Becoming mentally stronger

Adding more resistance, adversity, or stress is one way and learning how to adapt to the challenge is another. Yet for all of these ways to get stronger, without removing the obstacles in our own approach to adversity, we often see little gain. So if you want to get stronger mentally, here are five things I try to concentrate on.


It’s taken me a long time to know what is my responsibility and what is not. What I aim to do is take responsibility for my behaviour, my thoughts and my feelings. I now know that I need to let go of the idea that anyone is going to make things better for me. This is sometimes very difficult to achieve and I have certainly struggled with it over the years particularly when I’ve been severely depressed. Whilst I know that sometimes things happen that are out of my control, it is my responsibility to decide how to respond to these things.

I think it’s important to understand this. As hard as it is sometimes, it’s easy to point the finger and blame someone else for “messing up my day”.

Taking things personally

We all get setbacks and often come out stronger as a result. To improve mental resilience we need to stop believing that anyone “has it out for us” or “that the world is against us”. The result of other people’s actions, thoughts, and feelings — are often totally out of our control and we are not responsible for them. So why waste energy wondering why others do the things they do and spend more time on the things we can control and know the difference.

The future

We cannot predict the future. I don’t waste any time anticipating or foretelling the future. Because I know the action is right here, right now, in the present moment and the future is not now. I also know that when my mind is in the future, it’s not in the now, and I’m likely to miss critical details and make mistakes — simply because I was distracted by what could happen instead of focusing on what is happening.

Letting go

While we all love to dream and often to achieve anything new and exciting in life we need to dream about the possibilities but still retain the awareness that until the building blocks or foundation stones to achieving that dream are in place, those dreams are not reality.

The chances are, it will not “all just work out”. More than likely, there will be good and bad. Thinking life is “all good”, is just a fantasy that promotes denial. And denying what might not be going so well is a sure way to keep it going that way.

The past

For many of us, holding on the past would allow us to avoid loss. Yet I believe it’s important to know that wishing things “could just go back to the ways they were,” is a wish, and not reality. I know the past — as good or bad as it might have been — is gone. And I also know you can’t drive a car, and you can’t go through life, looking backwards.

So I accept the losses, and instead of wishing I could go back in time, I think about what I need to do in the present. Because focusing on the wonderful things happening yesterday is a sure way to miss the opportunities that might be right in front of you.

And lastly

I know that becoming mentally well is often a tough and hard earned battle — one that is not won overnight. And while sometimes we have to learn how to fine tune our approach and leverage the adversity, sometimes we also have to learn how to get out of our own way.

Why reducing stigma surrounding mental illness is important

During the first year and for some time after being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I went through a grieving process for the person I thought I was and for the loss of my identity. I was in denial, I was angry, shocked and saddened by my diagnosis and it has taken a very long time to find peace with myself and an acceptance of my condition.

Mental illness in one of its many forms, affects 1 in 4 Australians, meaning most people will know at least one person with a mental health issue during their lifetime. Even with this incredibly high statistic, there is still a stigma attached to mental illness as opposed to physical illness and the old images of asylums and straight jackets still arouse fear and suspicion in people where there should be compassion and understanding.
The main reason I have been so willing to tell my story openly was to try and help break down that stigma associated with mental illness. When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I struggled with the fact there was very little information available that was digestible and helpful for my family and I.

I decided very early on that as someone working in the media and in the public eye, I was in the perfect position to tell my story to help others and therefore become part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.
In the years since my initial manic episode, I have for the majority of the time been very well which is not to say there have not been some very difficult periods for me and my family.

I have learnt that it is important to see stress for what it actually is – and that is a “fight or flight” instinct that we humans have which would have been useful when we had to spear animals for food or run from woolly mammoths! However, this chemical reaction to what we in the modern day consider being in a stressful situation is not so useful. Stressing out when you are in the queue at the post office because you are running late just isn’t useful – it is not a life or death situation!

I ask people to observe how they react in a stressful situation and whether or not that much emotional energy is necessary. I try not to let my emotions overwhelm me and I look at just how important the situation is in the grand scheme of things. It is important for me and for everyone really, to consider our responses and whether or not it is worth getting stressed about something outside of our control.

I think what many people worry about once they have had a mental health diagnosis is will I be able to function in normal life?

The answer, of course, is “yes” but not only that – you can live a great life.

I honestly believe my diagnosis is a gift, one that has allowed me to take an inventory of my life and forced me to take a good hard look at my choices and change what I can. I look back over my life and realise that although some of it is not pretty, I am also very grateful for what I have. I also understand the importance of being responsible for yourself and not blaming others or external situations.

I think it is especially important for young people and school students to be really informed about mental health issues and know that the stigma associated with mental illness is becoming less prevalent every day and rightly so.

There are many children living with depression or mental illness at home and by ‘normalising’ it, it not only breaks the stigma associated with mental health, it takes away the fear and equips young people with the tools to know how to help themselves and others.

