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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

8 Simple Ways to Be Mentally Healthy

8 Simple Ways to Be Mentally Healthy

We all strive to be mentally healthy, no matter who we are or where we are in life. We all want to be happy. We all want to know where we are going and how to control that ride. We find ourselves comparing ourselves to others. We find ourselves analyzing our flaws. We obsess over outcomes. We must learn how to simply be ourselves.

Being mentally healthy isn’t based on whether or not you are always happy, always productive all the time. Having some negative thoughts and feelings are natural and part of being human. Instead, being mentally healthy is about healthy coping skills and strategies that you develop for the tough times. It’s not about who is strong and who is weak.

According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness),[1] 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness every year. That means when you are struggling, you are not alone. But many of us do not feel seen nor do we grab the tools handy to use in those times.

If you are mentally healthy, you adapt more to circumstances, find good in difficult times, learn how to lean on others or ask for help when need be, accept yourself, have realistic perceptions, be resilient, and be ready for anything. You live a balanced life knowing what to prioritize. Your self esteem is high, you are able to communicate your needs, you know your worth and you stand for what you value and believe in giving yourself a greater sense of meaning and purpose.

What it also means to be mentally healthy is that you have a crisis plan for when you are not feeling like yourself. This means you know when you are falling apart, who to turn to, how to cope and so on.

No one is 100% mentally healthy all the time and perfect. If you think otherwise, you’re only getting someone’s highlight reel or just what someone wants you to see.

We stigmatize mental health issues in society, and we use image to cast a false narrative of what is going on to avoid vulnerability. Yet, the less shame a person has, the more likely they will get help.

Do not afraid to be open about your feelings. It can be to anyone you trust: a friend, family member, a mental health professional. You are able to process things in a way that utilizes healthy coping skills. That could be your interests, hobbies, journaling, venting to someone. You don’t let emotions stay bottled lest they explode. You seek cathartic outputs so you can cope.

Symptoms of poor mental health are catastrophizing in many ways. Psych Central says the 15 common cognitive distortions are as follows:[2]

  • Filtering
  • Polarized thinking (or black and white thinking)
  • Overgeneralization
  • Jumping to conclusions
  • Catastrophizing
  • Personalization
  • Control fallacies
  • Fallacy of fairness
  • Blaming
  • Shoulds
  • Emotional reasoning
  • Fallacy of change
  • Global labeling
  • Always being right
  • Heaven’s reward fallacy

For example, jumping to conclusions can mean thinking you know the outcome before it happens or having all the facts. Similarly, catastrophizing is thinking about worst case scenarios and thinking only about them happening to you. What they all have in common is there is a level of distorted thinking that can be assessed and corrected to be a more mentally healthy you.

Typically, you can underestimate the good in front of you and the tools you have. You have a distorted view of how things will turn out. Thoughts have power. But you can take control, today.

For a more in-depth look at these distortions with descriptions, check out Psych Central’s article.

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So, how to be mentally healthy?

There are 8 simple ways to be mentally healthy. How to stay mentally healthy is to use the right tools and like the Ancient Greek aphorism, “Know thyself.”

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

How to be mentally healthy starts with cognitive behavioral therapy or for example recording your thoughts to assess if there are any that are unhelpful versus helpful.

There is an easy tool called Thought Record Sheet by Carol Vivyan that can be downloaded from here.

This record sheet has you describe a situation that has happened, rate your emotion, note physical sensations, record unhelpful thoughts/images, then list alternative or realistic thoughts for a more balanced perspective and has you come up with solutions. At the end, you re-rate your emotions.

Such a tool is effective because it has you stop and analyze a thought rather than ruminate on it, which so many of us do. It stops us from catastrophizing and only thinking in worst case scenarios.

2. Mental Health Maintenance Plan

Another tool called the Mental Health Maintenance Plan comes from Therapy Aid and can be downloaded here.

