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What Is Mental Wellbeing? 3 Steps to Boost Your Mental Health

Would you like to become the best version of yourself and live a more meaningful life? This article explores how you can awaken a state of mental wellbeing.

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What is mental wellbeing?

Five core elements of mental wellbeing

What does mental wellbeing look like?

Why do people often neglect mental wellbeing?

Three steps to awaken a state of mental wellbeing

How can you maintain a state of mental wellbeing?

Why is mental wellbeing important?

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It was the winter of 1996, the Dayton Peace Accord had just been signed ending the war in Bosnia, and people in Sarajevo were emerging from their homes, no longer terrified of bombings and sniper attacks. In a third floor downtown apartment, an musicologist and her daughter hosted a team of American journalists. One of the rooms of their apartment had been blown up, debris still everywhere, during 3-plus years of an ethnic war that killed more than 100,000 people. They considered themselves lucky because they were at a concert on the night a rocket launcher destroyed their ‘safe room.’ Had they been home…who knows?

A journalist asked the musicologist, “How does one manage life with destruction all around?”

Smiling, she answered, “What other way is there to look but up?”

Those words have guided me for the past 25 years. She understood the true meaning of mental wellbeing and, without blinking, was looking to the future.

What is mental wellbeing?

Disruptions, whether in the broader world or confined to our organization or community, often prompt discussions about how to “maintain wellbeing.” Maybe your manager or an HR professional has asked you directly about your wellbeing. What exactly are they talking about? 

Mental wellbeing refers to the way you are moving through life and how you perceive that. What makes a good life for one person is different from what makes a good life for another. In contrast to mental health care and clinical interventions, mental wellbeing is concerned with the majority of people who are not suffering from mental illness but could potentially get better at being the best version of themselves and living a meaningful life. 

Psychologists, the World Health Organization, life coaches, and social scientists agree that mental wellbeing boils down to your thoughts and feelings. For example

  1. If you think you’re realizing your potential.
  2. How you cope with the challenges you face.
  3. What you believe is possible for you right now.
  4. Whether you’re feeling a sense of purpose.

Some days you might feel comfortable and excited and exhibit strong signs of mental wellbeing. Other days you may experience the opposite because of a significant loss or dissatisfaction in your work. In other words, mental wellbeing can vary significantly from day to day, sometimes hour to hour.

Five core elements of mental wellbeing

Martin Seligman, a pioneer of positive psychology and director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, defined a model of wellbeing 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 wellbeing and happiness, and shares how to incorporate them into behaviors to improve mental health and wellbeing:

  1. Positive Emotions: Adopt a positive perspective as often as you can. You can shift your brain into more positive emotion through practicing gratitude and forgiveness about the past, mindfulness in the present, and practicing optimism about the future. 
  2. 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.
  3. Relationships: Focus on your relationships with family and friends, find ways to connect. Look for opportunities to do for others as well as to ask for help from others -- both giving and receiving build stronger connections.
  4. 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 bigger efforts that matter to you.
  5. 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.

What does mental wellbeing look like?

Mental wellbeing 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 wellbeing as a foundation for everything else you do in life. If you pay attention to building a strong foundation, external factors won’t have such a significant effect on you. Wellbeing can dip when the world is crazy, you lose a job, or a parent dies, but a strong foundation helps you get through with less negative effects, less extreme drops, and faster return to stability.

Why do people often neglect mental wellbeing?

You have so much on your plate, you often aren’t paying attention. Instead of being intentional about balancing your life and work, you’re on autopilot. Sound familiar?

You show up for your daily Zoom calls, but you’re missing a beat because you didn’t prepare. You’re around your kids, but you know you’re not with your kids who are clamoring for your attention. You exert the minimum amount of effort in your engagements with people you actually care about because you’re too exhausted. You’re not fully present. And your wellbeing suffers.

Three steps to awaken a state of mental wellbeing

You can awaken a state of mental wellbeing and wisdom by connecting your mind, heart, and body. Cynthia Bourgeault’s Three-Centered Knowing offers an approach to stop living on autopilot and find balance by connecting these three centers of your body:

 The Intellectual Center – the thinking center. This is where you solve problems, assign tasks, review projects, and create new initiatives.

The Emotional Center – the feeling center. This is where you have empathy for your colleagues and family members, feel pain, and express joy.

The Moving Center – the physical center. This is where you engage your body in activity, which is typically underused because you don’t trust the importance of the body in mental awareness.

Three steps for waking up:

  1. Identify your primary center and notice where you spend most of your time.
  2. Once you’re aware of your primary center, invite the next center into your presence and observe what happens as these two centers interact.
  3. Before you’re too comfortable, bring in your least used center and offer it attention and explore how all three work together.

This is how the wake-up call might play out. You use your intellect to integrate periods of in-depth work, then connect emotionally with yourself and those around you, and finally create consistent space for physical activity to ‘cement’ what you’re doing. The physical, emotional, and moving centers now complement each other.

By using all three centers consistently throughout the day, you can awaken a state of mental wellbeing and be prepared for whatever is in store.

How can you maintain a state of mental wellbeing?

You may not have control over certain life situations that could impact your mental wellbeing. 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:

  • Connect with others: Interacting with other people—especially face-to-face—is a great way to combat stress and boost your mood.
  • Eat well: Pay attention to what you eat; a well-balanced diet can do wonders for your mood, sleep, and energy levels. 
  • 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.
  • Exercise regularly: Physical activity releases endorphins, lifting your mood. Try taking a walk around the neighborhood, or doing some bodyweight exercises.
  • Practice relaxation techniques: Things like yoga and meditation can help you relax when you need it most.
  • Get enough sleep: The importance of quality sleep cannot be understated. Get to bed at a reasonable hour, every night, and try relaxation techniques if you have trouble falling asleep.
  • Get professional help if you need it: Don’t be ashamed to reach out for professional help if your mental health is suffering.
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    Why is mental wellbeing important?

    Every day, you will likely face something that is out of your control. Your wellbeing shapes how you engage with it and how well you come out on the other side. Lean on the connection of the three centers of your body to find your balance.

    Think of your body like a tripod. When the thinking, feeling, and movement centers of your body are in sync, you stand firm. As you become more grounded, you are prepared to face uncertainty with an inner strength. You are filled with possibilities.

    And when that happens, don’t be surprised if you find yourself saying, “What other way is there to look but up?”