Feb 7

Wellbeing: There’s a Radio Show to Empower You for That

Wellbeing is something in reach of each and every one of us, and there’s a radio show to empower you for just that: creating your own wellbeing, your own life worth living. My radio show, Wellbeing & Words, is a monthly show that provides information and inspiration to help us all craft the lives we each want to live.

What, Exactly, is Wellbeing?

Technically, wellbeing is the state of being well, but that just breaks down the word. It doesn’t do justice to the concept. There’s much more to wellbeing than a simple definition, just like there is so much more to each and every one of us than a description or a list of what we do. A few key principles that comprise the complex state we call wellbeing:

  • Wellbeing doesn’t mean the absence of problems, challenges, and hardships.
  • Wellbeing is empowering yourself to thrive despite those things. People can create their own life worth living, and thus experience wellbeing, no matter what challenges they face.
  • Wellbeing is an attitude, a mind-set, a determination.
  • Wellbeing is action.
  • Wellbeing is experiencing physical health and mental health as they apply to you personally. People face illnesses, but within the parameters of the illness, we can empower ourselves. I had a friend who was diagnosed with rapidly spreading cancer. Determined to live to the fullest what was left of his life, he continued to take walks with his wife to enjoy his world and his love. The walks grew shorter until he no longer had the strength for them. He got himself a walker so he could move in and out of the house, and he would shuffle outside and enjoy the fresh air with his wife. Cancer did impose cruel limits on my friend, but he took action to thrive in spite of it. This man empowered himself to have wellbeing until the end.

Where Does Wellbeing Come From?

Wellbeing comes from being human. Wellbeing comes from having the grit, determination, and resilience to, in the face of challenges, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again (that’s a phrase from Captain Kangaroo that has empowered me since I was four years old).

Wellbeing also involves action. Action, in fact, is the main ingredient in wellbeing. What little things can you do every day to live your values and accomplish your important goals?

One key to living a high-quality life is to take action that will move you toward your values and goals, no matter what difficulties and negative situations you may be facing. Accept the challenges and keep going!” — Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 Steps.



A Radio Show to Empower You to Create Wellbeing

Wellbeing involves a set of tools to orchestrate attitude, mind-set, action, and more. The radio show Wellbeing  Words provides listeners with the right tools to enhance their lives, empowering them to create their own wellbeing and live their life worth living.

The Wellbeing & Words radio show draws from the fields of positive psychology, solution-focused therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and more to help you shape and live a life that brings you joy. It reminds us all that en-JOY is an action verb. Every month, I’ll talk with an expert in the field of mental heath and wellbeing to share tips on living well. Many shows will incorporate readings from books—the “words” part of the show. The online shows also incorporate a video or a whiteboard presentation.

Each month the show airs over the radio airwaves on multiple stations as well as online at PodfireRadio.com and TanyaJPeterson.com, so you’ll have many chances to empower yourself to create wellbeing with the Wellbeing & Words radio show. Take action for your mental health and wellbeing by tuning in often.

Oh, and in addition to being a radio show, Wellbeing & Words is also a monthly newsletter. There are many ways to empower yourself to create wellbeing!

Sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Wellbeing & Words. Each issue is packed with useful tips for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, reading-related tidbits, and updates about my own mental health writing and activities. (I never share e-mail addresses with anyone.) 

Feb 5

College Student Suicides: Let’s Fix this Mental Health Crisis

As a world of humans, we’re facing a mental health crisis; when fellow humans turn to suicide because they feel, for various reasons, that their future is so bleak it’s non-existent and turn to death as what seems like the sole option, it’s a mental health crisis. Suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide), attempts, and completions are mental health tragedies that affect people of all ages, ethnicities, and nationalities. No group is exempt. Suicide can and does impact anyone. College students are no exception. College student suicides are a tragic problem at universities and colleges worldwide, and as a caring society who believes that mental health and wellbeing are possible for everyone, it’s time to fix this mental health crisis.

Between September, 2016 and January, 2017, a university in Ontario, Canada (locations in Guelph, Toronto and Ridgetown) has seen the deaths of four students by suicide. Understandably, the Guelph University community is seeking solutions. College student suicide (one completed suicide is too much, and four in half a school year is unthinkable) is a mental health crisis that must be fixed.

But how? Is it possible to help college students—people of all ages and backgrounds—create hope even in times of despair? Can we help each other, when blinded by overwhelming depression or other mental illness or crushing stress, see a way through?

