Ep 89: How you feel and what you do

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Do feelings matter the most in good mental health? Or is it more about how well we function? Well, it’s both, really. But I think we place so much value on how we feel that we forget how much our behaviors contribute towards our mental health.

Here are a few ways to use behaviors to influence your feelings.

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Full transcript 👇


Ep 89: How you feel and what you do

Hi. I’m Lori Miller and this is your Mental Health Moment.

Having good mental health is all about feeling good, right?

If things are going well, we feel happy and grateful that things are going our way.

We may not actively seek out help or support because we have good feelings about where we are.

But it also feels good when you get things done, when you make things happen for yourself. If you’re like me, sometimes you make things happen in spite of feeling cranky or like life isn’t cutting you any breaks at all. You demonstrate healthy behaviors regardless of how you feel.

You wouldn’t necessarily say you feel good but you can see that the train is inching forward, and so that’s good.

So which is it?

Feeling good or demonstrating the behaviors that are working for you?

Welcome to our modern quandary.

I’m not sure we know which one brings us what we want from life. We like to feel like we’re accomplishing something here but we also just want to wake up with happy and content feelings just because.

Fair enough.

Even the psychological community doesn’t settle it. Consider the diagnostic bible called the DSM (or The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

The diagnosis of a mental disorder is based quite a bit on observable criteria that look a lot like behaviors, because they are.

If you’re demonstrating symptoms of depression, you may:

  • sleep less or more,
  • isolate from others,
  • lose interest in things you used to enjoy,
  • become more tearful or irritable,
  • lose or gain weight,
  • become more forgetful,
  • or abuse substances.

All things I can see without asking you. To be fair, there are some subjective criteria for depression: feeling sad, hopeless, or restless, feelings of worthlessness or thoughts of death.

But the overwhelming focus in a diagnosis is on what behaviors I can observe about you.

In fact, in spite of of how you feel, the diagnosis comes when those behaviors keep you from performing well in some way.

  • Like you call in sick to work a lot because you just can’t get out of bed.
  • Or your productivity at work suffers because you can’t focus.
  • Or you abuse drugs or alcohol. I don’t need to tell you how damaging that can be in all the important domains of your life.

I’m not saying your feelings don’t matter. But your behaviors or lack of behaviors, are what can make your life so hard to manage well.

And that can make you feel unhappy or sad.

So getting some progress going with your behaviors can go a long way to helping you feel better.

That’s why people with severe depression may be encouraged to just do a few small things to get moving, even if they’re not feeling it in the moment.

The reality is that good mental health is somewhere in between feeling good and functioning well.

Most of us understand that life has ups and downs that affect how we feel and how we act.

But one thing I’ve observed is just how powerful behaviors can be on those days when you can’t seem to put it together otherwise.

Focusing on your actions can be an agnostic way to lean in to something that feels more objective until your feelings decide to come along on the ride. Hopefully you can accomplish this without judging the outcome or beating yourself up.

So how can you leverage some healthy behaviors to help you on the feeling side?

First, you can make healthy behaviors a ritual part of your day, a habit.

You commit to the time, and take action because you already decided you would. These behaviors can be things like exercise, reading uplifting materials, or helping others. But honestly, they can be anything that you do every day that helps you.

Keep in mind, it takes time to develop a kind of muscle memory with a healthy behavior. But once you do, you find yourself thinking a little less about the merits of the activity itself, and it’s easier not to talk yourself out of it. You’re just on “go” mode, so you go.

This is very powerful and will carry you on the days when you’re not feeling it.

Second, you need to get some accountability and real connection in your life.

If I can see your behaviors, others can, too. You don’t need to be a therapist to notice that someone is struggling, withdrawn and isolated. You need people in your life who will miss you when you’re not around, notice things about you and who will check in with you. That may mean you have to reach out to others first to get this connection and accountability going.

But it is one action that can improve your life exponentially.

Loneliness is a feeling that much of the world is struggling with right now, in epidemic proportions. That feeling can be lessened by taking more intentional action in how much you interact with others.

Third, have some go-to behaviors in your pocket to counter your difficult feelings.

You know your triggers and many times, you know when you’re likely to feel vulnerable. On the days we struggle, one of the hardest things to do is to sit with those difficult feelings without knowing what to do.

That’s when rumination and obsessive thinking take over.

If you struggle with a certain feeling in a certain situation, have a plan for what you will do when you have that feeling.

If your coffee time this morning had you worrying about how the rest of this week is going to go, take a few minutes now to go for a walk. Exercise is a slam dunk for anxiety. If that works, make that your plan. Then, any time you feel anxious, you go for a walk. That’s just what you do.

Now you don’t have to think about it in the moment when your feelings have already hit the floor.

Feelings and behaviors go hand-in-hand for a life that helps you feel productive and purposeful.

You need both.

It’s nice to feel good but it’s not the only metric of a life that is taking you where you want to go.

Part of good mental health is being resilient to handle the challenges that come your way and being able to take real action to stay on track.

Leverage both your feelings and healthy behaviors to feel good.

You can catch episodes of Mental Health Moment by visiting mymentalhealthmoment.com. Don’t forget to subscribe to Mental Health Moment on Amazon Alexa, Apple podcast, Google podcast and Spotify. Just search for “Mental Health Moment with Lori Miller.”

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If you’re STILL wanting for more, you can find articles and videos about stress and mental health, by visiting my website at LoriMiller.me.

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