Dear Mind, You Matter

How to Build Your Mental Strength with Amy Morin, LCSW

Episode Summary

In this episode, Amy Morin, LCSW talks to us about mental strength, what it is (and isn't), tips to build it, and how leaders can use mental strength to lead with confidence and inspire others.

Episode Notes

Amy Morin, LCSW is a psychotherapist and the editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind. She's the host of The Verywell Mind Podcast and an international bestselling author of 4 books on mental strength. 

Memorable Moments: 

4:57: Mental strength is all about the way you think, the way you feel, and the way you behave...It’s not just I need this because I'm going to go through tragedy someday, it’s about saying how do I reach my greatest potential?

5:49: Mentally strong people don’t feel sorry for themselves. Self-pity is different from sadness. Sadness is healing - that part of the process is really good for us. Sometimes, allowing us to be sad helps us honor something that we lost. The best antidote to self-pity is gratitude. If you start doing that in life, it trains your brain to focus on the good.

7:58: Don’t give away your power. I’m in charge of how I think, how I feel, how I behave. Switching that language makes a huge difference. It’s a powerful shift to change the dynamic of the day.  

Dear Mind, You Matter is brought to you by NOBU, a new mental health, and wellness app. To download NOBU, visit the app store or Google Play. 

This podcast is hosted by Allison Walsh  and Dr. Angela Phillips. It is produced by Allison Walsh, Ashley Tate, and Nicole LaNeve. For more information or if you’re interested in being a guest on this podcast, please visit www.therecoveryvillage.com/dearmindyoumatter.

 

Episode Transcription

Allison: Hello and welcome to the Dear Mind, You Matter Podcast. My name is Allison Walsh, I’m a long time mental health advocate and Vice President at Advanced Recovery Systems. On each episode I will be joined by my colleague and clinical expert, Dr. Angela Phillips. This show along with our mental health and wellness app Nobu, are just some of the ways we are working to provide you with some actionable tips to take care of yourself each and every day.

So sit back, relax, and grab your favorite note taking device. It's time to fill your mind with things that matter. 

Alright, well Angela I’m so excited for the show today, I know you are too. 

Angela: Absolutely Allison, I am so excited for our guest today you have no idea. I have so many questions but let's introduce her and get this going. 

Allison: Awesome. Well, Amy is a psychotherapist. She's the editor in chief of very well mind. She's a mental strength trainer and an international best-selling author. She's also a highly sought after keynote speaker who gave one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time. She's written four books. Two of which have been translated into more than 30 languages.

And she's also a columnist for Ink, Forbes and Psychology Today, and her articles on mental strength reach more than 2 million readers each month. And we are so excited to have you on the show today, Amy!  Welcome! 

Amy: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Allison: Absolutely. Now I know I covered a lot, but, is there anything else that you'd like to share? I know our audience would love to get to know you more and how you got to where you are now. 

Amy:  Sure. Well, I'm a therapist turned accidental author in 2003. I had just launched my career as a therapist, and I thought I'd be teaching people about mental strength based on what I learned in college. But my journey really became personal when I lost my mom. 

She passed away from a brain aneurysm suddenly and unexpectedly. And as a therapist, I knew about grief, but knowing it and doing, going through the motions are two completely different things. I just, I started studying people in my therapy office to see why some people went through tough times and grew from it and why some people got stuck.

And I learned pretty early on that It wasn't always about what people did. Sometimes it was more about what they didn't do. People who didn't have certain bad habits seem to get through tough times better, they had more hope for the future. And so I started implementing those things in my own life. And I was hopeful that I was learning just as much from people as I was able to teach them.

And I'm glad that I did because three years to the day that my mom died, my 26 year old husband had a heart attack and passed away as well, and to find myself a 26 year old widow, and I didn't have my mom, it was one of the darkest places I could ever imagine being for, just for so long too. I had learned a lot in my journey and I knew that our tendency, when we're going through tough times, is to try to avoid pain.

But grief is part of the healing process, I had to let myself go through all of those rollercoasters of emotions and it took a long time to get to a place where I felt better. And years later, I was able to get remarried, sort of built this new life for myself, and then my father-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

And I just remember thinking this isn't fair, I can't lose another loved one. I shouldn't have to lose more people in my life, my heart's broken. And, but I knew that, that thinking like that wasn't helpful. So I wrote a list about what mentally strong people don't do. And when I was done, I had a list of 13 things and I would read over that list whenever I needed a little boost whenever I needed to get through the day.

