anxiety, mental health, Mental Illness Awareness Month, Mindfulness

11 Mantras Everyone With a Mental Illness Needs to Hear

Having a mental illness – or even just going through a rough time – can be the most isolating thing on the planet. It is like you are in a downwards spiral, and have no way out of it.

With that being said, it’s hard to think that there will be an end to the suffering and the pain that you are dealing with. So, I’ve decided to provide a list of mantras for those who are going through a mental illness or a rough time to serve as reminders that you truly can get through it.

  1. I am worth it.
  2. I can beat this.
  3. I am worthy of love.
  4. I am strong.
  5. I am beautiful.
  6. Everything is going to be okay.
  7. I am loved.
  8. It is okay not to be okay.
  9. I am going to get through this.
  10. My best is good enough.
  11. I am good enough.

The Importance of Enjoying Life

Recently, I read the book Home to Italy by Peter Pezzelli. As I was reading it, it got me thinking about something.

From what the book said, life seemed completely different then it is in the U.S. Every afternoon, the entire town shuts down for a while to rest and eat lunch. Here in America, some don’t even take their 30 minutes for lunch.

Which one of us has it right?

Here in Connecticut, we’ve had some unbelievable weather with the sun finally sticking its head out of the clouds, and temperatures souring into the 80s. I began to develop a severe case of spring fever. Therefore, I flocked to every local park to enjoy every blissful ray of sunshine that I could.

Wharton Brook State Park in North Haven, Conn. — what a lovely lake!

During one of my walks, I realized something. For about three years, I was completely engrossed in two things – work and school. Those two things took over my life, and resulted in a completely stressed out college student. I never did anything for the fun of it. I did things to add onto my resume.

As I head into this new phase in my life – where I would be essentially figuring out my next place in this world – I want to spend every second I can enjoying the beauty that life allows us to. I mentioned this earlier on, when I wrote the post The Little Things. But, why can’t we incorporate those mindsets in our daily lives?

I think we need to take a page in Italy’s book. Life is too short to live in a cycle that consists of work and education. There is so much true beauty in the world, beauty that can be overlooked. By doing this, it will help us become happier beings, and more holistic beings. This in turn will keep us from burning out.

How can we do it?

Start by taking breaks. Take your lunch break, and if it’s nice out, spend sometime outside. Schedule time where you do something fun. Rest when your body tells you to. Schedule a vacation so that you can decompress.

And last but not least – balance. Balance, my friends is the key to life.


The Little Things

This past weekend had some of the nicest weather that we’ve seen in a while. I’m talking about the sun finally coming out of hibernation, and for the first time, it truly felt like spring.

While I was sipping on my Starbucks Pink Drink (for those of you who want to know what exactly the pink drink contains, it’s basically a Strawberry refresher with coconut milk – I highly recommend), I began to think about something. Some call this stopping and smelling the roses.

There are only x amount of nice weather days a year. There are only about 180 days of spring and summer weather – days where the sun emerges for the first time and you can go outside without having to wearing a parka and gloves. With that being said, we must take advantage of every day where the sun is shining and the weather is above 60 degrees. Because, these seasons only are allotted this amount of time. Therefore, you can’t take it fore granted.

A picture I’ve taken while taking a walk through East Rock Park — a great way to enjoy the warm spring weather! 
That same thing applies to life. How often do we think about the bigger picture, practically worrying about something ending or going wrong, or about something that we don’t know if we have a cause to worry about? How often do we do that, and then forget to enjoy the little moments of everything? The sweet taste of the Starbucks latte that you are enjoying, the taste of the lips of the person that you’re kissing, or the sunshine on a wonderful spring day. Those are the moments that you often lose sight of, because you are worrying about your finals, not finding a job, or the relationship ending.

It’s safe to say that my Starbucks drink had come with a side of insight.

So, on this wonderful Monday (yes, an oxymoron, but Mondays could in fact be wonderful), I challenge you to enjoy every sip of your morning coffee. I encourage you to take a moment and enjoy the rays of the spring season. I encourage you to think about the day, and not about the future. I encourage you to think about the date you’re having, and not worrying whether or not the relationship will last. I myself am guilty of some of these things, but I am going to do my best to make sure that I enjoy the little delights of life. And, perhaps, this will translate to the larger areas of my life, which in turn allows me to be present for today.


The Art of Being Present

Last week, I visited my college campus to pick up my diploma (long story, but my original one was damaged in the mail). And, it got me thinking.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my time at Southern. When I was in college all I could think was oh, how I can’t wait to graduate. I pictured my post grad life to be heavenly: I would be working only one job, as opposed to three, where I would be making a decent amount of money. No classes, no online internships, no many part time jobs. And it will be great.