In this worksheet, you can identify triggers and warning signs for mental health decline. Self care and coping strategies listed next will help you come up with a plan for when you feel down. It also asks you to assess if you should seek professional help for these struggles.

This is a good tool to put into practice because it helps you to take control of your mental health coping strategies. When you have a plan in place, you are more likely to act to help your mental state. It’s also something you can share with a therapist to self advocate and ask for help. You can update it at anytime and view your growth.

3. Screen Yourself for a Mental Health Issue

Free screening tools for a mental health issue from Anxiety and Depression Association of America can be found here.

On this website, you can screen yourself for “anxiety disorders, depression, OCD, PTSD or phobia.” You can easily download it and share the results with whoever you’d like.

Nothing is saved or kept on file about you on the site. ADAA does not offer direct services to help with mental health issues such as psychiatry or therapy, but it does offer resources to assist you.

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Assessment Psychology Online is another way to screen for mental health issues with some resources to help with them for Free.

4. There’s an APP for That

You can use the Mindwise lists APPs that can help you manage your mental health.

Download an APP and give it a try! Some include apps to “reduce stress, manage a mood disorder or improve mood.” There are many tools on the internet to help calm you when you are troubled. Answers are literally at your fingertips. All you have to do is a web search if you can’t find what you want.

Type in a search engine for meditations and many will come up. This is a great way to remind yourself that you have the power or control to help yourself. Come up with a daily routine where you put this in practice.

5. Find a Therapist

You can use Psychology Today’s free find a live therapist tool here.

If you don’t want a live therapist, Betterhelp is another tool for getting matched with a therapist however it is online.

Signing up for therapy doesn’t mean that you are weak or unable to handle your problems. It means that you are secure in yourself enough to ask for help when you need it.

Professional help doesn’t mean you necessarily have a mental illness. Sometimes, all of us experience needs for someone to help us navigate life. It is very healthy to reach out to a professional in times of crisis but also in times of stability. That’s because when you navigate life with a mentor, you can recognize flaws in your thinking.

There is a lot to gain from this. All you have to do is reach out.

6. Stop the Stigma

In yourself and in society, there is some stigma towards mental health issues. If you are suffering, talking about it will alleviate that suffering.

Most of us experience fear of others’ judgment. But by owning your story and your mental health journey, you can eradicate that fear.

Rather than hide your life story or struggles, be someone who sees your own strength through it all. Rather than staying a victim, you become someone who knows what you are worth, scars and all. You will then prosper.

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If someone can’t accept your life path, it’s their loss, not yours. Once you get into that mentality, you can free yourself from needing control over others’ reactions to you.

When you stop the stigma, you make it okay for others to speak their truth too. When you give that acceptance, you also learn to accept yourself. This is how you conquer your mental health story.

The story we tell ourselves is powerful. It doesn’t mean you define yourself by struggle, but it means that you don’t hide from it.

Getting mentally healthy is not about keeping up with appearances. It’s about being you and knowing you don’t have to face life alone.

7. Live to Give

Giving is receiving. When you get the right help and are at the right level of confidence, you can more easily help others.

People need to know that they are worth it. At every level of mental health care, a person will still have some insecurities. When you give to another person — whether through friendship, volunteer work, mentorship or more, you are showing that you value that person. It also makes you feel good too!

One thing that you have to watch out for though is codependency, or depending on someone else’s wellbeing to ignite your own. You can’t help others if you are drowning too. You have to get on solid ground before you can be a healthy option for people to look up to.

When you give to others, you are expressing interest in human interaction, social good and overall humanity which uplifts your perspective towards feeling more purposeful. When you have purpose, you can achieve so much more.

You only have to give your time and attention to someone else that maybe you were once like. Someone in need of help.

When you discover tools for being mentally healthy, pass it on. That way, you can do some good while rising to your potential as well.

Use your pain for purpose. It doesn’t have to be right now, right away or even in the near future. Use it to elevate you to higher inspiration to want to lead others someday.