And I found it helpful. So I thought maybe it will help someone else. Published it online and expected a few people to read it. But 50 million people read that list. And one of the people who read it was a literary agent. She called and said, you have to write a book. And that's how I became an accidental author.

So now four books later, uh, I'm still talking and speaking about mental strength as much as I can. And now I get to do it from a sailboat in the Florida keys.

Angela: Such an amazing story, Amy, thank you so much for sharing. And before we get into a little bit more about your work for listeners who aren't familiar, I was hoping you could share and just describe a little more about this concept of mental strength. 

Amy:  I'm glad you asked, because a lot of people confuse mental strength with mental health. They think that if you have depression, you're weak or that you can't possibly be strong if you're battling anxiety, but that's, couldn't be further from the truth.

And it becomes easier to understand mental strength. If we talked about it the same way that we talk about physical strength. Like we know you can go to the gym and do exercises and build bigger physical muscles. But we also know that that doesn't mean you won't ever get sick. Whether that means you catch a cold, you still get the flu.

You might even get cancer someday. It doesn't mean that you're weak or that you don't have enough muscles. It just means, okay, you still have a health problem. Mental strength is the same. It's all about the way you think, the way you feel and the way you behave. And there are exercises you can do to build mental muscle.

It doesn't guarantee you wont get a physical health or a mental health problem. It can prevent some, but if you do get one, it doesn't mean that you weren't strong enough or that you messed up along the way. In fact, a lot of the strongest people I've ever met in my life were battling something like depression, anxiety, a substance abuse issue.

And despite all of the difficulties and struggles they were experiencing, they were choosing to exercise every day to grow stronger and become better. 

Allison: So, you know, you've written so many books now, right. All with these 13 tips, would you mind sharing a few of those with the audience as far as what they can do to have that mental strength and toughness for them?

Amy: Sure. So for my first book,”13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do” number one on the list is that mentally strong people don't feel sorry for themselves. And the reason that tops my list is because that's where I was in my life when I wrote this list. But inherently I knew that self pity is different from sadness.

When we feel sorry for ourselves, we think, oh, my problems are too big. Nobody can help me. We get to be hopeless, helpless. We're digging our heels. We don't want to do anything different. And then we stay stuck and it's a really painful place to be. And it's tempting sometimes rather than dig ourselves out of it, to then just try to get people to join your pity party.

You call somebody else and say, can you believe this? But then we don't want to solve it. We just want to talk about how awful everything is. And sadness is healing. That part of the process is really good for us. Sometimes allowing us to be sad, helps us on or something that we lost a job that we left behind a loved one that we lost a transition in our lives.

We just don't want it to cross over into self pity, the best antidote to self pity. Is to practice gratitude. You can't feel sorry for yourself and be grateful for what you have at the same time. So for some people, a gratitude journal works. For other people, It's about having some sort of gratitude ritual, maybe around the dinner table.

You talk to your family and your friends about what you're grateful for, or maybe you just silently in your head before you get out of bed every day. Think of three things you're grateful for before your feet hit the floor. But if you start doing that in life, it trains your brain to look for the good.

And instead of always dwelling on the bad, when we're in a place of self pity, we only focus in on the bad things that happen. And so if nine good things happen and one bad thing at the end of the day, the only thing we'll really focus on is that one bad thing. When you practice gratitude, you start looking for the good in the world.

And it's not just about a superficial sense of gratitude, like writing a thank you note because you feel obligated because somebody gave you a gift instead, it might be taking some time. And just imagining how that person feels about you, that they went shopping for you or that they picked out something special for you.

And that can help you create a sense of gratitude, not just for what you have, but also the people that you have in your life. So that's number one on the list. Number two is the one that people probably talk to me about the most, which is that mentally strong people don't give away their power. And this one is about our tendency to sometimes blame other people for the way that we think the way we feel or the way that we behave.

So you might say like, oh, my sister ruined my day or my boss makes me so mad or my mother makes me feel bad about myself. Taking back, your power is about changing that language and knowing, okay, I'm an adult. I'm in charge of how I think, how I feel, how I behave. It's my day. I can choose to spend it.

However I want. I choose who I spend it with. And just switching that language in your head makes a huge difference. So of course, most of us feel like, Hmm, I have to go to work. You actually, don't have to, you go to work cause you probably want to earn a paycheck or you want to make a difference in the world.

