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We often focus on improving our physical health. We try to eat well, be physically active, etc. But our mental well-being is a key contributor to our overall health. It helps us be more emotionally and mentally resilient. And good mental health allows us to flourish in various aspects of our lives, even through difficult times.
Like physical health, mental health and well-being can be exercised and strengthened. In this article, we’ll define mental well-being, highlight why it is important, and look at some ways to develop it.
What is mental well-being?
Mental well-being encompasses psychological, emotional, and social health. It refers to how we move through life and react to its turbulence. These fluctuations can range from everyday stressors to significant life shifts.
Our mental well-being informs the details of our life. This includes how we make friends and socialize, how we manage stress, and the choices we make in response to these stimuli.
In contrast to mental health care, mental well-being is concerned with those not suffering from mental illness. It focuses on those who could get better at being the best version of themselves and live a more meaningful life.
Psychologists, the World Health Organization, life coaches, and social scientists agree that mental well-being boils down to how you think and feel. This often means assessing the following:
- Do you realize your potential?
- How do you cope with the challenges you face?
- What do you believe is possible for you right now?
- Do you feel a sense of purpose?
And these responses are likely to change over time, depending on what is going on in your life.
Mental well-being can vary significantly from day to day, sometimes hour to hour.
Some days you might feel comfortable and excited and exhibit strong signs of mental well-being. On other days you may experience the opposite because of a significant loss or dissatisfaction in your work.
Why is mental well-being important?
Every day, you will likely face something that is out of your control. Your well-being shapes how you engage with it and how well you come out on the other side.
You are more prepared to face uncertainty with inner strength by having good mental well-being. This does not mean that you do not feel the impact of uncertainty or challenging life events. But instead, you can handle and navigate them more easily.
Examples of good mental well-being
Mental well-being shows up differently for every person. When asked to describe what it looks like, responses may range from:
- “I wake up in the morning, and the day is filled with possibilities.”
- “My physical health affects my mental health and vice versa, so keep both in check.”
- “Meditating, then going for a run.”
- “Peace and contentment with life itself.”
- “Not being addicted.”
- “Savoring time and moments whether I’m in solitude or with family and friends.”
- “I have a clear life purpose.”
- “I’m able to cope with day-to-day stresses.”
- “I’m productive at work.”
While it looks different for every person and changes over time, think of your well-being as a foundation for everything else you do in life.
There may not be any exact determinants of good mental health. But, if you pay attention to building a solid foundation, external factors won’t have such a significant effect on you.
Well-being can dip when the world is crazy, but a strong foundation helps you get through with fewer adverse effects, less extreme drops, and a faster return to stability.
Five core elements of mental well-being
Martin Seligman, a pioneer of positive psychology and director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, defined a model of well-being described by the acronym PERMA.
Grounded in scientific research, the model defined factors that support human flourishing and the behaviors that drive them.
The PERMA model recognizes five core elements of well-being and happiness and shares how to incorporate them into behaviors to improve mental health and well-being:
- Positive Emotions: Adopt a positive perspective as often as you can. You can lean into more positive emotions by practicing gratitude and forgiveness about the past, mindfulness in the present, and optimism about the future.
- Engagement: Find the things that interest you to the point of getting absorbed and losing track of time in the joy of discovery or doing.
- Relationships: Focus on your relationships with family and friends, and find ways to connect. Look for opportunities to support others and ask for help from others -- both giving and receiving build stronger connections.
- Meaning: Meaning and purpose come from focusing on why what we’re doing matters to someone other than ourselves. If possible, align your efforts and strengths to more considerable efforts that matter to you.
- Accomplishment: Savor your achievements and strive for the satisfaction of further mastery.
Consider which of these core elements is most evident or needs attention in your life and work.
7 ways to improve your mental well-being
You may not have control over certain life situations that could impact your mental well-being. For instance, losing a loved one or stress at work. But there are things you can do to build resilience so you can bounce back from adverse events:
1. Connect with others
Interacting with other people—especially face-to-face—is a great way to combat stress and boost your mood.
If you’re working remotely or your loved ones live far away, apps and software such as Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime can help you stay connected.
If you’re experiencing Zoom fatigue, try grabbing lunch or dinner with a friend or family member. Or take an in-person class to meet new people, learn a new skill, and connect around a new or existing hobby.
2. Eat well
Pay attention to what you eat; a well-balanced diet can do wonders for your mood, sleep, and energy levels. Eating well cal help support positive mental health, and be part of your self-care routine.
3. Manage stress
Stress can take a toll on your mental health. Keep it under control by recognizing triggers and counteracting them with self-care. For example, watch a favorite movie or call a close friend.
Notice any automatic negative thoughts and try to turn them around. It might be challenging at first, but this is an important step in improving your psychological well-being.
4. Exercise regularly
Physical activity releases endorphins, lifting your mood. Try taking a walk around the neighborhood or doing some bodyweight exercises. Be careful not to push yourself, and go at your own pace.
5. Practice relaxation techniques
Things like a yoga class and meditation can help you relax when you need to most. Practicing short mindfulness exercises can also help you relax in the moment. Try focusing on your breathing or taking a deep breath when things get stressful.
Be mindful of where your thoughts go, too. Try to practice being present in the moment rather than living in the past or future.
6. Get enough sleep
7. Get professional help if you need it
Don’t be ashamed to reach out for professional help if your mental health is suffering. Sometimes a professional healthcare provider is the best option for improving your mental well-being.
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Taking control of your mental well-being
Life has its ups and downs. By putting in the Inner Work®, many people can greatly improve their mental health and well-being. Try using the above tips, and adjust them to make them work for you. Sometimes, this comes in the form of taking mental health days. If you're not sure where to start, consider these ideas on what to do on your mental health days.
If you need more support, BetterUp can help. Reach out and we'll help get you on a path to bettering your mental well-being and living with more purpose and passion.
Better Up Fellow Coach, PCC, CBC