8. Embrace the Imperfect Process

When you recognize that the process is not perfect, you are more likely to forgive your flaws and find meaning in the struggle. You ultimately decide your reactions, your attitude, your mentality.

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No amount of therapy or tools can make you choose who you want to be. They can only guide you towards that. It’s up to you to decide that.

You are able to handle things in life when you know who you want to be. Having goals, a plan, priorities in place are just as important as learning emotional regulation.

Emotional regulation will help you when you start dealing with the cognitive distortions that we all suffer from. You will still experience negative emotions from time to time, and it’s a lifelong process to learn how to cope with them.

Circumstances can sometimes slip from our control, but if we have resources, a support system, professional help to turn to, adaptability, healthy relationships and purpose, we can start to regain a sense of optimism even when that happens.

It’s okay to have flaws. It’s okay to fall apart. It’s okay to be honest with ourselves and others. What matters is that you don’t stop there. You keep going. You rise again. You decide not to let it define you.

What you do is up to you, but there are tools out there to help shape your destiny.

Final Thoughts

Being mentally healthy doesn’t mean you have all the answers. It means you know who you are and what you want out of life.

We will all experience strife. But your response is up to you no matter what tools you may use. You are able to rise when you have the right help.

So, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Reach out when you feel like you need it and check in with others even when things are going well. This habit will make you understand yourself better and grow in more ways.

Overall, being mentally healthy doesn’t mean that you won’t have trouble. All of us have mental health maintenance needs, and that is something that can be ignored or maintained.

When you develop a strong mental attitude, don’t forget others along the way who helped you get there. Pay it forward. Give back. Start again, as many times as it takes. And most of all, don’t be afraid to be you.

Good luck.

If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately.

More on Mental Health

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] National Alliance on Mental Illness: Mental Health By The Numbers
[2] Psych Central: 15 Common Cognitive Distortions

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Sarah Browne

Sarah is a speaker, writer and activist

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Published on April 9, 2021

What Is Mindfulness And How It Helps Your Mental Wellness

What Is Mindfulness And How It Helps Your Mental Wellness

Mindfulness has become a popular buzzword in the health and wellness industry. However, few people truly understand what it is. My aim here is to teach you what mindfulness is and how it helps your mental wellness. By the end of this article, you will understand the meaning and benefits of mindfulness. Additionally, you will develop the ability to integrate mindfulness into your daily life.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is approximately 2500-years-old with deep roots in the Eastern world as a spiritual, ethical, and philosophical practice. These roots are intimately connected to the Buddhist practice of vipassana meditation.[1]

Mindfulness continues to be practiced as a cultural and spiritual tradition in many parts of the world. For Buddhists, it offers an ethical and moral code of conduct. For many, mindfulness is more than a practice—it is a way of life.[2]

However, mindfulness has evolved in the Western world and has become a non-religious practice for wellbeing. The evolution began around 1979 when Jon-Kabat Zinn developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).[3] Since then, mindfulness has emerged in the health and wellness industry and continues to evolve.

It is important to recognize the distinctions between mindfulness as a clinical practice and mindfulness as a cultural practice. The focus of this article is on the clinical model of mindfulness developed in the West.

Many researchers have integrated aspects of Buddhism and mindfulness into clinical psychiatry and psychology. Buddhism has helped to inform many mental health theories and therapies. However, the ethical and moral codes of conduct that drive Buddhist practices are no longer integrated into the mindfulness practices most-often taught in the Western world.[4] Therefore, Western mindfulness is often a non-spiritual practice for mental wellness.

Mindfulness aims to cultivate present moment awareness both within the body and the environment.[5] However, awareness is only the first element. Non-judgmental acceptance of the present moment is essential for true mindfulness to occur. Thoughts and feelings are explored without an emphasis on right, wrong, past, or future.

The only necessary condition for mindfulness to occur is non-judgmental acceptance and awareness of the present moment. Mindfulness can be practiced by anyone, anywhere, and at any time. It does not need to be complex even though structured programs exist.

