The World Health Organisation defines mental health as a “state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”.
But what about mental wellness
What is it?
What do you associate with this?
Do we have it or is it something we aspire to achieve? If the latter, how do we get there?
It means different things to each of us. We need to identify what gives us each mental wellness, protect and strengthen those areas.
There is no universally accepted “definition” of mental wellness or mental well-being. This is probably because mental wellness may have different connotations for different individuals, groups and cultures. For some, it may be the notion of happiness or contentment. For others it may be the absence of disease. For some it may be economic prosperity. It could be based on the goals sought to be achieved and the challenges placed on an individual or a culture. It becomes clear that mental wellness includes cognitive, emotional and behavioural responses at a personal level. Some may also interpret mental wellness as determined by external stimulants and factors, sometimes beyond the control of individuals, such as housing and employment. Thus, mental wellness should be interpreted in the sociocultural context of the individual. It should be considered as a continuum and as operating within a spectrum, rather than a state that is present or absent. An individual, group or community can be at any given point within this spectrum.
Mental wellness has been described how people feel and how they function, both on a personal and a social level, and how they evaluate their lives as a whole. We can accept that there is far more to mental wellness than the absence of mental illness. There are relative and subjective elements in this description, which are necessary, in trying to encapsulate mental wellness. There are a number of other concepts, which are also related to mental wellness.
Resilience is described as the capacity to cope with adversity and to avoid breakdown when confronted with stressors. Many internal and external factors have been found to increase personal resilience. For example, resilience in children is strengthened through good relations with parents. Resilience also depends on a person’s cognitive make up and their sense of self-esteem, which could change along a spectrum depending on diverse factors.
The term “positive psychology” is based on the idea that if people are taught to be resilient and optimistic then they will be less likely to suffer from depression and will lead happier and more productive lives. Building upon human strengths can be described as building psychological “potency”, before problems occur.
So over the course of the past few minutes while you have been reading this, you have each heard a voice in your own head. Your voice.
Now stop just for a moment and look away from this page for 30 seconds before you continue.
What happened during that moment?
Perhaps the internal dialogue that only you can hear is making personal associations with things you have read, while some of you, potentially all of you are asking yourself this question
SO WHAT? Mental illness and problems with stress happens to other people. Not me.
I have just provided you with some facts about how organisations describe mental wellness and wellness. But in essence they are facts based upon research. We all accept the existence of health problems we perhaps can’t see and society is increasingly paying attention to the dangers of mental illness. High profile celebrities have come forward to speak of depression, perhaps PTSD. But they don’t suggest how they got better, if they ever really did. What we often need is tangible evidence. You will all know someone that has overcome adversity. Refused to be broken by life. Whoever they are, be inspired. You too can develop these internal strengths and be an example to others.
You too can develop resilience.
‘The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness’
’The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity’
This bit is really simple. Yet quite possibly the greatest challenge you will ever face. Ever since my own personal journey, I have given the same advice to my friends from the military, to veterans I have mentored veterans and to people that were brave enough to reach out to me.
It’s really simple, I say. Each day you either get up or don’t. When you wake up and then it slowly starts to dawn on you that what the self-concept you have of yourself is no more, that you are injured, sick, tired, depressed, you ignore that internal voice and get up.
But if you get up, you are going to make today the best day you ever had. You are going to strive to improve at everything you do, from the way you walk to the bathroom, the way you brush your teeth, the choices you make, and the actions you carry out. You will achieve this if you follow the core pillars of your mental wellness / mental resilience plan.
Mental health benefits of exercise
Exercise makes you feel good because it releases chemicals like endorphins and serotonin that improve your mood. It can also get you out in the world, help to reduce any feelings of loneliness and isolation, and put you in touch with other people.
If you exercise regularly, it can reduce your stress and symptoms of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, and help with recovery from mental health issues. Exercise also helps improves your sleep, which is important in many different ways.
Exercise pumps blood to the brain, which should make you think more clearly. It increases the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory. Exercise also increases the connections between the nerve cells in the brain. This improves your memory and helps protect your brain against injury and disease.
You need to do about 30 minutes of moderate physical exercise on at least 5 days of every week. This can be done in one 30-minute session or broken up into shorter 10 or 15-minute sessions.
Does the exercise need to include running up and down mountains? Absolutely not. Intensity is subjective. You can still experience the benefits just by being more active. Get up and move more.
I am not going to provide you with a food regime. But all of the things you have been told, high protein, low carbohydrates, lots of omega 3s, water not coffee, certainly not alcohol, has worked for all of the people I have helped.
But this new fitness and healthy nutrition regime only works if you give your body the rest it needs. The body needs to recover from periods of stress. Sleep is as important to our health as eating, drinking and breathing. It allows our bodies time to repair themselves and our brains time to consolidate our memories and process information. Poor sleep is linked to physical problems such as a weakened immune system and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
Quiet reflection time is incredibly powerful. While time outdoors can be incredibly healing, mindfulness training, which helps mental wellbeing, can be practiced anywhere. Becoming more aware of the present moment can help us enjoy the world around us more and understand ourselves better. Mindfulness is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a way to prevent depression in people who have had three or more bouts of depression in the past.
Learning new skills can be useful, but research shows it can also improve our mental wellness. It doesn’t have to mean getting more qualifications. There are lots of different ways to bring learning into your life.
Many of us associate learning with childhood or our student days. As adults, it can seem as though we have less time or need to learn new things, but evidence shows that continuing to learn throughout life can improve and maintain our mental wellness. Mental wellness means feeling good — about yourself and the world around you — and being able to get on with life in the way you want. Learning can boost self-confidence and self-esteem, help build a sense of purpose, and help us connect with others. Research shows that learning throughout life is associated with greater satisfaction and optimism, and an improved ability to get the most from life. People who carry on learning after childhood more readily report better mental wellness and a greater ability to cope with stress. They also report greater feelings of self-esteem, hope and purpose. Setting targets and hitting them can create positive feelings of achievement. Furthermore learning often involves interacting with other people. This can also increase our wellness by helping us build and strengthen social relationships. Classes and formal courses are great ways to learn new things, but there are lots of other ways too.
Each of the discussed areas is important. They can improve the health of people old and young, fit, unfit, healthy and unwell. But for me the most powerful thing that has helped me to maintain mental wellness and enabled me to be resilient is;
Thankfulness increases mental strength.
For years, research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma. A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of post traumatic stress disorder. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. Recognizing all that you have to be thankful for — even during the worst times — fosters resilience.
So, I hope that rather than regret the loss of minutes from your life, minutes you will never get back, by reading this, perhaps you may have read something that can give you strengths and help you to be thankful for what you have.