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Mental Health Awareness Week 2015: How to Use Your Fangirl Powers to Practice Self-Care

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It’s Mental Health Awareness week, and when you think of the best caretakers of the brain, the fangirl might be at the very bottom of the list. But the fangirl has all sorts of unicorn powers ready to be unlocked if she considers the mental health tools at her disposal. Yes, we may look to fiction and find that character change is quick and romantic, but in real life it’s quite slow and difficult. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t get some inspiration from the power of story. Here are just a few tricks to move towards being a mentally healthy fangirl.

1. Name the villain. Genetics, environment, and sheer chance contribute to our struggles with mental health. But there’s also a villain in your story, and unlike television, it’s not a glorious female tyrant you end up shipping with everyone. It’s the negative voice in your head who says you’ll never be good enough, smart enough, or pretty enough. “Enough” is the worst word their ever was. I struggled with negative thinking so much that I decided to name my negative voice Carl. Used in a sentence, “Carl thinks I shouldn’t watch Scream Queens tonight because I didn’t work hard enough.” When you name the problem as the villain and not your personal failings, you realize that Carl is an asshat and doesn’t operate with facts. Suddenly you’re empowered to change your thinking and operate a little less irrationally. What would you name your villain?

2. Collect story data. To really gain an understanding about what prompts anxiety, anger, or depression in your life, you have to grab your butterfly net and collect some data. Luckily, the fangirl is already an expert at examining minutiae. If you can catalog and memorize a list of shippy moments in 201 X-Files episodes, then you shouldn’t have any problem keeping track of thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. Create a private Tumblr to log your data, or recruit a friend to compare notes. Research tells us that simply by observing our responses to an angry fandom troll or an insane spoiler, we create the ability to sculpt a less reactive brain. We evolve simply by being curious about ourselves.

3. Create healthy headcanon. We change the channel when characters settled for the same boring routine, so why don’t we hold the same expectations for ourselves? If you could write the script for your life and your mental health, where would the plot development occur? So often we get stuck agonizing over all the wrongs in our life that we lose a clear picture of our goals and what makes us happy. In therapy we call this asking the Miracle Question. So ask yourself, “If I woke up tomorrow and took care of my mind and my body, what would it look like?” Move in the direction of that healthy headcanon, and the plot will fall into place.

4. Consult with your cast. Fangirl growth is more enjoyable when you have a cast of characters to share the ride. Consider hosting a group text or Google hangout where you can share your progress and goals when it comes to your mental health. You may find that the more you say something out loud, the more determined you are to see it through. Therapists don’t have a monopoly on mental health wisdom, and the right group of friends can teach you how to practice kindness towards your brain and all its unicorn qualities. By cheering for others, you slowly learn to cheer for yourself.

5. Treat Yo Self to Compassion. The fangirl may throw the phrase “Treat Yo Self” around regularly, but she is often her worst critic. A Treat Yo Self mentality implies practicing that radical self-compassion that challenges your inclination towards self-loathing. Sure, sometimes it might mean watching ten Alan Rickman movies in a row, but it might also suggest that you start turning your iPad off earlier before bed or delegating at work when you have a full load. How would your mind change if you loved yourself as fiercely as your favorite fictional character?

6. The fangirl is the author of her own mind. There will be horrible first drafts, and abandoned plot points, but if you keep your on the task, you’ll find that your narrative can change. We cheer for our favorites when they brush the dirt off their knees and stand back up. So why not treat our anxieties, fears, and confusion with the same patience? A fangirl isn’t perfect or free of stress. She simply trusts that a good story is one that bends towards self-compassion.

Kathleen Smith is a licensed therapist and author of the blog Fangirl Therapy. Her book, The Fangirl Life: All the Feels (and how to deal), will be published by Penguin Random House in 2016.

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