But really for most of us, it's about saying at the end of the day, I want to make sure that I keep my job so I can have financial stability. So just acknowledge that I'm choosing to go to work. Even if your boss says, can you stay late tonight? And you feel obligated to do it. It's still a choice. There might be consequences if you say no, but just acknowledging, I don't have to do.

And even after talking about this for years there's days, I still find myself saying things like, oh, I have to go to the grocery store and I remind myself, you don't have to go. Maybe you won't have anything great to eat for dinner tonight, if you don't go, but it's a choice you get to go if you want to.

And it's just such a powerful shift to really change the whole dynamic of the day. When you make that shift inside your head.

Angela:  Amy. Those are great examples. Thank you so much. It actually makes me think of something personal as another example, actually, a couple of weeks ago, um, I was at my wedding and, you know, there are so many amazing things, uh, that happen on such a momentous day, but as most weddings do something, you know, sort of goes wrong or something always happens that throws things off.

Right. And, you know, although you may have so many positive aspects on such a great day, it can quickly feel like this one thing has really ruined the whole day, um, unless you really keep that perspective in mind. And so I really had to do a lot of that. Um, but eventually did get there, but needless to say, I really appreciate you sharing those examples because it's such a great reminder.

And so many contexts to keep that perspective. And another question we have for you, uh, is just sort of, as we're moving through COVID and, you know, knock on wood, sort of coming out of the other side of things. Um, what are you seeing in terms of mental strength? And what's really getting people through this time, especially with, you know, the range of experiences or life changes.

And I'm thinking, you know, also about whether, you know, someone's been hunkered down for the last year. Being able to work from home or, you know, maybe not working or, you know, on the flip side of that as a first responder, uh, who, who may be, you know, really active during this time. Um, and really, you know, has been exposed a lot to a lot, a lot of various activity that others may not have been.

So what are you seeing there?

Amy:  Yeah. One of the things we're seeing, I think a lot of people have pressure that, okay, now that things are winding down, societies open up, I should feel happy. And a lot of people are saying, yeah, but I'm not really there yet. I have a lot of anxiety about this. Even though I can see my family, there's still lingering, uh, sense of, of sadness or maybe even doom and gloom, but I'm seeing a lot of people who are being supportive now, and we're realizing we talked so much about mental health during the pandemic that it reduced a lot of the stigma.

And so for some people it's okay now to reach out for help, and I'm seeing people who were saying, all right, I developed some bad habits during the pandemic, whether I ate way too much, or I turned to alcohol to cope when I was stressed out. And now people are saying, I need to change those habits. I want to, to get back to being healthier again.

So I'm hearing from a lot of people who say there's certain bad habits that I want to leave behind. And I want this to be a fresh start where I don't keep doing those things. And then from other people. You know, I learned a lot about my values or I learned a lot about who I am or who I want to be and how I want life to be different.

And so there's certain things I adopted during the pandemic. Like maybe a quiet Friday night in reading a book rather than feeling like they have to go out and putting pressure on themselves to be with friends all the time or somebody who says I really enjoyed the slower pace of not rushing from activity to activity with my kids all the time.

I don't want to get back to that ever again. So here's what I'm going to do moving forward. So, I'm hearing a lot of people who are taking this as an opportunity to, to reset, to sort of reflect on their time and then reset and make this a fresh start in how they want to move forward. Once the, all of the restrictions have lifted and people feel safe to go out and about what do you want that life to look like?

Allison: So, what advice do you have for those that maybe have acknowledged that things aren't the way that they should be, or maybe they're still not feeling well or, you know, things haven't returned to normal or maybe their new normal is just so, still very different from what they envisioned it to be. I think we're all really looking forward to the world opening back up, but yet, so many things aren't ever going to return quite fully to what they were.

So if they're feeling some uneasiness or some anxiety or stress around it, what do you encourage them to do?

Amy:  Yeah, I think some people are going to experience a new sense of grief when they go back to their old jobs, things might not be exactly the same. Some your coworkers may have left and they're not coming back and you didn't get a chance to say goodbye to them, or you realize, gee, I missed a lot in my friends' lives or my family's lives, or the grandkids grew so much in one year.

We don't really know each other. Friendships and relationships may have changed a lot. So I encourage people to, to just acknowledge what you're feeling. There's so much power and just putting a name to your emotion. There's science behind it, that labeling a feeling helps your brain make a lot more sense of it.

