To destigmatize mental health, it starts with working on yourself

To destigmatize mental health, it starts with working on yourself

My intention for this piece:

I want to provide you with a different, perhaps new, perspective to consider the next time you’re facing and tackling your own mental stress. I am simply going to share the learnings I’ve adopted for last two years on improving my mental health. If any resonate with you, please consider integrating into your lives and feel free to connect with me to discuss your experience.

My name is Tim, a 27-year-old first-time chief executive officer of a bootstrapped company that has grown to a multi-million dollar annual revenue business. And while I am SO grateful for the opportunity, I have gone through my fair share of mental health challenges as I continue this journey of being a living testament that you can start and grow a business that embodies more than normal transparency and team cultivation.

Being mindful to not just be another “millennial CEO sharing his feeling” (yes I was called that by WSJ after sharing my story two years ago), I held off publicly sharing any follow up learnings until something called me to do so. And then it came. Quite serendipitously.

When The Drum asked me, two weeks ago, to write a follow up piece (from my previous story linked above) to contribute to their goal of destigmatizing mental health for Do It Day, I gladly accepted so we can stop letting mental health be the reason for our own unhappiness and lack of fulfillment.

I approach destigmatizing mental health from a different angle, though.

What you may typically expect is someone to share his/her inspiring story of overcoming their mental health journey (which I completely respect), that will resonate with you and compel you to feel inspired and take action. But in reality, you forget the next day and go about your daily routine again.

“There is one way to learn, and it's through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey. You need to learn only one thing more.”

Paulo Coelho, Author of The Alchemist

I’m going to approach destigmatizing mental health by empowering you to take practical actions and help you realize it’s all within your control — always has been and always will be.

No hippie kumbaya shit — these are real and raw practices I’ve disciplined myself with for the last year.

To really make a dent in the world regarding overcoming mental health, it starts with you working on yourself.

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

- Leo Tolstoy

“Don’t worry about what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

- Howard Thurman

It started with the one mindset I operate with:

The One Mindset

At the end of the day, we will all end up in a box.

Before we end up in that box, we want to be happy and know we created a life well spent.

So we do what we do every day in search of that elusive happiness.

But society has been lying to us all this time telling us how we should attain happiness.

Because all the answers always will lie within you.

So give yourself permission to listen and invitation to take action.

And as I have operated with this mindset of giving myself full permission to listen for answers and created an invitation to take action for the past two years, it has blossomed to these nine practices I have integrated into my daily life. As a result, I’m grateful that there is not much that can ever make me emotionally confused or lost.

The Nine Practices

  1. Meditate to stretch your awareness muscle so you can find the silver lining

Fact: you don’t know what you don’t know. Sometimes you won’t know why you’re feeling so angry to the point of rage or depressed to the point of hurting yourself. I have felt that before.

My antidote: meditation.

Yes, you read about it and don’t really know why it works. Nor did I. But if you have the slightest curiosity, I have one rule for you: just five minutes a day, no matter what. You will fall asleep, you will find it boring, you will question it. I felt it all. But as I come out of the other side feeling and reaping the insane benefits, it’s worth it — especially when trying to overcome mental health challenges.

Why? Let’s just put it this way: the more you meditate, the more you work out the awareness muscle in your mind. The stronger your awareness muscle, the more you can find the silver linings in all you do and ease your nerves. Sure it may sound like a bunch of BS to attach false meaning to our failures, but so could be all the other things people tell you to make you feel better. At least meditation gives you the quiet time and space to listen to YOURSELF because only you know the full context to your unique situation.

“Only 10% of our stress is due to what happens. Whereas 90% is due to how we think about what happens.”

- Unknown

  1. Set intentions, not expectations

Much of our unhappiness derives from setting such high expectations for ourselves and being attached to the path of how it will play out. But guess what? Life is not fair, and what you think will happen most likely will not. There will be so many variables you will never be aware of to factor into your plan. So rather than setting expectations, set intentions, like I did in the beginning of this piece. Intentions are like expectations, just not attached to HOW everything will be played out. More on how to set intentions here.

  1. Adopt intentional minimalism

The self-storage industry makes $37bn a year in revenue in the USA alone. That’s a lot of things we keep because we are attached to them. Things you own and hold onto aren’t bad, but just know that they could be bringing you subconscious stress.

Example: the more clothes you have, the more you have to spend decision power on what to wear, every day. The more apps you have on your phone, the more of your attention gets robbed without you realizing (not to mention the potential stress it brings with all the notifications). Why spend your precious decision-making energy on so many clothes or lose your precious living time lost on your phone from unnecessary apps?

One simple exercise you can do is play the Minimalism Game. When I succeeded with the game, I instantly realized how less cluttered my physical surrounding was, but, more importantly, my mind.

Pro tip: when playing, just ask yourself what truly brings you value. Twice. And if it does, then ask yourself, is it worth the subconscious stress it brings? If so, great, keep them. If not, let them go. If you want to delve more into this, watch this Netflix documentary or read this book.

  1. Sprinkle gratitude reminders throughout your life

Ever notice yourself nod to beautiful quotes you see on social media or hear from friends? We align so much with it, but the moment we move on with our lives, we forget them. This is why I sprinkle gratitude reminders in all parts of my lives.

Whether it’s the pendant I wear on my wrist everyday that screams “WHY?” so I can always remind myself how pleasurable it is to find a purpose in anything I do, to a notification reminding me to take my 1-second video of what I’m grateful for of the day, gratitude reminders are my little answer books to life when I’m feeling shitty.

Other examples include my owl necklace reminding me how powerful it is to operate with a mindset of gifting without expectations, my half-sleeve tattoo reminding me to always transform wounds into wisdom, and the little mindfulness book I carry around my work bag so that, whenever I feel stressed, I flip to any page and use those words as my answers to center myself again.

