Mentally Strong Person of the Week: Nora McInerny

Nora McInerny 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 the 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.

Nora McInerny is an author from Minneapolis who freely shares her story of grief and loss. In 2014, she experienced a miscarriage and lost both her husband and her father all within a few weeks.

She made headlines when her husband’s obituary was published. She and her husband had written it together during the final weeks of his cancer battle. It was filled with humor (he presented himself as Spider-Man and the ex-husband of Gwen Stefani). It went on to capture the attention of millions of readers.

Since then, Nora has gone on to share her story of grief and loss in the books she has written. But she has managed to maintain her sense of humor throughout, and she makes it clear that laughter and pain sometimes go hand-in-hand.

Through her books and her podcast, she talks about how life isn’t always filled with happy endings. She warns against the dangers of “toxic positivity,” stating it’s okay to feel bad sometimes too.

Nora McInerny

Right now we live in a culture that wants us to perform every aspect of our lives in a way that is really unnatural. And we are very adept at performing happiness.

— Nora McInerny

Nora is this week’s “Mentally Strong Person of the Week” because she uses her platform to spread awareness on tough subjects like grief and trauma. She gives a realistic view of what it’s like to experience deep emotional pain, and she provides hope to those who are also struggling in life (without promising that every situation has a silver lining.)

Nora shared some valuable mental strength strategies during our conversation on the Mentally Strong People podcast. Here are three of my favorite tips—as well as my advice for how you can apply these strategies to your own life.

Acknowledge your emotions.

Nora talked a lot about how unhealthy it is to pretend that you’re happy all the time. It’s okay to acknowledge when you feel sad, angry, disappointed, anxious, or scared. You might even feel several emotions at the same time.

She said you might even experience emotions that feel conflicting. You can be happy and sad at the same time. Emotions are messy and confusing sometimes. But she said we should embrace whatever it is we’re feeling because those emotions don’t last forever.

She also said that when you’re having a good day, you shouldn’t be afraid to enjoy it. Even though happy feelings won’t last forever, it’s important to enjoy them while you can.

NORA MCINERNY

Get your hopes as high as they can that day because you won’t feel like this forever. And also feel as sad you need to on your down days because this is also not forever.

— NORA MCINERNY

My Take

Nora’s advice about naming your feelings and allowing yourself to experience a wide variety of emotions is wise. It’s something we often work on in the therapy office.

There’s science that backs up why this is good for you. Studies show just naming an uncomfortable emotion can take some of the sting out of it. So simply saying, “I feel anxiety right now,” might help you feel a bit less anxious in the moment.

Identifying feelings that seem conflicting can also help you make more sense of how you’re feeling. For example, you might tell yourself, “I’m happy that I’m starting a new job, but I’m also sad about leaving my co-workers,” or “I’m excited about this new relationship, but at the same time I’m scared it might not work out.”

When you experience negative self-talk, share it with someone you trust.

Nora said when she experiences a lot of negative self-talk, she runs her thoughts past someone she trusts so they can give her a reality check. Hearing what someone else has to say helps her recognize when her thoughts are just too negative to be true.

"I need to tell you the things that I'm thinking about myself so you can tell me the truth," Nora says.

My Take

We all experience negative thoughts about ourselves that just aren’t true. And while there may be times you can reframe those negative thoughts yourself, there may be other times that it’s difficult to do.

When you think, “I’m never going to feel better,” you could remind yourself, “Someday you will feel better.” But no matter how much you tell yourself that, you might not believe it. Hearing someone else reassure you, however, might help change your thinking.

So I like Nora’s idea that you should take those unhelpful thoughts to someone else for a reality check. Tell a trusted friend or family member, and let them tell you the truth about whether you’re doomed to fail or you are beyond help.

Sometimes it’s easier to believe someone else who reminds you that you’re a good person or that you’re more capable and competent than you give yourself credit for. Just hearing someone else say those things out loud can remind you that you shouldn’t believe everything you think.

Consider how traumatic experiences have shaped the way you view the world.

Nora talked about how losing several loved ones affected the way she sees the world. When one of her children complains of a headache, for example, she immediately has the tendency to imagine that they have a lethal illness.

She talked openly about seeing a therapist. So now when she catches herself thinking this way, she is able to remind herself that her traumatic experiences are causing her to jump to the worst-case scenarios sometimes. Just recognizing how her traumatic experiences shape the way she views the world has helped her manage her anxiety better.

She made it clear that although she has survived traumatic experiences, she’s not a “traumatized person with a sad story.” The things that happened to her are just part of her story—and her story isn’t either a sad one or one with a fairytale ending. It’s a story filled with lots of twists and turns.

Nora McInerny

Some things are going to happen to you—beauty and terror. And it is all part of your story. You are not the one bad thing that you did or that happened to you.

— Nora McInerny

My Take

While you might not have experienced the same type of loss as Nora, you’ve likely had some type of traumatic experience. It’s estimated that at least 70 percent of people experience some type of trauma at one point or another.

Those traumatic experiences can affect how you think, feel, and behave. Trauma often leads to irrational thoughts, feelings, and behavior—because your brain is on overdrive trying to protect you and those around you from anything that might be dangerous.

It’s important to consider how traumatic experiences may have shaped your thinking as well as how your brain tries to protect you. If you’re struggling to figure it out, consider talking to a therapist.

To hear more of Nora’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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