It is possible. An important step is to be able to talk, to speak openly and frankly and be heard, for it is in this action that we can talk ourselves into solutions.

In light of the current suicides and stories from the University of Guelph TranQool has decided to donate 20 sessions for students to see registered therapists from home this week….We want the students to know that they in addition to the campus efforts to help student’s mental health they have access to TranQool. Learn more: TranQool Stands With Guelph University Students

The Basics: Information to Understand and to Help

College Student Suicide: Let's Fix This Mental Health CrisisThe Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) has a wealth of information to help reduce the mental health crisis that is suicide. Among their resources is an excellent fact sheet entitled Suicide Among College and University Students in the United States(The statistics included in this resource apply to US colleges and universities, but the information within applies to colleges and college students worldwide and can be very useful to the Guelph University students and greater community).

Mental health experts look at suicide and suicidal ideation from an in-depth perspective. They examine suicide from a problem-oriented point of view: what is it that creates such a depth of despair in people that they think of death as the only viable option? What mental health issues, specific mental illnesses, are interfering in someone’s will to live? SPRC, in the above-linked handout, delineates risk factors that include

  • behavioral health disorders
  • individual characteristics
  • stressful life situations
  • family characteristics
  • school/community factors

Knowing what risk factors to watch for in each other can help us know how to reach out with an offer to talk, or to help take someone to a professional who will listen and help.

Beyond the risk factors are protective factors. Looking at protective factors is an incredibly powerful way to fix this mental health crisis of college student (and all) suicides. The risk factors help us identify things that are wrong so we can do something about them. The protective factors help us all know what it is that we can do about them. Protective factors are strengths within each and every one of us, and protective factors are those things around us, in our circles and our communities, that help us overcome even the greatest obstacles.

SPRC identifies these categories of protective factors that we can use to transcend real challenges to thrive again:

  • individual characteristics and behaviors
  • social support
  • school and community factors

Again, the above link takes you to SPRC’s fact sheet with more information within each category, useful resources, and statistics.

It’s Possible to End the Mental Health Crisis, College Student Suicide

Hope is never lost. When people, such as college students at Guelph University and elsewhere, feel as though there is no hope for a better future, that is a mental health crisis. When people act on this very real feeling and belief and seek and end by suicide, that is a mental health crisis.

It can very much seem like hope is lost, and that’s when as a world of humans we band together and help see each other through. We can be there for each other as we wrestle with problems that, when we’re alone, seem insurmountable. We can build up each others’ protective factors and resilience. Together, we all can enhance each others’ mental health and wellbeing, and we can fix the mental health crisis that is college student suicides.

On #BellLetsTalk day we pledged to donate free sessions to those on hospital waitlists but we are now opening these free sessions up to University of Guelph students. We are also pledging to donate up to $1000 to help our inspiring TranQool ambassadors at Guelph University provide access and resources to the students. We want to ensure that every Guelph student knows that there is always help available. We stand with you. To join in the solution, help TranQool connect Guelph University students with counselors. Visit their GoFundMe campaign to make a donation of any size.

Sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Wellbeing & Words. Each issue is packed with useful tips for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, reading-related tidbits, and updates about my own mental health writing and activities. (I never share e-mail addresses with anyone.) 

Jan 31

What’s Dissociative Identity Disorder? An Infographic Look at DID

It can be hard to know just what dissociative identity disorder (DID) is. DID is among those mental illnesses that are incredibly misunderstood. Part of the reason is that the human brain is complex, DID is complex, and researchers are just now beginning to uncover answers. Understanding is increasing so much that experts have even changed the name from multiple personality disorder to dissociative identity disorder, a much more accurate term (because someone with DID has one personality just like everyone else; with DID, someone has different identities within his or her psyche, each with his or her own single personality).

Another reason that DID is misunderstood is because there are many books and movies that tell an entertaining story but care very little for accuracy. Recently, the moving Split was released. It had some nice surprises in that parts of the movie portrayed DID accurately. Because the movie was a thriller, though, other aspects of it misrepresented DID. Split possesses the good, the bad, and the weird. With so much misunderstanding, it’s difficult to know what dissociative identity disorder really is. Here’s an infographic look at some basic facts about DID, drawn from the realistic novel Twenty-Four Shadows.


What is dissociative identity disorder? Stories, novels, can show just what DID is and what it’s like for people in the real world to live with.

Sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Wellbeing & Words. Each issue is packed with useful tips for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, reading-related tidbits, and updates about my own mental health writing and activities. (I never share e-mail addresses with anyone.) 

