Saying Is Believing
Hi 👋– I’m Meadowlark, but friends call me Meadow. I’m an ENFP with an addictive personality, a Libra, millennial, and a mental health activist. The “elevator pitch” version of my life includes a family that has coped with bipolar disorder, addiction, suicide, cancer, homelessness, and that’s just to name a few. I did what every other Psychology student did, and decided if I couldn’t diagnosis my family, I’ll just diagnose others! Kidding… well sort of.
I have worked in mental health for the past six years all up and down California’s coast and most recently have been working with NAMI - the nation’s largest, grassroots nonprofit supporting mental illness, and also on my personal blog That’s Cr*zy - aimed at building a community for millennials and Gen Z to destigmatize mental health. I first heard about Madhappy from my friend in LA who described them as the new, cool-kid, loungewear brand, and she worked for Glossier so I trusted her connotation of “cool” and quickly gave them a follow. But, when I saw that Madhappy’s whole MO was about mental health and breaking down stigma, I knew they were up to something special. We quickly connected over our passion and common goal to normalize mental health and the rest was history.
So now, I’m writing to you. Today, I wanted to introduce myself by speaking about a subject I had mixed feelings over to see how you all feel. Because, as someone who works in mental health and is deep into the wellness world, I have to say I am not a big fan of self-help books. However, after all the buzz around “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” I decided to give it a go. I have to admit, one specific point in the opening chapter completely resonated with me. It’s a wellness fad that is seemingly ubiquitous in Instagram captions and Youtube tutorials on “self care”, without the real recognition of its role in positive psychology, and that is… affirmations.
If you haven’t seen this floating around, affirmations is a new terminology that refers to the practice of positive thinking and self-empowerment. They are statements, like “I am happy and healthy”, that are designed to create self change in the individual using them. The idea is fairly simple: changing your thoughts to support a positive mental attitude will help you to change your behaviors and in turn, achieve your self growth goals. This isn’t to say that affirmations are always going to agree with how we feel. In fact, a lot of the time, the power of changing this narrative comes from the fact that we aren’t in that feeling now. So, in order to help get you started on changing your thoughts, the idea is to repeat affirmations that help you form a more positive view of yourself. For example, this could look like thinking, “this is just a new beginning” while recovering from a break up. And, these can be done anywhere! Out loud in front of the bathroom mirror, at night when you’re falling asleep, in your head when your boss is griping at you, you catch my drift.
So, this self-help book (and my personal bias) said that happy people aren’t going around looking in mirrors and repeating to themselves “I am happy”, they just are. Reading that, my knee-jerk reaction was thinking that was spot on. When I’m doing well with my anxiety or feeling good about myself, I don’t say out loud “you are a passionate individual with great style and a cute eyes”, I just feel it. Then again, whenever I feel myself have an immediate bias or reaction to something, I try to challenge that thought (just in case). So I started thinking about the ways in which I do place a significant weight on the power of language…
Allow me to give you a little context:
Everything I do revolves around destigmatizing mental illness. I have been working in mental health for over six years and have enough familial experience that I basically didn’t even need a degree in Psychology. I have worked on a university campus counseling center during a school shooting, I have worked for a LGBTQIAA+ resource center for older adults in San Francisco, I have helped start a homeless clubhouse for individuals with serious mental illness, and I run a blog aimed to destigmatize mental health, just to name a few. It’s my 9 to 5, my side hustle, and ebbs its way into every casual conversation I have.
When I speak to the community about stigma and mental illness, I like to point out that the easiest way to break stigma is to talk about it. Creating the space to open the conversation for mental health not only helps us to take the stigma out of the illness, but also help to encourage other people to get help when they need it. So while “breaking the stigma on mental illness” may seem like a monumental mission, breaking it down into our daily conversations gives folks an accessible way to get started!
And for tangible action items to start those conversations (we’re all about those take-home, action items here), you can start by being conscious of your verbiage. I do so by challenging people to start by not using the word “crazy”. It may seem small, but using crazy as an adjective for something that’s wild, eccentric, unbelievable, erratic, can actually further the idea that “crazy people” embody all of those adjectives as well. By subtly changing our language in this way, it’s a nod to the recognition that language can continue to stigmatize someone’s experience, rather than open the door to a conversation to connect over mental health. So, get your friends in on it, hold each other accountable, put a dollar in the swear jar, whatever! Just start with empathetic conversations around mental health, start by choosing your words carefully.
So, have you called me on my bullshit yet?
For someone who preaches at people all day to be mindful of their language, and the power that their language can have over an entire movement as large as breaking the stigma on mental illness, why am I so quick to jump to the conclusion that affirmations aren’t worth my while?