Oh, how I was wrong. For the past few months, all I craved was a chance to go onto my campus and do college all over again. I missed it all. I missed knowing what to do, and what my role as a student was. I miss meeting friends, and hanging out with them. I miss taking classes, believe it or not, especially with those who shared the same passions for English and journalism that I had.

A year ago, if I had told you that I would miss college, then I would have thought that you were off your rocker.

Upon reflecting on this, I realized something. In both instances, I am not present. When I was in college, all I wanted to do was graduate. Now that I am in college, all I want to do is go buy a super expensive textbook. And, while I am wishing that I was somewhere else in time, I am not enjoying the cheap thrills of today.

With that, I am realizing something. I am not happy looking ahead or behind. I am ignoring the simple thrills of today, and am not savoring the sweetness of everyday life.

One of my goals is to be more present. You hear that everywhere — in self help books, or in any article about anxiety. But, what does that mean? 

I don’t know what the Webster definition of it is, but I’ll tell you mine. For me being present consists of enjoying the daily luxuries, such as great lattes, taking advantage of the sun’s rays when it’s nice outside, and cuddle sessions with my dog.

By enjoying the little things and savoring them, I think it’s one of the ingredients in the recipe for happiness. After all, anxiety occurs when you are looking too far ahead into the future, and depression occurs when you are living solely in the past. Therefore, by living in the present, by being present, one can somehow be on the road to happiness.


Stress And The Importance Of Taking Care of Yourself

For about two weeks, I had felt completely and utterly awful. My body ached, I was in so much pain that I could barely sit in a position that was not vertical, and my head hurt – to only name a few of my symptoms. It became so bad that I actually needed to take a day off of work to find refuge in my bed. The cause of this experience? Stress.

In the past few months, it’s an understatement when I say that I have experienced my fair share of stress. I started a new job. I switched gears from being a full-time student, to being a full-time career gal. Needless to say, with all of that stress building up in my system, it finally caught up with my body.

On that day, I decided to take some time to reflect and brainstorm some ideas on how to manage stress, the healthy way so I don’t end up in bed again. You see, up until that point, I definitely was not doing that – I used shopping as a coping mechanism, constantly was under distress, venting to all of my friends, and I just wasn’t taking care of myself, both mentally and physically.

Not good, Natalie.

So, before I could do any further damage to my body – my doctor said that stress can kill you – I took out my journal and decided to write a list of healthy things I can do to help manage stress:

  1. Actually take my lunch breaks.
  2. Drink more water.
  3. Drink less coffee/caffeine.
  4. Exercise daily.
  5. Journal/blog often (aka write more personally, rather than for work).
  6. Go hiking (weather permitting) once a week.
  7. Paint my nails as often as possible.
  8. Use my planner to track what I’m doing.
  9. Plan one to two social outings per week.
  10. Take time to do things that make me happy – reading, crafts, or even doing absolutely nothing!

Taking the time to enjoy views like this can definitely help reduce stress! 
Having that list (and writing it) made me realize that while I am powerless to protect myself from all of the stressors that life throws at me, I still have the power to stop it.

Someone recently told me that when something stresses you out or causes you anxiety, it is because it’s important to you and is something that you are afraid to lose. That served as a reminder whenever I feel anxious or stressed out about the real source of my anxiety, and is something I hope that you all out there find comfort in as well when you assess what’s truly bothering you. 



Snow Days and Self Care

My alarm woke me up at exactly 6:15 a.m. – the time I usually get up. With the expected snowstorm, I reached for my phone and called my company’s weather line.

Work was cancelled. Yippee!

As much as I love my job, the prospect of a snow day was just enough to send my half awake self into happy dance mode.

Books and a cup of coffee — perfect snow day activity! 

One of my former professors said that snow days were like a gift from God. I agree with her, because snow days are just days that you can wear your comfy socks, sip something hot, and spend it doing whatever you want. You can read a book, you can catch up some work, or bake some cookies – all of that fun stuff to relax.

But, other than relaxing, doesn’t that sound like something else?

Wait, for it. I know you can think of it.

Doesn’t it sound like self care? Why yes it does!

In therapy, I learned a lot about the concept of self care. To me, self-care is doing something nice for yourself that makes you happy. This spans further than just taking a bubble bath (although, those are kind of fun!). This is taking the time to step away from your work, doing something that’s fun for you, and tending to your needs.