Jan 24

Split and Dissociative Identity Disorder: The Good, the Bad, and the Weird

A look at how the movie Split portrays dissociative identity disorder (DID).  Why is Split a mix of good, bad, and weird?


Split is a movie that portrays a man living with dissociative identity disorder (DID), a mental disorder that develops in childhood as a defense mechanism against severe trauma, usually in the form of abuse. My daughter first introduced me to the existence of the movie, and she stated in her text message, “This is why the world needs your writing. To balance out crap like this.” (Okay, she’s maybe biased in her opinion of my writing, but I’m fine with it.) She’s right about what I do (or attempt to do). As a mental health writer, certified counselor, person who was diagnosed with bipolar and anxiety disorders after a traumatic brain injury, and general human being, I write to increase understanding and empathy.

When I read the description of Split and saw its trailers, I wondered if this would be yet another movie that gets mental illness, specifically DID, completely wrong. Would this stigmatize? Villainize? Dehumanize?

Ironically, my most recent novel, Twenty-Four Shadows (Apprentice House Press, 2016) is about a man newly diagnosed with DID and the effects it has not just on him but on his wife, young son, and best friend. The fact that Twenty-Four Shadows has been acclaimed by critics and readers alike and was named to Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2016 indicates that realistic stories of mental illness are becoming okay. Box office movies, though, aren’t always realistic.

The movie Split surprised me. It wasn’t all bad. Split splits its portrayal of DID into two parts, human and disorder. This is also the split between the good and the bad.

Split: The Human, the Good

The movie is about Kevin and his system of alters, the other identities that are a real part of Kevin’s mind. They see a psychiatrist by the name of Dr. Fletcher, who tells a friend, “We look at the people who have been shattered and are different as ‘less than.’ What if they’re ‘more than?’”

Spot-on, Dr. Fletcher. People living with DID are real human beings, not inferior or “less than.” While Split is a thriller and involves the kidnapping of three teenage girls, the movie does not vilify Kevin or any of his alters, although Dennis and Patricia, the two responsible for the kidnapping, are certainly not seen favorably.

In Split, the human is good—the entire human, Kevin and the alters. They’re seen as individuals in their own right, and Dr. Fletcher treats each with respect. She gets it. Split gets it. Other things that Split gets right:

  • * Different alters can and do have different traits (handedness, IQ, strengths, need for glasses, medical issues, and more)
  • * Someone with DID can function in life (Kevin’s system has held a job for 10 years, sees a therapist, lives on their own)
  • * Use of the terms “we” or “us” rather than “I” or “me”
  • * Brain scans are unique for each alter
  • * The idea of protection (alters Dennis and Patricia believe they’re the only one who can protect Kevin; in reality, all alters serve the function of protecting the primary identity, each in different ways)
  • * The presence of a structure, a place for the alters to be when they’re not out in the world (in Split it’s very  simple, just a room with a chair for each alter, but in reality, the structure is often more complex. In Twenty-Four Shadows, the structure is an elaborate blanket fort.)

Another good: many different alters e-mail Dr. Fletcher requesting emergency appointments. They are seeking help. They’re not evil.

During the movie, the audience actually chuckled playfully in reaction to Hedwig, one of the alters who is a nine-year-old boy but of course in the body of the adult character. To me, this is a very good sign. It shows that people really saw Hedwig as a child, separate from the kidnapper. Maybe in this regard, Split helps people connect with people who have DID.

Split: The bad and the Weird

Split is a thriller. Thrillers must scare, and to do so this movie uses a mental illness.

To scare, thrillers must be real enough to invade our psyche and put us on edge. Split is real enough. The bad guy is a real person with a real disorder portrayed, for the most part, in a very realistic way. For full fright effect, a thriller must go beyond the real into that which is unthinkable outside of the movie theatre. Split achieves the real and the beyond-the-real. It achieves the good, the bad, and the weird.

The good thing about Split is that it humanizes Kevin and his system of alters. The bad thing is that the disorder itself is villainized. The weird thing is that the disorder isn’t just villainized but dehumanized. The system morphs into a beast. Eye-roll. Huge you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me element.

To set the record straight and counter the bad and the weird parts of Split:

  • * The person with DID is not a monster, nor does he or she host a monster inside.
  • * The Incredible Hulk stuff like super-human size, strength, and speed, is the stuff of movies and comic books.
  • * DID isn’t in the realm of the supernatural.
  • * People with DID can’t scale walls like salamanders.