So whether you can say I'm anxious, I'm sad. I'm disappointed when you do that. Sorts things out so that your brain can figure out what's going on with your body, because you're probably having some sort of physiological reaction. And, and then you don't have to put so much energy into trying to figure out what's going on.

You can then put your energy into deciding, am I going to solve the problem, or am I going to solve how I feel about the problem, some problems you can solve. So if you're anxious about finances, you might say, what can I do differently? How do I pay the bills? How do I manage a budget? Do I need more income, other problems you can't necessarily solve.

If somebody else's behavior has changed, your relationship has changed. Maybe you lost somebody too, then you need to focus on how do you cope with the emotions that you're having. You can't fix it. So then it might be about practicing reading books, more exercising, more taking care of yourself and honoring your feelings, but also not staying in, stuck in a place of pain so that when you are a struggling, that you dare to reach out for help and tell people I'm having a hard time.

So I always encourage people to pull more truthful and honest conversations. When you ask somebody how they're doing, they might say fine. Get into a deeper conversation with somebody and then ask them again, like, how are you really doing, share how stressed you feel sometimes to have somebody that you can talk to?

And if you don't have anybody in your life to talk, to reach out to somebody else that you can, whether it's a therapist to trained listener, there's plenty of websites that offer lots and lots of services, opportunities, support groups, but just make sure that you're connecting with other people who can understand what you're going through.

Allison: I think that's so, so valuable for people to really hear that and listen to that and figure out what they need to do for themselves. Right. Because it's such a different world than it was before. And I think we're all still so grateful to be here and have a new perspective on life, but it doesn't mean we're not going through emotions or feeling differently than we did before, but, you know, I think what I also love so much about your message Amy is that it's not just about  going through adversity and difficulties, like mental strength is also something that's such a valuable leadership skill.

 And I know like, you know, with my team and everything that we've done as we've, we've built different things, it's so critical that leaders have that, that strength and ability to, so have you seen that as a common theme amongst people that you've either interacted with or worked with over the years is do you see that common thread through, through leaders, especially.

Amy: Yeah, I'm glad you said that because so often people think it's about just about bouncing back and going through tough times. But again, if we equated mental strength to physical strength, you don't want to wait until you need to pick up a really heavy box to start building physical strengths, doing some bicep curls right then and there isn't going to help you.

You want to build mental strength all the time, but it's also, it's not about just saying, okay, I need this because I'm going to go through tragedy someday. It's about saying, how do I reach my greatest potential? And certainly for leaders being a leader is tough. I mean, in today's world, especially, you never know what's around the next bend and people are looking to you, not just for how to deal with their business life, but how do you deal with your, your emotions right now?

Do we acknowledge, yeah, this is scary. Or do we let our egos get in the way and say, Nope, everything's wonderful. And mental strength is really about not just acting tough. But it's about sometimes saying, yeah, I have weaknesses or I made a mistake or here's what I'm learning and allowing yourself to be vulnerable sometimes.

Having the tough conversations, asking questions when you don't know the answers. So it's hugely important for leaders. And to know that people learn by watching you and that you set the tone, people are looking to see how, how you're responding to things. When you have a really anxious leader, people are going to be anxious, anxieties contagious. 

Versus when you have somebody who can say in a very authentic way. We know when people, when their facial gestures, when their tone, when their behavior isn't in line with their words, and that obviously sets off tons of anxiety. So when people can just be honest and say, I'm struggling here, or I think we should address this issue, whatever it is.

Uh, I think mental strength is just so important for leaders to have and to learn about so that they can lead with confidence and help other people inspire them to build mental strength as well. 

Angela: Definitely such great advice that many successful leaders would agree with. I'm sure, but probably wouldn't articulate so well.

So thank you for that. Um, you know, Amy, we have a question that we like to ask everyone we have on the podcast. So at this moment where you are, on your boat in the Florida keys, what matters most to you?

Amy:  I guess what matters the most to me is sticking to my values. And for me, I know that locked down.

Wasn't the same for me as it was for other people, because I live on a sailboat. So when people had to stay home, my home moves, so I could go to the coral reef and without actually being outside around people. So, uh, but it was still an opportunity to say, what do I want to do with my life? I speak for a living.