Kind of like the activities that you do on a snow day.

While the snow is pretty to look at, it also can prompt relaxation. 

So, I guess in a sense, snow days are like God’s little ways to remind us to take the breaks that we need to just relax – the unexpected days that prompt us to take a break and do something that we enjoy for once. The days where we can just catch up on our work and slow down our hectic pace, even just for a day.

I guess having a blizzard isn’t so bad after all.

Happy snow day everyone – I hope that you all get a chance to practice some self care today. As for me, I’ll be getting ahead on some work, online shopping, and reading my book.


Who Are You To Tell Me How To Feel?

If I had a dollar every time someone told me to (or not) feel a certain way, I would have enough money to pay for the car I want to buy in full. Don’t feel this way because it’s not worth it. Don’t cry about that boy because he is not worth it. It’s been this amount of time since you’ve broken up-why don’t you start dating again?

It is almost as if we have to shut our feelings off and push them in the back of the closet, because feeling something, any kind of something is a crime. Happiness, okay you can feel that. However, anger, sadness, and anxiety? No, you can’t feel that because it is much too harsh for us to deal with on a daily basis.

Too bad it doesn’t work that way. Many times, we are asked to ‘suck it up’ when something happens. After six months of grieving something (a relationship/a death/whatever), we have reached the maximum time that we are allotted to feel sad. After that, you no longer have the right to cry at night, because you are still hurting from your break up. That is the time when you are expected to suck it up and move on.

But, that’s not how it works.

And, I absolutely hate it.

I wish I could meet the person who made those rules, so I can slap them in the face and tell him that they were stupid. I wish that I can get a megaphone so I can scream to people “it’s okay to feel upset sometimes, you will heal eventually.” I wish that I could hug every person who is feeling sad, anxious or depressed right now and remind them that what they are feeling is truly valid.

Since I do not own a megaphone, this is the closest feeling that I can get to that. It is the power of the Internet.

So, it is okay to cry. It is okay to admit that you are sad. The thing is, by admitting that you are sad, you are one step closer to reaching the point where you are healed. By repressing those emotions, it is only going to explode one day. And, that is definitely not healthy.

The thing is it is going to take time to get back up. It’s going to take time to heal your emotional wounds, and to reach the point of true healing. However, with that being said, there is no end date to the hurting. So stop creating one, and focus more on healing you.

After all, it is your opinion that matters the most, doesn’t it?

Mindfulness, Relationships

Learning to Love

Fear comes from many aspects in life. One of those aspects is from past experiences, whether they may be from trauma, heartbreak or anything that causes anxiety or fear to rule over your body. One of those fears is learning to let someone in after heartbreak.

I have been broken up from my former boyfriend for almost three months now. I can safely say that I am over him, and hold no interest in ever dating him again. However, his ghost still lingers in my head and heart, a reminder every day of what happened between us and how hurt I still am.

We have only dated for a few months, and yes, I should not have this person cross my mind. However, I believe that there should not be a timeline of getting over someone, especially someone who was my first kiss, and my first real relationship. I am in no rush, as I want to feel everything before moving onto the next.

However, I am beginning to go out on dates and talking to new guys. And, for the first time, I am noticing that fear evident as I make dates and even consider entering a relationship with guys that I would otherwise go into with no qualms. I am scared of having to deal with the same problems that our relationship had, whether it may be you wanting too much or not having enough patience to deal with me. I am scared of opening myself up too much, only too get hurt again. That was a fear that I had when I was with my relationship with my former boyfriend, and is something I deal with today.

I think I need to re-learn to love. That love starts from within, which is something that I work on. As I work on becoming a person who loves herself, I am realizing what I will and will not stand for. Learning to love comes from learning to love you, and that is something that I am learning to do better on the daily.

In the efforts to learn to love, you also have to learn to trust. You have to be honest, when the time is right, when you are dating someone and are afraid. You have to trust that person, even though your trust is broken in the past. I also think in order to learn how to love, you need to put to bed the past before moving on.

Every day, I am getting better at learning how to love. I am allowing myself to feel every emotion that I am feeling, writing it down in a journal. I am getting out there by surrounding myself with supportive friends and meeting new people. I am learning to love, love me for my flaws, which will lead me to learning to love someone else when the time is right. I am a work in progress, however, one day, I will eventually be less cracked. Like Michael Bolton says, it takes time, love and tenderness, which is the tools needed for learning how to love. And, with those tools, I will get an A in learning to Love 101, leaving the anxieties of what happened in the past.


Why Journal?