Split: A Step in the Right Direction?

Is this movie a step in the right direction? To a certain extent, it does separate the person from the illness. It humanizes the human (it’s too bad that that is necessary). But as a thriller, it does enter into the realm of the bad and the weird. It humanizes the people but dehumanizes the disorder.

We need books and movies that treat people and disorders exactly as they are. People and disorders are neither villains nor beasts.

Twenty-Four Shadows is a critically acclaimed novel about dissociative identity disorder.

Jan 20

Split, Mental Illness, and a Fear Factor

Split, Mental Illness, and a Fear Factor; How will the movie Splt depict DID?


The movie Split premiers today, January 20, 2017. Is Split another movie in a long line of sensationalist movies that uses mental illness as a fear factor to trigger our psyches to spring into alert, inducing that edge-of-the-seat sensation that generates a lot of cash for the movie industry?

Split is about a man living with dissociative identity disorder, an illness that used to be called multiple personality disorder. One of the personalities is evil and kidnaps young women. How accurate is the movie’s portrayal of DID? Because I haven’t seen it yet, I can’t weigh in on that. To be sure, many have already been decrying the movie and its message. I have a feeling that this early disapproval is deserved; however, I need to see it to know how, exactly, the movie is depicting DID, a genuine mental illness that arises from severe trauma/abuse in childhood.

DID is one of the most misunderstood poorly depicted of all mental illnesses (schizophrenia is another). DID is incredibly complex, and even the experts are still learning about this disorder. What is known is this: people living with DID aren’t predisposed to violence. DID isn’t an “evil twin” type of syndrome where one does something and blames it on something else.

Twenty-Four Shadows is a novel about DID and was named to Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2016It’s because of this misunderstanding that I wrote Twenty-Four ShadowsIn the novel, bizarre encounters and behaviors lead family man Isaac Bittman to discover that his personality has splintered into twenty-four shadows, or alters, thanks to the childhood trauma he’s repressed. Is his wife’s love strong enough for all of him?

I’m curious about Split. Does it villainize people living with DID? Does it use mental illness as a fear factor? How does the character in the movie and his alters compare to Isaac Bittman and his alters? What about family and friends?

I’ll be seeing Split this weekend, and I’m looking forward to sharing some insights!


Check out these trailers, for both book and movie:




Sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Wellbeing & Words. Each issue is packed with useful tips for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, reading-related tidbits, and updates about my own mental health writing and activities. (I never share e-mail addresses with anyone.) 

Want to know where to find my books? Click here!  


Jan 17

Irritated? Annoyed? How to Deal with It


Feeling irritable and annoyed? Turn your mood around with these steps. Ever have days when you feel irritated and annoyed at almost everything—and everyone? I hate feeling irritated and annoyed, so when I have days like this, I become even more irritable and more annoyed, the irritability feeding on itself and growing ever stronger in a vicious, seemingly endless, circle. I dealt with this very thing this morning, actually, but I was able to turn my mood around. If you hate finding yourself irritated and annoyed, read on for ways to deal with it.

After hitting snooze on the alarm clock for the third (or fourth; probably fourth) time this morning, I stretched, muscles stiff and sore from doing soccer drills with my son for a couple of hours in the cold yesterday, and headed upstairs for my morning ritual of peaceful movement. What I do—elliptical, treadmill, or yoga—varies, but my ritual always involves some sort of exercise, movement, to start my day off positively. Movement, in the quiet of the early morning, reduces stress and anxiety, helps me focus, and energizes. This morning, I enjoyed this ritual as always, and as I did yoga, I felt good and ready to proceed with my day.

Today,  however, my ritual wasn’t as effective as it usually is. Suddenly and without any discernible reason, as a continued to prepare for the day, I felt it. The irritability insidiously worked its way into my mind and body. It threw me off. I knew I was off when I couldn’t think of a thing to say to my husband. I almost never find myself at a loss for words, but there I was. Silent. That annoyed me, and it made me irritated with my husband. Certainly he could take responsibility for a conversation, couldn’t he? Why must I always be the one to initiate and maintain conversation? My irritability and annoyance grew.

