Mental health is key to our well-being. We can’t be truly healthy without it. It involves how we feel, think, act, and interact with the world around us. Mental health is about realizing our potential, coping with the normal stresses of life, and making a contribution to our community. It may be more helpful to think of good mental health as thriving. Good mental health isn’t about avoiding problems or trying to achieve a “perfect” life. It’s about living well and feeling capable despite challenges. Mental well-being is bigger than the presence or absence of a mental illness. People who live with a mental illness can and do thrive, just as people without a mental illness may experience poor mental health.
Each of our paths to mental well-being will be unique. We all have our own goals, our own challenges, our own talents, and our own supports. But good mental health is in everyone’s reach. Below, find tips and activities to help you take a look at your own well-being, discover your strengths, and take action.
Build a healthy self-esteem
Self-esteem is more than just seeing your good qualities. It is being able to see all your abilities and weaknesses together, accepting them, and doing your best with what you have. Self-esteem means recognizing your unique talents and abilities, and using that confidence to follow your goals and interests without comparing yourself to others.
Activity: Build confidence
Take a good look at your good points. What do you do best? Where are your skills and interest areas? How would a friend describe you? Now, look at your weak points. What do you have difficulty doing? What things make you feel frustrated? Now, which list was easier to write? Remember that all of us have our positive and negative sides. We build confidence by developing our weaker areas and regularly reminding ourselves of the things we’re comfortable with and proud of.
Build positive support networks
Good relationships take effort, whether it’s relationships with family members, friends, or other important supporters. It takes courage to reach out and time to build trust. But social support is a very important part of mental health. People in our networks can offer many different kinds of support, like emotional support, practical help, and alternate points of view. Support can come from family and friends, neighbours, co-workers or classmates, faith communities, clubs or support groups for specific problems.
Activity: Make time
Make time just to be with important people in your life. Make time for simply having fun and enjoying each other’s company, and time for serious conversations.
Being involved in things that really matter to us provides a great feeling of purpose and satisfaction. You make a difference, no matter how big or small your efforts. Getting involved connects you with others in your community who share similar interests or values and connects you to groups of people you might not normally meet. It can help you learn new skills, build confidence, and see your own experiences in a different way.
Be a volunteer. Read to children at your local library, visit people in a hospital or care facility, serve on a committee or board of your favourite charity, clean up your favourite park or beach, or simply help a neighbour.
Resiliency means coping well with problems, stress, and other difficult situations. Problems and stress are a normal part of life. Situations like accidents or illness, unexpected life changes, and conflict happen to everyone. Resiliency is what helps you look at the situation realistically, take action when you can make changes, let go of things you can’t change, and recognize the helpful supports in your life. Your resiliency toolkit might include skills like problem-solving, assertiveness, balancing obligations and expectations, and developing support networks. While some people learn these skills during treatment for mental health problems, we should really think of them as skills for everyone. You can learn more about these skills online, in books, through community organizations, or through your health care provider.
Activity: Build your own toolkit
Set aside time to think about the resiliency tools you already have. This might include skills like structured problem-solving or people who can help you during difficult situations. Remember to include strategies that have worked for you in the past. Keep your list on hand and use it as a reminder when you need help. It’s also a good way to see where you might want to build new skills or supports.
Recognize your emotions
Emotional well-being is not about being happy all the time. Feeling sad, angry, and anxious at times is part of being human. Emotional well-being involves expressing our emotions in a way that respects everyone. Bottling up our feelings doesn’t respect our own experiences, just as lashing out because we feel angry may not respect others. Emotional well-being also includes recognizing what influences our emotions, discovering how our emotions affect the way we think or act, taking action when our emotional response isn’t helpful, and learning to accept our emotions – even the difficult ones.
Activity: Identify and deal with your moods
Find out what makes you happy, sad, joyful or angry. What calms you down? Learn ways to deal with your moods. Share joyful news with a friend, and find support when you feel sad. Physical exercise can help you deal with your anger or anxiety. Keep a stack of your favourite funny cartoons, stories, or videos for times when you need to laugh. And don’t forget the power of music to lift you up or calm you down.
Take care of your spiritual well-being
Spiritual well-being means getting to know ourselves, discovering our values, and learning to be at peace with who we are. It also involves finding and connecting to something bigger than ourselves and living with purpose. Spirituality can give us meaning and solace, help us overcome challenges, and help us build connections with others. This may mean religion for some, but it doesn’t have to – it’s really about how we feel on the inside.
Activity: Connect with yourself
Set aside quiet, quality time to be totally alone. Try a breathing exercise: count your breaths from one to four, and then start at one again. Or do something you love to do, like dancing, going to a baseball game, building a bird house, going for a hike, or whatever works for you!
Do you need more help?
Contact a community organization like the Canadian Mental Health Association to learn more about support and resources in your area.
Founded in 1918, The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is a national charity that helps maintain and improve mental health for all Canadians. As the nation-wide leader and champion for mental health, CMHA helps people access the community resources they need to build resilience and support recovery from mental illness.