Mental Health Part 3: The Building Blocks
The Canadian Mental Health Association says it best: “Mental health means striking a balance in all aspects of your life, which includes the social, physical, spiritual, economic, and mental aspects of our being.” Finding this balance is a lifelong process and requires attention, effort, and time. The reward is a mental reserve that we can draw on like an emergency fund in times of need and keeps us resilient in times of adversity. Balance can be more challenging for those experiencing mental illness, but no matter the experience of the person, it is possible to cultivate mental wellness with awareness, intention, a healthy lifestyle, and the support of family, friends, and professionals.
The building blocks of mental health are innate and natural things that most of us do already, but by reflecting on how the following concepts integrate into your life, you may see areas for improvement, expansion, or reinforcement to support your mental health.
1. Recognizing and accepting emotions
Mental health does not mean feeling happy or joyous at all times. Being anxious, sad, angry, or a combination of negative emotions all at once is part of being human and are normal. Emotional well-being means not bottling up emotions but expressing them in a way that respects ourselves and others. Accepting the emotions as valid while finding ways to deal with them — such as using calming music to reduce anger — are benchmarks of a healthy response. If you have strategies you like to use, keep it up! The more we use strategies to deal with emotion, the more second nature they become.
2. Finding spiritual support
Living with purpose and connecting with something bigger than ourselves supports our view of ourselves, our values, and helps us make sense of how we fit into the world. Some people may find this in religion, others may find it in nature or something else. It is up to us to define the spiritual aspect of our lives.
3. Building and maintaining healthy self-esteem
Self-esteem is about seeing our good and not so good qualities, accepting them, and doing our best with what we have. It is the recognition of our uniqueness and innate worth as humans and using that foundation to live life without comparing ourselves to others. It is practising self-compassion and self-awareness simultaneously for an integrated and supportive view of ourselves that allows us to try new things and deal with challenges confidently.
4. Building social networks
Good relationships can take effort, time, and courage to build. They require authenticity, openness, and trust to be the kind of relationships that support mental health. These relationships can come in the form of spouses or partners, neighbours, family, faith community members, club members, or support groups. Enhance the positive relationships in your life by being open and vulnerable with people that you trust, and make them a priority. Finding time may be difficult, but even a few hours occasionally can be enough to sustain a positive and supportive relationship. Don’t be afraid to lean on these people if you are struggling, and let them know you are there for them during difficult times, too.
5. Building resiliency
We can think of resiliency as our armour during challenging times, such as a bereavement or illness. Resiliency is coping with problems or stress, taking action when you can make changes to a situation, and letting go of the things you cannot change. Resilience includes things like problem-solving skills, assertiveness, balancing obligation and expectations, and developing support networks.
6. Getting involved
Being involved in things that align with our values gives us a feeling of purpose, satisfaction, and contribution. It can also change our perspective of events that have occurred in our own lives and open us up to new people and experiences. It can also help us build confidence and new skills that contribute to self-esteem and resilience.
7. Supporting the mind with a healthy body
The connection between mental and physical health is indisputable; an active body fuelled by good food contributes to chemical regulation in our brains. These chemicals modulate our emotions and perceptions, and chemicals like serotonin and dopamine (the ‘feel-good’ chemicals) are more plentiful in people who are active at least three times a week. Instead of reaching for the ice cream, cookies, or wine when stressed, try a walk, golf, or a Zumba class to get the mood-enhancing effect without the extra calories.
Just as we care for our bodies, we must care for our minds. Using these ‘building blocks,’ it is possible to improve mental health and resilience and reap the benefits of a healthy mind as a resource for a balanced life that is satisfying, rich, and full of new experiences. Learn more about mental wellness and resilience in the eldercare portal at ec.myworklifeportal.com/index.html.
By Hailie Rondeau, RN
ARTACares is provided by HumanaCare, an Alberta-based health and wellness provider with more than thirty-five years of Canadian health care experience.