This morning, everything was off. I checked e-mails, had a host of top-priority messages, and was annoyed by every single one of them (gladly, this is way out of character). In the car, the radio DJs seemed off to me, and instead of enjoying their banter, I was irritated by the entire show. The noise of the radio—the DJs, the screeching music, the commercials—grated on my nerves. Traffic was heavier than usual. I was more impatient than usual. I had an appointment for an oil change, and people were in my way. My irritability increased with each passing minute. When I had the urge to slam into the car in front of me just to get it to move ahead, I realized that I needed to reset. Now. I had to deal with this horrible impatience and annoyance before I started some sort of incident.

I use the below steps when I need to turn my mood around, and when I used them today, they worked wonders.

How to Deal with Irritability and Annoyance
  1. Notice and accept.  Tune into your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. Accept them as temporary byproducts of the irritability and annoyance; don’t buy into them or let them make you think they’re a permanent part of your day.
  2. Remember who you are. What about yourself makes you proud? How do you want to be in this moment? Why do you hate being irritated, and why do you want to stop being annoyed. I pride myself in being calm and peaceful, positive in even difficult situations. I wasn’t being true to myself this morning, and I wanted to get back to who I really am.
  3. Consider your choicesWe can’t always control what’s going on around us, and we certainly can’t control other people, but we can control our own reactions to the world around us and within us. I could have cursed at the radio, gestured rudely at other drivers, honked my horn, and generally acted in ways that only fueled my irritability. Or, I could have turned off the radio, taken a detour, stretched a bit to get rid of tension, and used the opportunity to practice deep breathing. We’re never truly without choices. In your current situation, what are your choices?
  4.  Act. What can you do to purposefully turn your mood around? I realized that I was annoyed at the idea of being late for the appointment. No matter what I did, I wouldn’t be on time. Because the traffic was stopped anyway (otherwise I wouldn’t have done this), I chose to take action by calling the service center to let them know of my situation. Doing so didn’t change the situation, but it did give me some control over my personal outcome, which decreased my annoyance.
  5. ConnectConnecting with others, especially if you can share a little laughter, goes a long way toward decreasing irritability. The person I spoke with at the service center was incredibly nice, and he added a little humor to the situation. Talking to him made me less irritable. In the past, I’ve connected to decrease irritability by going to a store, coffee shop, etc. and fully talking to someone there. This works despite social anxiety, and it actually has the added bonus of being a safe exercise in reducing social anxiety.

We’re human, imperfect people living imperfect lives. We experience all sorts of moods. But we’re not slaves to our moods, passive beings powerless to change our moods and our outlook. It’s normal to be irritable and annoyed. But it’s very possible to deal with it and turn your mood around.

Do you have tips for turning your mood around? Scroll to the bottom and comment!


Sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Wellbeing & Words. Each issue is packed with useful tips for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, reading-related tidbits, and updates about my own mental health writing and activities. (I never share e-mail addresses with anyone.) 

Want to know where to find my books? Click here!  


Jan 10

Stranger Danger! Reduce It, Reduce Anxiety, Improve Your Life

Mental illness messes with people and interferes in their lives in numerous ways. Each mental illness has a list of symptoms people experience, and beyond that, mental illness inserts itself in sneaky, obnoxious ways. Something many, if not all, mental illnesses do is put people on red alert for stranger danger.

Parents warn their children not to approach strangers, people they don’t know. Instilling this caution in appropriate ways is healthy because it makes children aware of their surroundings and realize that not every person they will encounter is a trustworthy human being. This is healthy awareness of stranger danger.

Mental illnesses take stranger danger in a different direction and to an entirely new level. Mental illness can turn someone into his or her own stranger. This isn’t a stranger that is a threat to others. Not at all. Instead, this is a stranger that can be anxiety-provoking for the person him/herself.

Mental Illness Can Make Someone a Stranger to Himself

Imagine being an outsider in your own mind. This is what Isaac Bittman must face in the novel Twenty-Four ShadowsHe’s been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, what used to be called multiple personality disorder. Isaac perpetually feels like a stranger in his own mind, and to him it’s frightening because he doesn’t understand it.

  • * Isaac has twenty-three alternate parts of himself (called “alters” or “parts”), but he doesn’t know them. He thinks of these strangers as things, which causes problems.
  • * Isaac doesn’t know what his strangers are up to, and that causes great anxiety.
  • * Isaac now feels like a stranger in his own family. He watches his wife, son, and best friend be “normal” and feels suddenly estranged from both them and himself.
Mental Illness Can Make Someone a Stranger in the World

Living with mental illness can be isolating. Mental illness isn’t a wrong way of being; instead, it’s a different way of experiencing the world. Still, someone’s symptoms (which differ for each diagnosis), can make him or her feel separate from the rest of the world.

