t just mean meat. I eat meat a few times a week, but also eat a ton of eggs, beans, and use vegan protein powder.
I was a wrestler for 10 years, so I’ve always been in shape. But after a hernia surgery 2 years ago, I stopped exercising hard.
Then, 6 months ago, I read Spark. It’s about how physical exercise helps improve mental health by reducing depression and anxiety, improving your mood, and balancing hormones and neurotransmitters. This book was written by a neurologist, so he explains the underlying science in an understandable way.
This book motivated me get back into aerobic exercise and bodyweight training. Learning the underlying science of exercise and mental health gave me hope that I could feel better.
If you’re like me and live in a small apartment, then fret not. You can get a good exercise with just a detachable pull-up and pushup bar.
I like being alone. But when I spend too much time alone I drive myself crazy. There’s a reason that solitary confinement is a punishment used in jail- we need other human beings for our sanity.
But, if you’re like me and deal with a lot of anxiety, then socializing can seem like more effort than it’s worth.
That’s why it’s good to join an existing group like a volunteer group, improv class, or fitness class. This way you can easily meet people who are also there to focus on an activity. Because there’s an activity, most of your attention will be on that and not on your ruthlessly self-critical monologue.
Meetup is a free site that you can use to find groups in your town/city. They have groups for everything- from salsa dancing, to cooking, to Live Action Roll Play.
Today I was feeling really moody and irritable. I went to the library to publish a story on Kindle, but I wasn’t being productive. A portion of my mind was ruminating a lot about past failures, and how I’m still single.
So I forced myself to go to the gym and went on the stairmaster for 30 minutes.
I also got some writing done while using the stairmaster, which motivated me more. Then I ate some beans and lentils, and hung out (smoked pot) with a with a friend.
My mood has done a complete 180 from just a few hours ago.
Don’t underestimate the power of protein, exercise, and socializing.
My mental health is a work in progress, and my mood still slips (like earlier today), but cultivating compassion for myself has softened the emotional pain of a negative mood.
And, just like my mental health, my productivity has been rising steadily over the past couple years.
I think this is because a more positive vision of the future inspires me to work harder, and because being easier on myself saves a lot of mental energy that I can redirect to my projects.
Here are a few good books about self-compassion that have helped me realize that it’s ok to be kind and caring towards myself.
Self-Compassion by Kristen Neff PhD.
This popular book is written by a clinical psychologist and researcher. She presents the concept of self-compassion in a very straight-forward way, without any new age nonsense.
Compassion and Self-Hate by Dr. Theodore Rubin MD.
Our competitive culture can breed self hate. A lot of self loathing starts in childhood and then becomes a habit, and can lead to problems like anxiety, depression, suicide and drug abuse.
This book was written by a psychiatrist who struggled with depression himself. His ideas on overcoming self-hate helped me through some dark times.
How to meditate by Pema Chodron
Pema Chodron is a popular Buddhist teacher in the Tibetan Shambhala Tradition.
Chodron is American. So she understands that meditation is still a foreign thing in our culture, and gives very clear and actionable meditation advice throughout the book.