The value of good mental health cannot be over emphasised and thankfully we are all now more willing to openly acknowledge when we are in distress and need help. For young people, being in tune with themselves and knowing the upper limits of their best self means that they are able to verbalise their difficulty or distress.
It is also important for each of us to build a network of support and often this support can come in the form of like-minded peers, family members, or other trained professionals (therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists). This helps to reinforce the belief that we are not alone in facing anything and that there is a team behind them rooting for us.
However, there are some fundamentals in which each of us can help bolster and strengthen our own mindset and psyche. Here are our eight essential traits to help develop better and stronger mental health.
1. Know yourself well
We all want to believe that we already know ourselves. After all, we have lived with ourselves since our birth. But beyond the preferences of our likes and dislikes, how well do we truly know ourselves? What is it that triggers our reactions? How has our prior life experiences shaped our perceptions and our responses.
As we learn more about ourselves, we also learn to prepare mentally for experiences that are different to our expectations. When someone else’s opinions or judgements that are opposite to ours – how should we react or respond? Can we choose to observe how we feel instead of instantly reacting?
When we learn to know ourselves a little better, we learn to understand our reactions and what causes them. We learn to give ourselves some leeway and some space. Hopefully, we can learn to judge ourselves a little less and embrace and accept ourselves just as we are.
2. Build resilience
Building resilience is key to handling the stressful demands of every life. What exactly is resilience though? Resilience is defined as the ability to ‘bounce back’; the capacity to recover from difficult experiences and circumstances. Being resilient means, that even though we have to face difficult times and experiences we are able to take stock, evaluate our circumstances and experience and finally when we are ready, move on.
Experts are in agreement that resilience is not a personality trait and is definitely something that you can build and grow over time. Although there are many contributing factors to developing greater resilience. A major key is to have a support network of people, friends and family who are there with you and for you.
It is also important to be conscious and aware of your own self-talk. While difficult experiences may happen to us, we need not necessarily be defined by them and this often is based on the ability to ‘redefine’ firstly, how we see ourselves and then how we portray who we are to the world around us.
3. Learn to not take things personally
If the barista was rude to you this morning, or the driver in the car behind you was impatient and kept honking, it is easy to assume, in such situations, that their annoyance or their frustration was aimed directly at you. Instead of jumping to these conclusions though, it is important to be able to consider that perhaps the barista had had a demanding morning and really really needed a break, or that the driver behind you was alreasy very late for a meeting.
In essence, for your own mental health and well-being, it is important not to take things personally. Accept actions and reactions or others purely as a choice that they have made and none are necessarily related nor linked to you.
When you begin considering that everyone behaves independently and chooses how they act or react, we understand too that how we respond is a choice. Learning not to take things personally allows us a distance of reflection and consideration, both of which are essential for building better mental health.
4. Positive self image
A positive self-image is everything to do with how we perceive ourselves. This is not necessarily about the clothes we wear or the make-up we have on, but really what we think of ourselves in our mind.
When something goes wrong, do you automatically assume that it’s something that you did, or do you accept that it is just circumstance? Are you able to see the value that you bring simply by being yourself or do you feel the need to censor the things you say and not be inclined to speak your mind for fear of judgement.
When you have a positive self-image, you learn to be stronger and more confident of the person that you are. You learn that other people judgements are purely are reflection of their choices and their own limitations. When you have a positive self-image, you begin to understand and believe that you bring value to each and every interaction you participate in.
5. Build grit
While grit is a value that is more often associated with achievement and success, it is an invaluable trait to help build a stronger and healthier mind, mental health and well being. Contrary to what may seem like the just ‘get on with it’ attitude, true grit relies on making conscious choices moment by moment, with an end goal in mind. It is of course, very closely linked to all the points already made above.
Building grit does not happen all at once, rather it is step-by-step sequential process. We need to first identify what our medium and long-term goals are. These do not need to be set in stone, but rather work as a gentle guide to our next destinations or intentions. They can and should be changeable, depending on your circumstances and things that may happen, however these goals serve as markers or posts to help us identify where we are on our journey.
You then make a conscious effort to keep working towards these goals. These may be personal goals or even specifically mental health goals – making time for mindfulness or meditation, seeking support (friends, family or therapy), self-care. Grit says ‘come what may, I will find time for me today’
6. Develop a growth mindset
Growth and fixed mindsets were brought to the forefront of education by Carol Dweck. She showed how students who believed their intelligence knowledge and skilled could be built upon and improved (growth mindset) fared better academically compared to students who believe that their ability to learn was limited or fixed.
In much the same way, mental health is like a muscle that can be made stronger. When faced with a difficult or unwanted situation, the way we respond can help us build this ‘mental health muscle’. Instead of focusing purely on the issues or challenges, focus instead on building and finding solutions.
If you find yourself stuck in a ‘victim’ mentality, when you feel that difficult situations and bad experiences keep happening to you, then it is certainly worth taking some time to reexamine your thought process. The belief that people are not out to get you and life’s experiences are merely stepping stones in the journey will help you consider that you need to look at things differently.
Look for the opportunities that each experience offers, focus on the benefits and the outcomes because in the end, each experience does serve us, even though it may often be difficult to see or even acknowledge it. In other words, develop a growth mindset towards life’s experiences and subsequently build strength in to your mental health.
7. Acknowledge low moments or times of distress
You know how ‘talking about it’ often feels like a weight lifted? In much the same way, acknowledging that things are not going well, and that you may in that particular moment, feel upset or even despair, means that you are one step closer to a resolution.
So many of us are brilliant at putting on a mask and pretending that everything’s ok, when internally it’s turmoil. An important way to develop and strengthen our mental health is learning to be open and acknowledge moments when things are not all going ok.
Sometimes simply in acknowledging that all is not right, something clicks and we manage to ‘find a way out’ so to speak. Other times, sharing our troubles with a trusted family member or friend, helps us feel heard and supported, even if there is not actually anything that can be done. On other occasions, talking through with someone helps us to gain a new perspective.
Either way, find a safe space among friends or family, build a support team whom you can trust and be open and honest about both your highs and your lows in life.
8. Be kinder to yourself
At the end of the day, there will be nothing more difficult than the demands and expectations that you place on yourself, whether this is in the form of deadlines, or expectations of different behaviour from yourself. We are often hardest on ourselves and we often expect to always be at our very best. This makes it very difficult and completely unacceptable to ’slip up’ in any way.
So, consider how you would react if your best friend felt the way you do? Would you give him or her a stern talking to, or would you be consoling, understanding and supportive. Chances are, the latter; whereas, you would demand and expect so much more from yourself.
So, take a leaf from your own book and be kinder to yourself. Let yourself off the hook every now and then. Console yourself with words of kindness and understanding.
Remember, this too shall pass
Ultimately, time keeps moving on, and our life’s experiences changes too. How we react to something one day may be completely different to how we react to it, six months or even a year later. Often, we will look back after some time has passed and realise how intensely we were focussed on something that in the greater scheme of things, counted for quite little.
In the end, it is important to remember that things do not stay the same forever. Change always happens and with it, growth and differences in perspectives and attitudes. The experiences that happen in your life will not be the only ones that define the life you lead or the person that you are. That is entirely up to you to decide.
Be brave and embrace all that life has to offer you.