In My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel, Brian Cunningham has such severe social anxiety that he is diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder. He wants to be able to connect with people, to have friends, but he is too afraid. He feels like he doesn’t fit in because he’s a complete stranger in the world.

Reduce Stranger Danger

This stranger, the stranger that is the self and the world, is quite hard to deal with because there is no real escape, at least not in the traditional sense. That’s okay, because escaping is just avoiding, and avoidance doesn’t work.

Avoidance consumes a lot of time and energy, and it greatly interferes with the ability to live a purposeful, valued life.”   — Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 Steps 

If avoiding the stranger danger, the fear and anxiety that comes, legitimately so, from feeling like a stranger to yourself, the world, or both, doesn’t work, certainly there must be something that does. There is indeed something that works to reduce the sense of stranger danger within you and around you. Actually, there are three somethings:

  • * Accept what feels like a stranger. It’s part of your world, and struggling against it only wears you out and   increases fear, anxiety, and stress. Isaac can acknowledge the presence of his alters. Brian can acknowledge that the world isn’t going to go away.
  • * Define your values, your purpose. What do you want in your life? How do you want to become familiar with your inner and outer worlds so you no longer fear stranger danger? What will your life look like when the stranger danger is gone? (Well, the situation might not actually be gone, but the anxiety, fear, and sense of danger will be gone because you’ve replaced it with something else.)
  • * Decide on an action plan. Taking action is the most powerful way to replace a sense of stranger danger with one of familiarity. Taking action, even small steps every day, gives us a sense of power over what’s bothering us and stomps on fear and anxiety.

Mental illness plays all sorts of nasty little tricks, including making people feel like strangers within themselves and within the world. This can create extreme anxiety and fear, causing a sense of stranger danger. Acknowledge exactly what feels like stranger danger and accept it’s presence. Know what you want to replace it with, and create a plan of action. These steps will help you reduce stranger danger and replace it with familiarity and content.

Sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Wellbeing & Words. Each issue is packed with useful tips for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, reading-related tidbits, and updates about my own mental health writing and activities. (I never share e-mail addresses with anyone.) 


Jan 3

Overwhelmed? Take Back Your Mental Health & Wellbeing

Life, as wonderful as it often is, can also be quite stressful. Demands and deadlines can stretch people to their limit. Many different things can cause us to feel overwhelmed. The stressors of daily life can take a tremendous toll. Relationships can be difficult to navigate. If these weren’t challenging enough, sometimes we’re hit with big whammies like disease, traumatic brain injury, mental illness, or personality disorders.

You can reduce that overwhelmed feeling and thrive. Rather than waiting for stressors to pass so you can feel better, take charge right now. Sure, you might not be able to get some problems to instantly disappear, but that’s okay. You don’t have to be problem-free to feel mentally  healthy. These four simple steps will help when you’re feeling overwhelmed no matter the reason.

Four Simple Steps to Take Back Your Wellbeing

Pause. When we’re overwhelmed, it can be hard to think and easy to become disorganized. In response to stress, heart rate and blood pressure can increase, and breathing can become more rapid and shallow. Muscles tense. Anxiety can set in. When you notice the physical and mental symptoms of stress, pause. Put some space, both distance and time, between yourself and what is making you feel overwhelmed. Breathe deeply and practice mindfulness. Taking even a short break can help you reset and return feeling better.

Partake. Do something to nourish your mind, body, and/or soul in the moment. Depending on where you are and what you’re doing, you might sip hot tea or coffee, take in fresh air, breathe in essential oils, mindfully peel and eat an orange, or anything else that’s healthy and that you find personally soothing.

Purpose. Sometimes, we get so caught up in problems that we lose sight of what’s important to us. When tasks, relationships, and more feel like an overwhelming burden, remember your greater purpose (and do so as you pause and partake). Knowing that there’s a reason we’re doing something can make life feel less overwhelming.

In My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel, for example, Brian Cunningham suffers greatly from anxiety disorders and avoidant personality disorder. He works as the sole custodian on the night shift at an elementary school so he can avoid having to deal with people, but when a neglected and abused little girl crosses his path, he is forced out of his safe comfort zone. He is overwhelmed and his perpetually high anxiety skyrockets further when he has to interact with people in order to help her. At times he is so overwhelmed and stressed that he wants to quit and retreat, but when he remembers his purpose, to help a hurting little girl, he is able to endure and regain a sense of mental health and wellbeing.