When I am doing well, which for me currently means my anxiety isn’t dire, it simply does not occur to me to repeat mantras in the mirror. Why should I? I’m doing fine! But, this goes beyond not repeating affirmations… doing “well” can also become an excuse to stop utilizing all my typical coping mechanisms. When I’m stressed out, I know what works for me: I go on walks around the neighborhood, watch a tried and true Netflix series (because sometimes starting a new one is too much work), play a record, write down what I’m feeling to help myself label the emotion. But, when I’m not stressed out… all of these fall to the wayside. My walk around the block turns into more time spent in the apartment. Slowly, my daily meditation becomes weekly.
But, if meditating was only for when you are anxious, how are you expected to build a consistent and strong practice? If anything, practicing while you are feeling empowered, would lead to an even more pronounced habit of meditation! It’s essentially daily maintenance. Coping skills and “self care” have to be consistent factors in our routine, not only for when we feel burnt out, but also while we are doing well. Trust me, I’ve learned this lesson the hard way.
When you work in mental health, “compassion fatigue” becomes a reality. Since I’ve walked the walk myself (aka all those family diagnoses I keep mentioning), I have that next level of empathy and understanding to offer to others while I’m doing my job. But, when so much time is spent helping others during some of their worst times of their lives, that level of empathy I bring to them as a worker leaves the office with me... It’s hard to not take on everyone else’s sorrow as your own when you know exactly what it feels like.
And this is exactly why I have learned to make everyday a self care day. I need to be utilizing those coping strategies each and every day so I don’t reach that crash and burn level of compassion fatigue. Checking out after work helps me hold my boundaries and work-life balance so I feel recharged and in turn, can offer more of myself to people when I’m at work the next day. We have a saying in the field - you can’t pour into someone else’s cup if yours is empty. That’s why I have to refill my cup every day with meditating, walking, laughing, spending time with friends, turning my phone off, whatever it is to keep me refreshed and grounded.
Affirmations are no different.
Even if you are happy, the power of your language and how you talk to yourself is profound. You know the term “a self fulfilling prophecy?” My point exactly.
Affirmations are all about the practice of mental self care. It’s a practice! A routine, something designed to be done consistently. It’s a lifestyle, not a diet.
The very idea of changing your way of thinking is right in line with certain therapeutic practices as well...
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an empirically based, solution-focused therapy - very different from the Freudian days of lying on a couch and analyzing your dreams. CBT says that while we may experience symptoms that are emotional or physical, our thinking and our behaviors are what are in our control, or what we have the power to change.
You can’t simply look at your shaking hands while you’re anxious and say “stop shaking!” But, you can look in a mirror and repeat “I am in control” until you start feeling it.
It’s a relatively simple idea but with ground breaking results: our patterns of thinking, both good and bad, have a significant impact on our experiences. And by changing these patterns (perhaps like adding in some affirmations), we can change our experiences. I’m not making this stuff up people! It’s in our Psychology literature - Martin (2016) to be exact and many more linked below.
By altering our thinking to repeat daily affirmations of positivity, in whatever form that may mean to you, we place a significant amount of power in ourselves to create our reality. Even if that may not be fully formed to you yet, start with “I am exactly where I need to be.” This way, we provide ourselves with the language, the voice, and the message that we are already doing and being. We are imagining the best possible outcome or version for ourselves, then considering it already done.
And with all that on the line, I am affirming not only the power of language, but the power we have over our own daily experience. And you know what that makes me?
Now, that can be easier said than done. Like I said, your feelings won’t always match what you are saying as affirmations, which is where the practice comes into play. But, it is important to remember that while affirmations can be a powerful tool, they are only one piece of the puzzle. Plus, habits take 30 days to create. So if this feels frustrating or silly at first, you’re not alone. Luckily, we have some tricks up our sleeve to help get you started if you’re curious to try it out.
Onto the practical application, or what I like to call “self care homework”! If you are struggling to find quality affirmations to incorporate into your daily routine, here are some examples of ones to get you started, as well as credible articles to explore into the topic further.
Some of the Madhappy Team’s Top Affirmations:
I have the ability to curate my own life.
I am in good health.
I possess the qualities I need in order to live a successful life.
This low I am experiencing will be balanced out with a high.
No feeling is permanent.
I am exactly where I need to be. I am going exactly where I need to go.
This is just a new beginning.
I am in charge of my feelings.
I trust that I am headed in the right direction.
Be empowered to do your own search! Here are some goodies to get you started:
Affirmations 101: Click Me!
Dig deeper into the literature: Click Me!
Build your own affirmations: Click Me!
Adding in affirmations is essentially like learning to form a new habit. Here is a habit building guide we love: Click Me!