Gratitude reminders allow you to always remember everything is relative and operate with a mindset of abundance. In doing so, you realize what you have is not that bad.

“When you sit with a nice girl for two hours you think it’s only a minute, but when you sit on a hot stove for a minute you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.”

- Einstein

  1. Start or join a tribe that matches your vibe

We all crave belonging and connection. Human beings are not meant to be alone; that’s why loneliness is such an uncomfortable feeling. I felt that and, instead of waiting around for those people to enter in my life, I wrote down words that described a community that resonated most with me: mindful, self-growth, action-oriented, serving others, and pushing the boundaries. And then I started asking friends who would know people like this, and when I found enough, I started a monthly event series called “Enlightenment Tribe,” where our purpose is to create and accelerate serendipity by bringing like-minded people together.

Your turn: What are your words that describe your tribe? Then how can you start looking for them? What’s stopping you from finding them?

  1. Unplug from technology

I believe we have entered into an era where technology has become an unhealthy haven to escape, rather than what it’s supposed to be: a tool that enhances our lives. I have seen myself become a zombie by mindlessly picking up my phone because I thought there were notifications coming in. How unhealthy that can be for our mental health to rely on the digital world to fill our supposed void.

This is why I have deleted all social apps and turned off all email notifications. Remember, you are in control of your phone, not the other way around.

Try leaving your phone in another room when you’re working and when you’re sleeping. Try not to pick up your phone first thing in morning. Try not to let your phone be the last thing you touch before going to bed. Yes, I know you’ll have good excuses to any of these practices I’ve adopted, but all I can say is there’s a solution around each of them, and you should consider trying these if you feel empty after you use your phone aimlessly.

Read here for practical ways my friend Andrew has devised to be more in control of your phone.

  1. Treat your body with respect

Like I shared above in the mindset, all of the answers you seek are always within you because only you have the most context to your unique situation. There are studies that show your body and mind are more connected than we think, which can feed answers to our mind. Think about the last time your heart tensed because of a fight-or-flight situation you encountered. So every time you feed it junk food, not getting the sleep you need, or exercise it craves, it clogs the communication portal between your body and mind.

Ideas to try: Stretch your body or dance in the morning for five minutes. Take more walks throughout the day, even if it’s just around the block, so you stop sitting so much. Only you know what your body wants and needs. So the more you respect your body, the more answers it can give you. How? Ask a question to yourself, close your eyes, and run possibilities through your mind. When your body feels a sensation or you even sense the slightest smile to one of the possibilities, it’s your body letting you know to explore more of that answer. Listen and honor that excitement.

  1. Operate with a beginner’s mind

“There are infinite possibilities with a beginner’s mind.”

A lot of us may deal with mental stress because we have landed in the unmotivated ditch, in which we further exacerbate it by turning to our worst habits — an unhealthy rabbit hole. This may happen because we play out the possibilities in our mind and think we know how it will play out. You, my friend, have made a classic mistake of operating with an “advanced mindset.”

What I have done to conquer this is operate with “Shoshin,” which stands for having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.

Why? It’s a simple shift in mindset that allows you to realize there is always more to learn. Always.

And just when you were questioning how you can fill your lifetime with things to do since you were so bored, you’ll quickly see it will probably take three lifetimes to even scratch the surface of what there is in the world to experience — and each experience can open new perspectives, new relationships, and new paths.

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few."

- Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Teacher

  1. Devise your own mantras as continuous north star guidance

Similar to sprinkling gratitude practices, I think everyone should devise their own mantras to use as their north stars.

We will all be faced with uncomfortable and new situations in our lives that will confuse us and make us feel agitated when trying to make a decision, adding to mental stress. That’s why to make it easier, I create mantras I sincerely believe in, and promise myself to follow whenever I can’t figure out which path to take in the forked road. It allows you to have a sense of direction and feel confident with your decision, without ever having to put more strain on your mind. You can read more on mine here.

Bonus: When I asked my Facebook network for their one best practice in taking care of their mental health, I got a whopping 75 ideas. Here they are for your convenience. Suggestion: any that you like or want to learn more, reply to their thread asking to connect — #consentfirst

Start with love because everyone is suffering

To truly destigmatize mental health, it starts with you working on yourself. It’s only when you start healing yourself will you realize it’s absolutely OK to talk about this with others and support each other.

And if there’s one thing I hope you take away, it’s this: Everyone is trying to figure it out. No one is immune to mental health challenges. No one has it all figured out. We are all suffering in one way or another. So start with love when you’re ready to talk about this with your community — because you may be that inspiration to heal that person. And if not, at least you can connect on this inevitable struggle and work together on your journeys.

Finally:

"Realize that you’re not alone. Everybody is struggling, whether you see it or not. Everybody is fighting demons of their own making, the only difference is that some of them hide it better than others. If you look hard enough, or if you talk long enough, you’ll see it too. Everybody is doing the best they think they can. They really are, but they’re imperfect too. This was maybe the hardest truth for me to internalize.”

– Armando Biondi

With open arms to chat when you’re ready,

Tim

The Drum believes that marketing can change the world. That is why, this World Mental Health Day, the annual Do It Day event will focus on mental health wellbeing, particularly in the workplace.

A hack session will start of Do It Day on Tuesday 10 October, bringing together various marketing, advertising, creatives and professionals, globally, to work on campaigns to destigmatise mental health.

This will be followed by a fringe week from Monday 13 November to Friday 17, where the winning campaigns will be executed, along with the Marketing Can Change The World Awards on Thursday 16 November.

Tim Sae Koo

Tim Sae Koo is co-founder and CEO of Tint in San Francisco.

All by Tim