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Popcorn vs. Mental Illness: 3 Surprising Similarities [Stress]

Does life sometimes feel like its spiraling out of control? Do daily tasks keep piling up and nothing ever seems to get done? Scroll down and you will discover how mental illness reminds me of popcorn and how you can slow down the constant popping.

The Question

How does popcorn relate to mental illness?


The Answer

The symptoms of mental illness are similar to popcorn popping.

To understand - we have to jump through the time vortex and visit my childhood.

Don't stare too long - you might get sucked back in time...

or get dizzy.

Imagine you are circa 1980-something...

"Let's pop some popcorn in an open skillet," Sam said, holding a bag of popcorn kernels in one hand and a cast iron skillet in the other.

"OK!" I squealed.


Try not to judge my lack of safety awareness 😊. Several variables led up to our highly unsafe venture.

  • I was 10ish and he was 12ish.

  • It was New Year's Eve.

  • We were bored...

  • And home alone.


We were confident that our bowls would be full of popcorn before Dick Clark started his countdown.

Sam poured oil in the skillet and we each threw a handful of kernels in the pan.

Like foolish guards, armed with empty bowls, we stared at the pan.

My body twitched with every crackle of oil. Adrenaline revved through my veins. My eyes widened as I watched Sam glide across the floor to catch the first piece of popcorn. Within moments we bounced around the kitchen catching the fluffy, white puffs as they shot into the air.

Uncontrollable laughter ricocheted off the walls.

We had everything under control.


Our egos quickly began to fade as the oil got hotter and the corn popped faster. Chaos sucked the life out of joy.

Popcorn (and hot oil - duh) flew everywhere. We couldn’t keep up.

We accepted defeat and watched the remaining kernels hit the floor.


The Comparison

AKA-Popcorn vs. Mental Illness

Imagine life is a popcorn kernel.

Innocent. Non-threatening.

As stress builds and life "heats up," daily tasks often become overwhelming.

We can manage a pop here and a pop there...but sometimes stress builds so quickly (popping out of control) that our brain shuts down and we are immobilized.

The Similarities (Facts)

Surprising Similarity #1

Popcorn: 1 out of 6 varieties of corn are able to explode into the airy deliciousness we call popcorn. Mental Illness: Approximately 1 out of 4 people experience mental illness in their lifetime.


Surprising Similarity #2

Popcorn: When external circumstances (heat) change, the moisture inside the kernel turns to steam and it eventually explodes. Literally turning inside out. Mental Illness: When life heats up we can feel as if our life has been turned upside down.


Surprising Similarity #3

Popcorn: Eventually the kernel hits the point of no return (inside moisture evaporates) and there is no stopping the constant popping.

Mental Illness: Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by internal and external stress and it feels like we have lost control.

The Problem

If we can't think effectively - it's hard to be functional.

I bet you said, “Duh!”

But society is clueless about how to handle the “thinking” part of stress and mental illness.

We are often told, “Just do it,” or “He has to do it for himself.” Loved ones are cautioned not to enable their family members.

We wouldn’t tell a person diagnosed with cancer to- “Just deal with it,” or a person who lost a leg in a car accident to- “Just walk.”

No, we support these individuals on their road to recovery.


The Solution

CogniCoach tips and strategies.

  • Successful functioning is dependent on effective communication.

  • Effective communication relies on fluid cognition (thinking).       

  • Cognitive stress makes thinking and reasoning more difficult.

CogniCoach is a community of support and education that gives individuals and families proven resources and strategies to power through cognitive-linguistic difficulties associated with cognitive stress and/or mental illness.

Imagine navigating your life more fully and effectively given the inside scoop on how to improve daily interactions and task organization. Join the community for reliable methods to develop valuable communication skills to instantly improve your relationships with friends, family, and co-workers.

Will you ever look at popcorn the same?? Tell us what you think in the comments.


About the author: Robyn's career as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) together with her graduate education in psychology gives her a unique perspective of cognitive-linguistic (thinking-talking) difficulties associated with daily stress and mental illness. #ThinkTalkDo

Disclaimer: Content in this blog is for informational purposes only. Statements are Robyn's thoughts and opinions and should NOT be used to diagnose or treat any disorders related to cognition, communication, or mental illness.

For mental health concerns please contact your doctor or therapist. If you need a mental health provider, Psychology Today is an excellent resource.


Lisa McLachlan
Lisa McLachlan
May 03, 2021

This has to be one of the best blog post titles ever - and a very interesting article too, thank you!


Oct 14, 2019

Thanks Ronald!


Woah, I can never look at popcorn the same again. Also, this was such an insightful and lovely read. Very well written. (:

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