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How Mindfulness Helps Your Mental Wellness

Along with MBSR, other models have been developed and adapted for use by clinical counselors, psychologists, and therapists. These include Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).[6]

Structured models of mindfulness allow researchers to study its benefits. Research has uncovered an abundance of benefits including mental, physical, cognitive, and spiritual. The following is not a comprehensive list of all its benefits, but it will begin to uncover how mindfulness helps mental wellness.

Benefits on Your Mental Health

Practicing mindfulness can have positive impacts on mental health. It has been positively associated with desirable traits, such as:

  • Autonomy
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Competence
  • Empathy
  • Optimism

Mindfulness helps to improve self-esteem, increase life satisfaction and enhance self-compassion. It is associated with pleasant emotions and mood. Overall, people who practice this appear to be happier and experience more joy in life. Not only does it increase happiness but it may also ward off negativity.

Mindfulness helps individuals to let go of negative thoughts and regulate emotions. For example, it may decrease fear, stress, worry, anger, and anxiety. It also helps to reduce rumination, which is a repetition of negative thoughts in the mind.

MBSR was originally designed to treat chronic pain. It has since evolved to include the treatment of anxiety and depression. Clinical studies have shown that MBSR is linked with:

  • Reduced chronic pain and improved quality of life
  • Decreased risk of relapse in depression
  • Reduced negative thinking in anxiety disorders
  • Prevention of major depressive disorders
  • Reducing substance-use frequency and cravings

However, more research is needed before these clinical studies can be generalized to the public. Nevertheless, there is promising evidence to suggest MBSR may be beneficial for mental health.[7]

Benefits on Your Cognitive Health

Mindfulness has many important benefits for cognitive health as well. In a study of college students, mindfulness increased performance in attention and persistence. Another study found that individuals who practice it have increased cognitive flexibility. A brain scan found increased thickness in areas of the brain related to attention, interception, and sensory processing.[8]

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To explain this another way, practicing mindfulness can improve the ability to shift from one task to the next, increase attention span and increase awareness of bodily sensations and the environment. Therefore, it has the potential to literally change your brain for the better.

Harvard researchers are also interested in studies of the brain and mindfulness. One researcher studied how brain changes are sustained even when individuals are not engaged in mindfulness. Their research suggests that its benefits extend beyond the moments of mindfulness.[9]

Another study found that the benefits of mindfulness training lasted up to five years. In this particular case, individuals participating in mindfulness activities showed increased attention-span. Mindfulness has also been shown to increase problem-solving and decrease mind wandering.[10]

What Is Mindfulness Meditation?

Mindfulness can be practiced in many different ways. However, most practices include these elements:

  • An object to focus awareness on (breath, body, thoughts, sounds)
  • Awareness of the present moment
  • Openness to experience whatever comes up
  • Acceptance that the mind will wander
  • The intention to return awareness to the object of focus whenever the mind wanders

A practice that encompasses these elements is typically called mindfulness meditation. Most mindfulness meditations will be practiced between 5 to 50 minutes, per day.[11]

There is truly no right or wrong way to practice mindfulness. Most mindfulness meditations are done seated with an object of focus related to the breath, body, thoughts, emotions, or sounds. However, daily activities such as walking or eating can be practiced as a form of mindfulness meditation, as long as the aforementioned elements are in place.

Four Mindfulness Meditations and Their Benefits

Not all forms of mindfulness are created equal. Each practice has unique goals, structure, and benefits. The following four mindfulness meditations are linked with improved mental wellness related to vitality, happiness, and attention.

The results come from a study designed to explore the benefits of these four practices. All of these stem from traditional Buddhist practices.[12]

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1. Loving-Kindness Meditation

Loving-kindness is a form of meditation that focuses on sending love and compassion to others. It may begin with kindness for the self and extend outward towards close family and friends, communities, nations, and the world. Loving-kindness may even involve sending love and compassion towards enemies.