I can’t just talk the talk; I have to walk the walk so I try hard to keep my balance between work and home a top priority! I enjoy work but I also include relaxing and energising activities into my week – I practice yoga at home, although not as often as I would like, as well as invigorating walks along the beach to reduce the chance of stress building up.

I don’t drink much alcohol anymore and I try to keep my use of social media down to a minimum. As a society, we are all so wired up to electronic devices and screens all the time – our minds are not designed to be ‘on’ 24/7 – it is no wonder people today feel stressed and anxious.
The harrowing experiences with severe episodes of depression have pushed me towards examining the big ‘why are we here’ questions and so opened up the spiritual side of my life that had previously been closed off.
As a community, I believe we all need to take responsibility for breaking down the barriers that prevent people from taking action before it is too late.

I want to keep spreading the message that you must not be embarrassed or ashamed about having a mental health issue.

Ten ways to reduce the negative impacts of anxiety and depression

Can we improve our mental health without medication?

In today’s busy world most of us wait until we are highly stressed, anxious or even depressed before we act on our health. Even when we do take stock and ask ourselves the question “OK, I’m unwell and getting worse by the day, what next, what do I need to do to regain my health?”
Apart from medication is there anything else we can do to improve our mental health?

I believe the answer is “ABSOLUTELY YES.”

Only since my diagnosis with Bipolar Disorder One have I consciously started looking after my wellbeing. The main reason for change came about because without change my health would continue to suffer. My first internal check-up comes as soon as I open my eyes in the morning.

How am I travelling today? Is my mood higher than it should be? Do I feel slightly depressed? How am I really feeling? It has to be an honest appraisal otherwise the whole process is a waste of time.

We all need to keep an eye on ourselves

I think a lot of these routines are beneficial to everyone, not just people with mental illnesses. We all need to keep an eye on ourselves. Diet-wise, I’m imperfect, but I do try. I eat fewer processed foods.

I’ve slashed my coffee intake. When I first started in the media, I regularly drank five cups a day, two sugars in each. It was simply fueling an increase in adrenaline which with an increase in the hormone, cortisol, would set me up eventually for adrenal exhaustion. That was too much caffeine and sugar, too much fake energy. The slump would come in the late afternoon, further proof that highs always lead to lows, ups necessitate downs; the whole lot a balancing act, a non-stop game of give and take, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I’m down to two coffees a day because I just love a good coffee but the five and six a day is a thing of the past.

I have also cut back sugar consumption and this has also levelled out my mood, and actually increased my energy levels, not reduced them. I felt terrible without it for the first few weeks and definitely had withdrawal symptoms but I persevered…

When it comes to fitness, my routine varies. The problem is that I get very bored, very easily, so I chop and change my routines to keep them fresh. I have a once a week boxing class, a swim every now and then, I walk and do yoga either in a class situation or at home.

I believe that everyone needs a special routine or a place; one thing they know will make them feel completely free of worry. Mine is a 9.5 kilometre walk a meditation without actually sitting down to meditate. I’ve started plenty of these walks in a restless mood but I’ve never finished in anything other than great spirits. I’m so into it I forget that I’m actually getting exercise in the process. The heart rate is up without it being too much of a hard slog. The more I walk the clearer my thoughts become. I will continue to do this walk whenever possible and find some new ones to experience as well. And I’ll continue to look for other ways to support my health and wellbeing.

The sensory overload of bipolar can be overwhelming but most of the time I know when I need to pull back, take my time and take a long slow breath. Sometimes diving into the surf on those bitterly cold winter mornings will lift your mood. In summer the temperature will be between 18 and 21 degrees Celsius; in winter it might get down to 14 or 15. I choose not to walk with an iPod blaring in my ears. My phone is off or absent. I don’t want to be taking calls, I don’t want any artificial noise, I just want to find my peace. I find calm in the steadiness of my own footsteps.

I used to find time on my own difficult. Now I like time spent with myself. It’s a great challenge to keep your own company. It can be a challenge but the more you like your own company the more relaxed you will become.

My 10 point stay well plan

My 10 point stay well plan to manage and improve the debilitating impacts of depression, bipolar disorder, acute stress and anxiety are as follows:

1. Good sleep pattern
2. Regular exercise
3. Yoga
4. Meditation
5. Reduce alcohol consumption
6. Eat as much unprocessed food as possible
7. Surround yourself with positive uplifting people
8. Read the stories of others who have overcome adversity to inspire you
9. Don’t feel that you are alone as mental health issues are common
10. Seek help if you are overwhelmed.

Medication is also very effective for many mental illnesses and in many cases will be absolutely necessary. This is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about, I have taken medication since my diagnosis of bipolar in 2000. And, I share this very openly, always.

There is nothing in my stay well plan that cannot work in tandem with prescribed medication.