Everyone is different. People’s backgrounds, relationships, decisions, and self-concepts all weave together to form a grand tapestry that is a unique individual.
But despite that, our needs are basically the same, no matter who you are or where you’re from.
The following are the pillars for mental health, and although your struggles are unique, following these guidelines will at least get you started on your journey to wellness.
1. Strive for Meaningful Connections
Life is too short for shallow relationships.
A major pillar of mental health is the quality of the connections we have with the people in our lives.
Because loneliness has become such a problem in the modern world, meaningful connections are more precious than ever.
If you feel you’re lacking in these connections, here are some practical solutions to discover new relationships and deepen preexisting ones:
- Participate in your passions: Find the social equivalent of whatever it is you do, and participate in it — i.e., Dungeons and Dragons groups, cooking classes, dance classes, hiking meetups, and literature groups.
- Be honest with, genuine toward, and appreciative of the people you already have in your life. Share your struggles with them so that they can know you on a deeper level.
- Learn to ask for what you want from people in a healthy way using DBT skills like DEARMAN.
- Stop participating in relationships that drain you. People outgrow each other, and even if you have great memories with someone, it may be time to move on. This will give you more time to invest in the relationships that actually fulfill you.
- Learn to overcome your social fears by practicing being social on a regular basis.
If you prioritize building and maintaining strong relationships, then well-being will follow.
2. Build Your Skills and Put Them to a Purpose
Finding a purpose in life is not as big a request as you might think.
A purpose could be as simple as taking care of someone you love, or contributing to a cause in the smallest way possible.
Well-being often comes about when you become of service to something, meaning you put your time and energy into building or contributing to something important to you.
This could take infinite forms:
- Artistic excellence.
- Becoming an example of what’s possible.
- Being a coach or a mentor.
- Creating technologies that help others.
- Volunteering and helping build communities.
A lot of people feel they lack purpose because they don’t believe their actions can make a difference.
Another way of looking at this is that every large action is a succession of smaller ones, and that your unique contribution adds to the vibrancy of human life. Your actions resonate. Even if it’s just a kind word to a stranger, that could be the moment that restores their faith in humanity.
To quote psychologist Viktor Frankl:
“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked.”
3. Recognize Your Locus of Control
An enormous amount of trouble comes from not understanding what we can control in life.
Especially now, with the constant barrage of information and negative news, people are constantly worried about the future, the past, and all the other things they can’t change.
To quote Stoic philosopher Seneca:
“There are more things likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”
Reorienting your daily life around what you can control should be a high priority in your mental health goals. There’s a freedom in this that’s hard to find anywhere else.
Here are a few helpful reminders of things you can and can’t control:
- What you eat, drink, how often you exercise, and what time you go to bed.
- Your level of effort.
- Your commitment to getting better.
- How you raise your children.
- How you treat other people.
- How you manage your feelings.
- Other people’s actions.
- World events.
- What you’ve done in the past.
- What might happen in the future.
- How other people feel about you.
- Any event that could get in the way of your goals.
A key to well-being is understanding your locus of control and basing your goals and attitudes around what’s in your hands, and not out.
4. Use Helpful Tools
By tools, we mean the systems, practices, and behaviors you can implement to regulate your emotions and find more happiness.
Having a reliable mental toolbox is essential for dealing with the difficulties of life. Here are some examples of mental tools in action:
- Mindfulness helps you brace for the shock of anxiety, a wave of anger, or the sting of disappointment. Breathing with and observing your painful feelings helps you act on them in a productive way instead of being consumed by them.
- If you’re going through a rough patch, you can use the ACCEPT model from DBT to remember what you’ve been through in the past and find the strength to move forward.
- You’re going through a depression, so you use CBT to analyze your thoughts and help you recognize the truth or non-truth in those thoughts, so you can ground yourself back in reality.
- You use your knowledge of Organizational Skills to mitigate ADHD symptoms and stay on track.
DBT and CBT can prepare you for anything. They are your tents and grappling hooks and protective gear for when your mental landscape gets stormy.
5. Build Self Esteem and Wisdom
We’ll define “wisdom” as accumulated life experience.
It is the hard moments you’ve made it through already. It is the progress you’ve already made. It is the voluntary action of stepping toward fear and discomfort for the sake of getting better.
Becoming more mentally healthy is learning to understand where your behaviors and beliefs come from, and why you feel the way you do.
The more you can see the beliefs that limit you for what they are, the more you can replace them with healthier beliefs that are more grounded in reality.
Your self-compassion increases with self-understanding, and healthy self-esteem is a necessary ingredient for a healthy mind.
In learning more about yourself, you discover how strong you are, what potential you still have, and how you can appreciate the unique path you’ve walked in life.
The Definition of Mental Health
According to the CDC, mental health is:
“…our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices.”
Mental health is often a work in progress, but that doesn’t mean that things can’t improve drastically with time and effort.
Here’s where you need to start if you’re looking to improve your mental health:
- Develop your connections to other people.
- Find skills to build and things to contribute to.
- Focus only on what you can control.
- Keep a trusty toolbox of strategies to use when you feel overwhelmed.
- Develop a more compassionate relationship with yourself.
Just take everything one day at a time, one moment at a time, one action at a time, and you’ll get where you’re trying to go.