And most of my speaking engagements were canceled or they became virtual. So I had had a lot of time on my hands. So that's when I wrote the book about mental strength book for kids, because I thought, who else do I want to reach? How do I want to help people? So my values are knowing that I want to help other people and finding new ways to do that, different ways to reach people and making sure that I'm balancing that with taking care of myself so that I have more ability to give and to do all the things that I'm asking other people or encouraging other people to do as well

Allison: And I'm so glad you brought up your work with, uh, strength for kids, right. Cause I'm a mom of three and I've definitely noticed my children being impacted during this time, especially my nine-year-old, you know, we switched schools, you know, all it was, she went home for spring break last March and never went back.

Never saw the same friends. Never. He knows there was so much change. And during that time, you know, I was so concerned about the academics, but I wasn't as tuned in shame on me. Like not realizing, thinking that piece, but how is this going to impact her just socially with making new friends virtually. And I'll never forget that day, the first day of school this past year.

And I was so glad we got through the tech side of school and yet she closed the computer at the end of the day. And she's like, mom, how am I supposed to make new friends virtually? And it just like broke my heart and like working hard with her to help her feel, you know, that she could get through this.

So any tips about kids and their mental strength

Amy:  Yeah, I think, first of all, just acknowledging the hardships that they went through as adults, it's easy for us to say, well, basketball was canceled this year. It's not a big deal or I've heard so many parents say I would have loved to have not had to go to school for a whole year.

That would've been great!  But we know when we look at the numbers that it's young people that are most likely to be depressed right now, the 11 to 17 year old group. Has much higher rates of depression and anxiety than any other population right now. So it's important for us to honor that, to acknowledge, yeah.

Sitting behind a zoom computer all year. Isn't really cool. Uh, you missed out on a lot of things, a lot of the things that are important to you. I've had a lot of parents say, what should I do with my kids this summer to make up for lost time? My answer is just let them have fun and let them be kids this summer.

We don't want to overwhelm them with gosh, more activities and sending them to 8 million summer camps and signing them up for everything we can instead, let them ride their bike, let them have fun. Let them see their friends again, just to make it more normal. I think our tendency sometimes is to go in the other direction and overload them to say, we need to make up for this whole last year.

But, but then things don't feel normal either. We want them to relax and have fun and know that. Okay, now that society's opening back up, if you want to have a play date, we can do that. If you want to go to the pool, we can do that too. And just helping kids to know that yeah. When you are struggling with your emotions, it's tempting as adults to calm them down, to cheer them up, but we need to give them the skills that they can do that themselves so that when we're not right there with them, that they know, okay, I have some strategies, some coping skills I can use.

I don't have to depend on mom or dad. And the study that always sticks with me is when they ask college students. Were you prepared for college and 90% of them say academically? Yes. Emotionally, no. And so they don't know how to deal with their first bad grade or a disagreement with their roommates or they're lonely.

And these are the struggles that we're seeing. So I think it's just so important for us to focus on the emotional skills, helping kids learn that, Yep. Self doubt is normal. That it's okay to be sad that it's okay to be here. Uh, here are some coping strategies and give them some, some things to practice.

Whether you color a picture when you're sad, or you call a friend when you're in a bad mood, but that you have some control over how you think feel and behave.

Angela: Absolutely. You know, this makes me think of a lot of friends and family that have been navigating the pandemic with children and really, you know, in seeing different approaches they've taken to, uh, You know, just how they talk about it and how they frame it.

And really just seeing that overall act, act, and behaviors and how these kids are developing during this transitional time. And so I'm just sort of remembering, you know, the folks who are really focused on more, you know, unfortunately what's been missed or, you know, what the kids are. Uh, children have missed out on due to the pandemic versus those who really focus more on, you know, what may have been gained from this challenge.

So how to look forward, and really sort of focusing on positive change or adaptation versus, more or less what's been lacking and, and unfortunate from this situation. So that makes complete sense. And I really, really appreciate you bringing that up. Um, So Amy, thank you so much for being here. Can you tell people where we can find more information about you and how to follow you on social media?

Amy: Yeah, a lot of my information is on the very well mind website, which is verywellmind.com and my personal website, which is amymorinlcsw.com. And my Instagram handle is Amy Morin Author. 

Allison: Thank you so much for being on the show today. We really appreciate you spending some time with us. 

Amy: Thank you for having me.

Angela: Thank you again to Amy Morin. And thank you so much for listening to today's episode. If you're not already subscribed, we hope you join us regularly. And please leave us a five star review wherever you get your podcasts. We hope that this podcast is beneficial to you and your wellness journey. Dear mind, You matter is brought to you by Nobu a new mental health and wellness app.

You can download it today, using the link in our show notes. We'll talk to you next time and until then, remember you and your mind matter.