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Eight years ago, Chris Wood — writer, director (“The Stew”), actor (“Supergirl,” “The Vampire Diaries”) — lost his father to mental illness. His death was, in part, the result of a manic episode — the symptoms of which, according to Wood, came out of the blue. “His personality changed. It started with racing thoughts, and his speech would be chattered,” Wood tells Thrive. “His opinions were changing, and stuff just didn’t seem like him.” His father refused to discuss the signs of his declining mental health, Wood explains, which prevented him from getting the help he needed.
Galvanized by this tragedy, Wood launched IDONTMIND, a mental health awareness campaign and lifestyle brand working to defeat the stigma around mental illness. To achieve its mission, IDONTMIND features resources across its website on everything from how to deal with serious mental health conditions to strategies for managing day-to-day stress.
And new research shows that in general, we’re pretty bad at that. A new Thrive Global survey of over 2,000 Americans ages 18 to 85 shows just how desperately people want and need that knowledge: 91% of respondents said not knowing or ignoring their personal signs of overstress had a negative impact on their mental well-being, 72% wish they knew more small everyday steps to improve their mental health, and nearly half said when it comes to managing their stress, they don’t know where to start.
Because there is power in sharing our stories, Wood is opening up to Thrive about his mental health journey, everyday steps he takes to take care of his emotional well-being, and the launch of his organization, IDONTMIND.
Thrive Global: Can you share a little about the backstory of IDONTMIND?
Chris Wood: About eight and a half years ago, I began this impossibly tough year that left me juggling grief and depression. My coping mechanism at the time was to shut it down and not talk about it. When people would ask how I was, I just ended the conversation. I wasn’t open to discussing it at all. For a couple of years that was how I operated. It was terrible. I didn’t really start to heal until the first time I actually decided to be honest about what I was feeling and what I’d been through.
Instead of shutting people down when they asked how I was, I heard myself starting to respond with, “Oh, I don’t mind, I can talk about it.” Just that tiny little switch in my response from being closed off and denying conversations — just starting with something that was open, and that said, “No, I’m not going to let this weigh me down anymore. I’m going to speak about it” — changed everything. I hadn’t been admitting there was a problem. I hadn’t been embracing the truth of my grief in losing my dad.
The irony was that what happened with my dad — this manic episode that was caused by stress and work overload and lack of self-care — was exactly what I was doing to myself in the process of losing him. Fast forward, I was starting to work with mental health organizations, and just wanting to give back and find a way to be a voice in that space. I noticed that every approach I was seeing was catering to insiders, the people who already know mental health is a problem. I realized that the people who we need to be reaching are the ones who aren’t already thinking and talking about [mental health]. That was kind of the direct segue into building my own organization: this awareness that there was a vacancy, and nothing I saw was filling its need.
TG: How do you see grief as related to mental health?
CW: It’s something I think a lot about. It’s funny, my instance with grief was also related to mental health. But grief itself obviously is emotional and mental. The recovery of loss, no matter what the cause is, is a process that is complicated and inconsistent. There’s no formula for doing it right. Yesterday [the eight-year anniversary of Wood’s father passing] came and went. For the first time when the anniversary arrived, I didn’t feel like I was a puddle on the floor. There was almost like a, “Wow, that’s kind of sad that life just chugs on without that person in your life.” That’s the way grief goes — it cycles in and out.
TG: What are some of the things that cause you stress?
My main stressors are actually things that are probably not unusual to anyone who works in the entertainment industry. The inconsistency of employment, the next opportunity. I work in a trade where you’re constantly out of work until you’re in the next job. The perpetualness of a current project ending, and the uncertainty of whether or not there is going to be a next one. I have this deep strange desire to create things that are lasting, and to seek out things that are meaningful. Sometimes that’s a factor of stress — I need to be doing more. I need to be doing better. I need to be working harder.
TG: What are the signs that you’re starting to reach your breaking point?
CW: I have a really bad time with self-esteem in those moments. I’m really, really hard on myself. I’m much meaner to me than I am to anyone else in my life, which my wife always likes to remind me. “Be as nice to you as you are to me, and you’ll be doing better,” she says. Depression is my thing that I battle. When it kicks in, existence is hard. Wanting to get out of bed is hard, being a human is hard. That’s how it shows for me. It’s just severe feelings of worthlessness. It gets very sad, because I start to feel like my only impact on the world is negative. I know that’s not reality when I’m feeling well. But when I’m stressed and when I’m triggered, and I start to spiral, that’s where I go to.
TG: How do you learn to take care of your mental health every day?
CW: The biggest lesson I’ve learned was that I can’t hold things inside. That was what was keeping my grief from morphing to the next evolution. It was just staying in this dark first stage of hurt and anger. How does a wound heal until you start to treat it? I think the biggest thing really was the openness. By talking about things, I was able to find other solutions that also helped. For me, exercise is a huge component of my mental health. When I can’t exercise, that’s when I spiral. It’s such a release for me. I think people need to be more active. If you’re not dealing with something, stay active. If you’re dealing with something, get out and go for a walk. Another thing I do when I start to feel down is I meditate. I try to do six 10-minute sessions in a day. I try to eat really clean. I walk my dog like five or six times a day. The biggest thing I learned is to take the time to take care of yourself. Invest in yourself, because you only get one. That’s where your efforts should go. That will help you accomplish all the other things in your life.
TG: What are your hopes for the movement you’re creating with IDONTMIND?
CW: I have a super simple goal of changing the world. Honestly though, that is the target. Truly, the goal is to live in a world where the stigma is dissolved. People are able to communicate about mental illness in the way that they communicate about physical ailments. Being able to say things like, “I’m just having a day,” and it being understood. Mental health days at work being a real thing, which is actually coming more into swing now in the U.S. There are reasons that other cultures embrace the concept of siestas, or two-month vacation periods. We’re a little bit backwards in our society. We work, work, work and don’t rest. Then people burn out. It’s an impossible study to really trace in early years, but looking at the question: How are these diseases that are so prevalent in our world, how are they a potential result of living with nonstop stress? What happens when we view our emotions as importantly as some people view going to the gym? The goal is to reprogram our thinking as a society.
IDONTMIND is an official program of Mental Health America, the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting the overall mental health of all Americans. With over 200 affiliates and associates in 42 states, 6,500 affiliate staff and over 10,000 volunteers, MHA brings over 100 years of experience and knowledge to IDONTMIND.
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