4 Ways to Reclaim Your True Self in the Face of Mental Illness

One of the most common reasons people give for first seeking out therapy with me is: “I just don’t feel like myself anymore.”

Life throws some major curve balls that can get in the way of you “feeling like yourself.” Stress, grief, life transitions, depression, anxiety, relationship stress and even positive life events — such as a wedding or the birth of a child — can make life feel overwhelming and hectic. A lot of people feel like they have to give up part of themselves to manage all of this stress. You might get used to setting your own needs aside to attend to work and loved ones first. You might feel like you have to hide the way you actually feel and put on a brave face for the world just so you can get through the day. You may feel out of touch with your core values as you get lost in the rat race of life. All of this can take a toll on your sense of self and purpose, and can leave you feeling fragmented.

To help my clients manage the stress of a hectic life, I encourage them to reconnect with that part of themselves that drives them forward. That part that feels true and authentic.

Here are some ways that you might consider reclaiming your life to be your whole self:

1. Stay connected with the present moment.

Stress, anxiety and depression have a powerful impact on the way we think. We tend to scan our environment for potential threats or recall stressful moments from the past when we feel pressured. Connecting with the body’s five senses is the best way I’ve found to ground yourself in the present moment and reconnect with your own instincts. Staying present can help you respond to stress in the moment rather than reacting to the fears in your own head.

Calm yourself in a moment of stress by focusing on your breath, observing your environment visually, or listening to the subtle sounds around you. Remind yourself that you are here — now — and nowhere else.

2. Listen to your instincts.

Once you are in touch with your body’s senses, you might be ready to tap into your instincts on a deeper level. Do you know that nagging voice in your head that tells you when things are not right and something needs to change? Listen to it. You know that feeling on the back of your neck when the tiny hairs stand up because something is off? Pay attention to that feeling. Those feelings are your body’s instincts designed to keep you safe.

Sadly, we are often taught  — in many different ways — not to trust our own instincts. Societal pressures, media and unrealistic expectations often teach us to look outside of ourselves for the answers to important decisions, when we really need to look within. If you learn to ignore your instincts, then you can find yourself in some very dangerous situations because you are missing important cues to get out of danger.

Notice the distractions around you, whether those distractions are unsolicited opinions about what you should do, other people pulling for your attention, or feelings of guilt or shame that hold you back. Notice these distractions, but don’t let yourself be pulled by them. Refocus your attention inward, and listen — really listen — to your own lived wisdom to decide what to do next.

3. Seek out relationships that encourage you to be your best self.

Do ever feel like you are one way with one person in your life, and another way with someone else? We all probably experience different versions of this — some healthier than others. Maybe you share certain hobbies or interests with some friends. Other people in your life might simply get you because of shared past experiences. It makes sense that you may have certain things in common with someone in your life, so that part of you comes out more with certain people. But   if it starts to feel like you have to hide a certain part of who you are with someone you care about, then you may start to feel fragmented or inauthentic.

Feeling like your whole and best self often requires having people in your life who love and accept you for exactly who you are. You should be able to breathe a big sigh of relief around this person, not feel like you have to pretend, and know that you can talk openly about whatever is on your mind. Having at least one person in your life who accepts you for who you really are — and all that comes with it   is invaluable. If you don’t have that person yet, put yourself in spaces where you can look for them.

4. Take actions that are consistent with your core values and sense of purpose.

In my experience, one of the greatest causes of stress is a misalignment of core values and actions. We all experience so many distractions on a daily basis, so it may feel easy to forget what your core values even are. Unless you make a dedicated practice of staying in touch with your deepest motivations and principles, you might risk setting yourself up for living a “divided life” — one that leaves you feeling disappointed in yourself, ineffective and unsatisfied.

Take time to reflect on what drives you in life. Why do you get up and do what you do every day? What drives you? What motivates you to try to be better? Reflecting on your core values will help you decide the right course of action whenever you come to an important decision in your life. Set aside time to daydream about your deepest desires and wishes. Let yourself imagine a life where you take actions that are guided by your most authentic self. Start small and be consistent.

Now what?

Take this moment to reflect on ways that you can be your whole self. These don’t always have to be seismic shifts necessarily, but rather small shifts in attention that can have a dramatic impact on your mood and self-esteem. Learning to respect yourself means being your whole self and accepting every part of who you are  —  even if some of those parts are still under construction. I feel confident that if you open yourself up to who you truly are, you will be amazed by what you find out about yourself. I can’t wait to hear about what you discover!

This story was originally published on Medium.

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Thinkstock photo via KatarzynaBialasiewicz

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