Plan. Sometimes our circumstances feel like a trap. We try and try to break free from the trap, but we simply spin our wheels. This going nowhere only increases stress. Know what you want to accomplish, and create an action plan involving small steps taken intentionally in order to achieve it. Often, having a tangible plan and acting on it is empowering and enough to feel mentally healthy rather than overwhelmed.

Additional Ways to Take Charge, Recover, and Achieve Mental Health & Wellbeing

Pausing, partaking in something soothing, remembering your purpose, and planning are effective ways to deal with feeling overwhelmed in order to take back mental health and wellbeing. There are other things you can do, too, to enjoy life once again.

Reach out and allow others to help. Whether its for help organizing clutter or easing symptoms of mental illness, accepting help can make you feel better more quickly.  In the novel Leave of Absence, Oliver Graham is in a behavioral health hospital. His doctor tries to convince him to allow people in to help:

     “Nothing at all makes a bit of goddamn sense.”

    “Exactly. You need help processing all of this. You participated actively in an art group on Saturday. That played a part in allowing you to open up yesterday…You were starting to process this mess.” Dr. Wilson stopped talking. When she resumed, her tone was softer. “It is indeed a mess, isn’t it?” 

    Oliver nodded.

    “Hang in there. Let people help you through this very difficult time.”

Do What You Need to Do in Each Moment

Most of us are rather skilled at imposing rules onto ourselves, believing that we should be doing x or shouldn’t be doing y. Berating ourselves only makes us feel more overwhelmed and unwell. Instead, plan what you need right now and do what it takes to help you regain mental health.

In the novel Twenty-Four Shadows (named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2016), Isaac Bittman begins to attend a special treatment center after learning he lives with dissociative identity disorder. He is struggling, and his doctor, Dr. Charlie, knows that he needs to rest. Isaac feels that lying down is a waste of time. Here, Dr. Charlie convinces him that it’s okay for him to do what he needs to do in each moment.

     “Remember that I said you get a private room? It’s for journaling and meditating and resting. You need to participate in the activities here, but this is only day one. You had two switches; it looks like they’ve taken a tremendous toll on you, and you need to sleep them off. I promise we’ll work on things here, but right now, you need to lie down. Other patients do, too. That’s why we have private rooms with beds. What do you think?”

    “I…” Isaac’s voice cracked. Rather than trying again, he nodded vigorously. Dr. Charlie escorted him to his room.

Feeling stressed and overwhelmed is an unfortunate part of being human. A fortunate part of our humanity is our ability to take care of ourselves. Pause, partake, remember purpose, plan, accept help, and do what you need to do moment by moment. In so doing, you’ll increase your mental health and wellbeing.


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Dec 29

Does Sitting on the Couch at an Athletic Club Count as Going to the Gym?

Right now I have a wonderful room with a view. Seated on a smooth leather couch with deep, soft cushions, I can see calm blue water through the picture window in front of me. If I get hungry or thirsty, I can stroll over to the deli counter and order myself something nourishing. This would be great if I were actually on vacation. Unfortunately, I’m not on vacation. The calm blue water isn’t a tropical lagoon. It’s a lap pool. I’m at the gym my son and I belong to. He’s working out. I’m just working.

Sitting in the lobby with a computer on my lap isn’t quite what I had in mind when I said I wanted to go to the gym. I joined for physical health, mental health, family bonding, and connection with others. I enjoy increasing both heart rate and endorphins. Exercise enhances wellbeing and improves lives. Does it count when I go to the gym but sit on a couch rather than on exercise equipment?

Yes, it does count. Sitting on the couch at an athletic club does count as going to the gym. Here’s why (and I’m truly not just trying to justify or rationalize my sitting on a cushy couch while my son sweats).

Why Being at the Gym Counts Even When You’re Not Exercising
  • I’m actually at the gym. My existence here is real and valid and not dependent on what I am or am not doing.

Take-away advice: drop the “shoulds.” Thinking that you “should” be doing x, y, or z simply because you are in a certain place is faulty reasoning that contributes to stress and anxiety.

  • I’m honoring what I need to be doing in this moment. Right now, working on specific tasks is going to make me feel better mentally and physically—much more so than hopping onto an elliptical machine.

Take-away advice: Know yourself and honor what you need in each moment. Take life a moment at a time. Working in the gym’s lobby is better for me right now than working out on the machines. Tomorrow, I’ll hop back on the equipment.