When dealing with the symptoms of a panic attack, I’ve trained myself to stop what I am doing and write down every single emotion that I am feeling in that moment. While I’ve kept a journal actively for over four years, I’ve soon reaped in the therapeutic benefits of using writing to help deal with the daily effects of anxiety, or any other event that I’ve had trouble in my life, from a breakup to a bad day.

Journaling is one of the number one things that therapists often advise patients of both anxiety and depression (as well as other mental illness that I can not think of at the moment). However, journaling has benefits that surpass just helping your mental health and sanity. According to an article on Psych Central called “The Health Benefits of Journaling,” it stated that according to a study at the University of Texas, journaling can strengthen your immune cells, known as T-cells. The article went onto state that journaling helps reduce the symptoms of both asthma and arthritis.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve kept a journal for about four years, three years before anxiety had ever came into the picture for me. As a writer, it is extremely easy to lose myself in a flurry of paper and ink. But for those who are not writers, writing in a journal can be just as much of a stress as whatever is stressing you out.

Because of my consistent journaling, I am able to express every emotion that I am feeling in a matter that is both healthy and private. I can write down whatever I am feeling in the moment, good or bad, and it won’t ever be read by someone I don’t want it to, which is a much healthier approach than a sub-tweet.

While journaling is a helpful and healthy way to express angry emotions and upset emotions, it also serves as a great release. Writing down everything I am feeling when I am about to have a panic attack is one of the only things that stop them. During this time, I am scribbling every single emotion that is flooding through my head, and by the time I am calm again, the page has become a flood of my emotions tattooed onto the paper by the ink of my pen. Out of all of the ways I’ve tried to deal with my anxiety, I’ve found that this is the method that works. And I am not alone. Many anxiety patients find that using this journal helps center themselves and express themselves when having emotions, such as my friends Gabu and Kari.

Furthermore, while journaling can be used to express emotions, it also can be used as a method to help check in with yourself and promote healthy habits. For the ten minutes that I spend a day journaling, it’s ten minutes that I am devoting to myself for ‘me-time.’ At the end of a hectic day, I look forward to spending a few minutes writing about it each day. Journaling not only on a bad day, but on a good day helps create a habit of both meditation and reflection, which in turn is crucial in trying to change one’s life for the better and help combating anxiety and stress.

While I’ve mentioned three reasons why one should journal, there are several more out there, such as stress reduction. With that being said, if you’re ready to pick up a pad and a pen, but are unsure to start, here’s some prompts to help get you started:

  • Write down what happened today. Did you have a good day/bad day? Why was it good/bad? What did you do, eat for dinner, etc. Basically, keep a day to day log of what you’ve done today.
  • When anxious, write down what you’re feeling when you’re upset. Express every emotion that you’re feeling. Why are you upset? What caused it? What can you do to change it?
  • Write down a list of ten good things that happened today. By doing so, even on the worst of days, you can see that there is some good in everything, even on the darkest of days. Furthermore, try every once in a while to write down a list of all of the good things in your life. On my worst of days, I’ve discovered that not everything is as bad as it seems.

If these tips didn’t help you, there’s still a ton more resources out there on how to get started with a bunch of prompts. One of my favorites is the book “50 Ways to Yay”by Alexi Panos, which is filled with both reflection and causes you to look at yourself in a critical way to invoke change.

However, with that being said, there’s no right or wrong way to journal, and it is something that everyone does differently. It’s a way to relieve stress, not cause it, so be patient with yourself to find something that works for you.



Ingredients for Happiness?

It seems like everyone out there has a recipe for how to  achieve happiness. In fact, there’s literally an entire wing of the bookstore that is devoted entirely on how to make yourself happy, on how to get from blah to wow. However, who has the magic word to get there?

The answer? You.

The truth is that you can read all of the self help books in the world, and you can still not achieve that perfect level of happiness. Happiness, at least I think, is different for each and every person out there. For example, what makes me happy isn’t necessarily what will make my friend happy, or my mom happy. Just like we are all different in personality and in temperament, we are all different in  what exactly makes us happy.

With that being said, I still think that each and every one of us out there closer to happiness is spending some time to figure out the puzzle.

That means taking the time to read the books and try out their suggestions. That means going to a therapist and learning about yourself. That means taking long walks, eating lots of good food, and writing in journals, if that works for you.

It means finding yourself.

At the end of the day, happiness is something that is achieved, just like a college degree or something else. It’s a journey, one that we must embark on our own, however, once you get there you will feel on top of the world.

So, to whoever is reading this, how do you strive to achieve happiness? Let me know in the comments below.