Mentally Strong Person of the Week: Danica McKellar

Danica McKellar is the mentally strong person of the week.

Verywell / Julie Bang

In the “Mentally Strong Person of the Week” series, I’ll share wisdom from some of my favorite guests on my podcast, “Mentally Strong People.” I’ll explain the strategies they use to stay mentally strong and then give you my take (as a therapist) on how you can apply these strategies to your own life.

You might remember Danica McKellar as Winnie Cooper from the TV show The Wonder Years. Since her days as a childhood actress, she’s gone on to accomplish some incredible things—which is why she is this week’s “Mentally Strong Person of the Week.”

In college, she discovered she was really good at math. So she started writing math books for kids. Her books became so popular that they hit multiple bestseller lists. She continues to help young people (and their parents) break down complex mathematical principles into fun, easy-to-understand equations.

Her bestselling-author status hasn’t ended her acting career, however. She continues to star in TV shows and movies, including Hallmark’s popular Christmas movies. She uses her platform to talk about mental health, including her own personal struggles.

Danica McKellar

I get super depressed... I'm an actress. I'm empathetic, and it just weighs me down like a ton of bricks.

— Danica McKellar

But she also shares the strategies that help her stay mentally strong. Every week, she shares a video on social media called #McKellarMondayMotivation where she gives tips for getting through tough times and reaching your goals.

During our conversation on the Mentally Strong People podcast, Danica shared several strategies that help her think, feel, and do her best in life. Here are three of those strategies and my take on how you can apply them to your own life.

Find a way to help other people. 

Danica said news stories get her down. But she feels better when she takes some kind of action to help others.

Danica McKellar

One of the things I do when I'm feeling down is to ask myself what I can do to make a difference.

— Danica McKellar

During the pandemic, for example, she said she felt awful hearing stories about kids in rough situations. So she started creating fun little videos for people through Cameo, and she donates the money she earns to charity.

My Take

Hearing about other people’s suffering can cause you to feel hopeless and helpless. Taking action is a great way to feel better.

Like Danica, you might find raising money for a good cause helps. But you might also find that doing things on a smaller scale is equally as helpful. Just being kind to those around you or doing a good deed for a neighbor could help you feel a little better.

The important thing is that you contribute to making the world a better place. When you know that your actions can go a long way toward reducing other people’s pain, you’ll feel better.

Take action even when you don’t feel like it.

Danica said that when she’s having a bad day, she sometimes asks herself what advice she would give a friend. And that helps her get moving even when she doesn’t feel like it. She said on one particular day she couldn’t stop crying. But she started doing yoga even though she didn’t feel like it. Getting active helped ease her sadness, and she felt better.

Danica McKellar

Don’t wait until you’re ready because you might never feel ready.

— Danica McKellar

My Take

Pushing yourself to do something that could boost your mood—even when you don’t feel like it—is sound advice. But it’s usually more tempting to do the opposite.

You might think, “I’ll go to the gym when I feel motivated,” or “I’ll get together with my friends when I feel less depressed.” But sometimes you have to change your behavior first, and your feelings will follow. It’s tough to push yourself to take action when you don’t feel like it, but it can definitely help you grow stronger.

Break big goals down into small reasonable chunks.

Danica said that whenever she’s faced with a big goal, she breaks it down into smaller chunks. This helps her feel less overwhelmed and more motivated to tackle a big goal. It also helps her feel more confident in her ability to succeed.

Danica McKellar

 People give up on their dreams because they’re afraid they’re going to fail.

— Danica McKellar

My Take

Whether you set out to pay off $100K in debt or you decide you want to lose 50 pounds, a giant goal can feel impossible in the beginning.

Establishing smaller objectives gives you a place to start. In the therapy office, I often ask clients, “What’s one small step you can take today to get you a little closer to your goal?” That might mean exercising for 30 minutes, saving $5, or calling to schedule an important appointment.

Each time you check something off—even when it’s something really small—you gain momentum. And that momentum can help you keep going as you work toward reaching a big goal.

To hear more of Danica’s mental strength suggestions, listen to the full episode on my Mentally Strong People podcast. Each week, I’ll share another Mentally Strong Person and explain how their strategies can help you think, feel, and do your best in life.

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