  • I’m living my values. One of the reasons I joined this gym was to bond with my son and support him in his life goals. I drove him here today (at 15, he doesn’t yet drive alone) and am staying here as long as he wants to be here. Usually, I work out too. Today, though, I chose the couch. I’m still upholding what I value.

Take-away advice: Know what you value, and make your decisions accordingly. Knowing that you can be flexible in your actions but still honor what’s important to you helps enhance your wellbeing and sense of peace with who you are, where you are, and what you are doing.

  • I’m taking action. My actions right now might not quite match the intentions of an athletic club, but that doesn’t diminish their importance. As long as our actions aren’t done to intentionally harm ourselves or others, there is no black-and-white, right-or-wrong way to act. I’m doing what I need to do right now, in this moment, to feel mentally healthy.

Take-away advice: For mental health and wellbeing, the important things are to know your values and to take actions, small steps every day, to achieve them. In any given moment, choose to act in a way that moves you forward, and do it. It counts for a lot.

  • The couches are here for a reason. If people weren’t meant to sit here while they were at the gym, the couches wouldn’t be here. They have a purpose. People have a purpose. By sitting here and working, I’m fulfilling purposes.

Take-away advice: Know your sense of purpose, recognize that others (even couches) have a purpose, and act in ways that fulfill the purpose.

So, yes, sitting on the couch at an athletic club counts as going to the gym. It counts because we exist and we count. When we acknowledge that there is no right way to be, no “shoulds,” what we do counts. When we know our values, our purpose, and choose actions intentionally, what we do counts.

Boldly and intentionally do what you need to do in each moment, wherever you are and however you are, and know that you and your actions count.


Dec 20

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas: Why and How

The traditional holiday song tells us, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas.” It makes it sound easy, as if we can just snap our fingers and have a wonderful holiday season, whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Solstice, or something else entirely. Is this a wish that is oversimplified? What about people facing stressors and challenges? What about those experiencing mental illness such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders, dissociative disorders, trauma-induced disorders, and much more? Is it possible to have yourself a merry little Christmas despite challenges, even serious mental illness?

I will go out on a limb of a Christmas tree branch and assert that yes, yes it is absolutely possible to have yourself a merry little Christmas no matter what you are facing this holiday season. It’s not a matter of pretending you are perfectly okay and all is right in your world. It’s a matter of choosing your perspective and taking action you want to take.

I recently tried a cycling class. The instructor motivated the class by asking why we were there and how we would make it through the class. I like the way she thinks. Knowing why we do things and how we’re going to get what we want are effective tools we can use to create our life worth living — and our holiday season worth being part of. Here’s how to make yourself merry this holiday season.

Know Your Why

It’s natural to focus on what we don’t’ want. To have a holiday without anxiety would be nice. So would one without relationship problems. Or without depression. Naming all of the things we don’t want for the holidays actually places our focus on those very things; thus, we face barriers in advancing toward what we do want.

Knowing why we want something is an important step in shaping our lives and creating our personal version of a life worth living. Acceptance and commitment therapy calls this the act of defining values. Why do you want to have yourself a merry little Christmas? What does the holiday (or, if you don’t celebrate, what does this time of year in general) mean to you? 

To make great moments throughout your holiday season, know what you do want and know why you want it. Understanding your motivation won’t erase troubles, but knowing why you want to enjoy the holidays can provide powerful motivation to get you into the spirit of the season enough to enjoy it.

Knowing your why, defining your values and reasons for wanting what you do, is an important part of making yourself a merry little Christmas. There is a second component that will help you achieve it.

Plan Your How

Once you know exactly what you value about the holiday season and why you value it, you’ll feel the motivation to go further with it. You can plan how you are going to live your values and embrace what you want to this season.

Facing mental health challenges can make us feel powerless, especially during times full of celebrations, people, lights, and noise. When we know what we want and why we want it, we can then take charge of ourselves and our season. We can use our values to shape our actions.

Known as committed action in acceptance and commitment therapy, choosing our actions is an empowering way for us to take charge of our holiday season. There are many things we cannot immediately change; however, there are also many things that we can change and affect. You know what you want. Now ask yourself how you are going to get it. What little steps are you going to take every day to achieve your why?

Knowing why you want to have a great holiday and planning how you are going to do it will enable you to make yourself a merry little Christmas.



Sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Wellbeing & Words. Each issue is packed with useful tips for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, reading-related tidbits, and updates about my own mental health writing and activities. (I never share e-mail addresses with anyone.)