The study found that eight-weeks of loving-kindness meditation increased feelings of closeness to others. However, it did not reduce negative feelings towards enemies. Additionally, one week of loving-kindness mixed with compassion training increased the amount of positive feelings participants experienced.[13]

2. Breathing Meditation

Breathing meditation is a practice where the focus remains on the breath. Whenever the mind begins to wander, the attention is brought back to the breath.

In many different mindfulness and yoga practices, specific breathing (pranayama) practices are taught. However, for beginners, simple diaphragmatic breathing that focuses on each inhale and exhale is sufficient.

The effects of breathing meditation relate to attention. Breathing meditation is linked to changes in the way information is processed. Buddhist monks who practiced breathing meditation were able to process a greater amount of information than monks who practiced compassion meditation.

3. Body Scan Meditation

A body scan is as simple as it sounds. Attention is brought to each part of the body. Participants can choose to start from the top of the head or the bottom of the feet. It can be helpful to imagine a warmth or a color spreading from one body part to the next as each part begins to relax.

When body scan and breathing are combined, there are many benefits. Interoceptive sensitivity is the mind’s ability to focus on bodily cues. It is strengthened by body scanning. Body scanning also helps with attention and focus.[14]

4. Observing Thoughts Meditation

In observing thoughts meditation, the focus is on the thoughts. This is an opportunity to practice non-judgmental observation. It is also a practice of non-attachment.

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Within the study, participants practiced structured observation of thoughts. First, they brought their attention to their thoughts and labeled them within several categories: past, present, future, self, or others. Then, they practiced observing their thoughts without an emotional reaction.[15]

The benefits of this practice were robust. First, participants showed great improvement in the ability to observe their thoughts without judgment. Second, the practice greatly reduced rumination. As a result, participants had fewer emotional reactions to their thoughts and developed greater self-awareness around their thinking patterns.

In summary, there are many different ways to practice mindfulness meditation. The choice may be determined by the benefits each practice offers. For example, body scanning can increase bodily awareness. Thought-observation can increase self-awareness and decrease rumination. Regardless, every practice may increase positivity, energy, and focus.[16]

Considerations Before You Begin Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness is still a relatively new concept in clinical research. Critics worry that its benefits have been overstated. There is also concern that the Western world has changed it into something most Buddhists would not recognize.[17]

Mindfulness is a state of mind that builds self-awareness. As a result, it may force individuals to face difficult emotions, memories, and thoughts. In a study of long-term, intense mindfulness practices, 60% of participants reported at least one negative outcome. Some cases are related to depression, anxiety, and psychosis.[18]

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental wellness. Mindfulness offering promising results but there are also risks involved. Working with a therapist may be a great way to start a mindfulness practice while monitoring for risk.

Final Thoughts

Mindfulness is a powerful practice that has deep roots in Buddhism. It is a practice of present-moment awareness, acceptance of the present moment, and non-judgment of thoughts, emotions, or circumstances.

It has many benefits that may increase mental wellness. However, there are also some risks to consider. Overall, you should consider your unique profile before beginning a practice or consider working with a therapist at the start.

More About Practicing Mindfulness

Featured photo credit: Simon Migaj via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] NCBI: A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation
[2] Sage Journals: Mindfulness in Cultural Context
[3] Greater Good Magazine: What is Mindfulness?
[4] Sage Journals: Mindfulness in Cultural Context
[5] Greater Good Magazine: The State of Mindfulness Science
[6] NCBI: Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies
[7] NCBI: Mindfulness Meditation and Psychopathology
[8] NCBI: Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies
[9] The Harvard Gazette: When Science Meets Mindfulness
[10] Greater Good Magazine: The State of Mindfulness Science
[11] NCBI: A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation
[12] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[13] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[14] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[15] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[16] Greater Good Magazine: How to Choose a Type of Mindfulness Meditation
[17] NCBI: Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?
[18] NCBI: Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?

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