** DISCLAIMER: I am not a nutritionist, physical trainer, or fitness nor mental health professional of any kind. All thoughts expressed in this content come from my personal opinions and experiences only. **
May is Mental Health Awareness Month here in the U.S. And, as someone who’s struggled with my mental health since nearly as far back as I can remember, it’s felt important to me this year, with this blog, to embrace Mental Health Awareness month and spread some, well… awareness.
While I’ll likely write future posts about my ongoing struggles with depression, anxiety, and all the comes with these mental health issues, what I’ve been thinking most about lately is something a bit more positive: the power that comes with achieving mental healthiness.
What is mental healthiness?
I very recently started thinking about the phrase “mental healthiness” to describe how I feel about my own mental health journey.
To my surprise, I found that this phrase has also been used by health industry professionals and, specifically, by psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Lee, who runs the website MentalHealthiness.com.
I think Dr. Lee sums up the benefits of focusing on mental healthiness very well on his site, so I’ll share a quote directly from one of his posts here:
“A mental healthiness perspective includes the whole range of human experience, from at our very best to at our very worst, so this includes all of Psychiatry and clinical Psychology – it just has room for much more.”
Rather than looking at mental wellness as “mental health,” which, to me, has a seemingly finite and almost permanent-sounding connotation to it, the concept of mental healthiness, I think, acknowledges that mental wellness needs space to fluctuate. Space for the bad days, along with the good days. Space for experimenting with new habits and practices. Space to ebb and grow in our individual mental health journies.
Rather than focusing on my mental health, which conceptually feels very distant to me, I choose to focus on my mental healthiness. My personal mental wellness right now in this moment, my hopeful goals for my mind and happiness in the future, and my acknowledgment of everything that has been a part of my past.
My mental healthiness is a continuum with no beginning or end, no finite best or worst moment, and so I can’t be successful or fail at it, I can only keep working on it and accepting where it is today, tomorrow, and every other day of my life.
The power of mental healthiness, as I’ve experienced it
If you’ve read other posts or pages on this site, you’ve likely come across references to my struggles with depression and anxiety. For much of my life, mental healthiness, let alone happiness, seemed out of reach for me.
And yet, after years of working on myself and inquiring into new ways of doing so, I’m at a place in life where I’m the happiest and most mentally well I’ve ever been.
I used to dread each new day before the current one was even over. I used to feel overwhelmed by even the smallest of everyday obstacles. I used to be angry, so very angry, with myself and those around me.
Today, I’m in awe of the joy and peace that I’m able to experience in each day. The contentedness I can feel when working my day job, the satisfaction I get out of something as simple as cooking a meal for myself or my boyfriend, the dexterity with which I’ve been able to navigate some truly challenging life events.
A few years ago (hell, even one year ago) I would have never dreamed that I could achieve this level of mental healthiness in my life.
I will never be one of those women who can give up red wine completely, or go on weeks-long meditation retreats out in Joshua Tree or someplace like that. (If you are one of those women, I’m not judging you. I’m just not you.)
And yet, in my own, completely non-linear way, I’ve been able to get to a place of happiness and peace that has me excited and motivated for the rest of my life to come.
For me, that excitement for life is the real power of mental healthiness, because when you have that excitement for life, everything seems possible and you can enjoy even the most mundane of tasks. You can enjoy… life.
6 Steps to achieve mental healthiness in your life
To experience mental healthiness, I have tried many things. Some have worked better than others. That’s not to say that they will be what works for you. Some things that work for you may be things that didn’t work for me, and vice versa. However, here are a few of the practices that I have found most beneficial on my journey to mental healthiness.
1. Talk to a therapist
I know this is a difficult step for many people to take, but talking to a professional therapist regularly (about two times a month for me now) has been the single most influential tool in my ability to experience a positive mental state.
You don’t even have to drive anywhere these days. I use the BetterHelp app to message and speak with my therapist whenever I want.
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2. Be kind to yourself
I’ve always been a tough love kind of person… times 10 when it applied to myself. However, I’ve found that treating myself with kindness and accepting my faults and less-than-perfect moments has helped my mental healthiness tremendously. Gee, who knew, right?
3. Take care of your body
You don’t have to look like a movie star or an Instagram influencer. You don’t have to follow a crazy diet or juice cleanse.
For me, taking care of my body means eating green things (salad is my favorite) and moving my body at some point each day. I still have a weakness for doughnuts and sometimes a long walk is all I can muster up. It’s just important that you make an attempt to take care of yourself. When you give your body what it needs to function, your brain can function better, too.
4. Ingest stories like yours
One thing that has helped my mental healthiness greatly is listening to podcasts and audiobooks by or about people like me. People who have struggled with depression and anxiety. People who have experienced divorce. People who want to be closer to their families but don’t know how to get there emotionally.
I used to feel so alone in my life experiences. Listening to stories like mine brought me a sense of peace and a deeper understanding of just how many people are dealing with or have dealt with circumstances like my own.
Whether you choose to write a blog, write in a journal, write a book, whatever, I strongly suggest you write.
I have found writing to be the single, truest way to communicate with myself. It’s a physical action that allows you to talk to your psyche in a way unlike anything else.
Stream-of-consciousness journaling is a great way to get started if you’re unsure of how to get into writing. Licensed Clinical Social Worker and psychotherapist Nicole Sachs has an excellent website and podcast where she talks about the power of “journal speak.” If you want to learn more about using writing to dig into your mental healthiness, I encourage you to read about her work.
6. Surround yourself with people who care for you the way you want to be cared for
This was a crucial step I had to take to reach the place of mental wellness I’m at today. It was also one of the most painful.
Here’s the unfortunate truth about relationships: They aren’t all good for you. Just because you’ve known someone for a long time doesn’t mean you need to defer to their opinions over your own. Just because your friends validate your behaviors doesn’t mean they have your best interests at heart.
Partially by chance and partially by choice, I cut ties with many people in my life last year. It was painful, and I cried over it many nights. But when the wounds of those separations began to heal, I found myself in better company, and happier overall.
Other steps you can take to work towards mental healthiness
These additional suggestions are things that I’ve either tried or want to do more. In general, tips and tricks that are commonly recommended when one researches how to become mentally healthier.
I’m including them in this separate section because, as helpful as they may be to some, they did not have a massive impact on my mental wellness and getting me to where I am today.
However, I feel it’s important to include them here to give you more ideas for ways to work on your mental healthiness, and to encourage the ever-recommended trying of new things.
- Do yoga
- Get your sleep schedule on track
- Consider medication (if recommended by a doctor)
- Cut out or cut back on alcohol/recreational drugs
- Cut out or cut back on social media
- Take vitamins to address nutritional deficiencies
- Make it a point to talk to friends/family more
- Try new hobbies and activities
- Prepare your own meals instead of ordering out
Mental healthiness is ongoing, you just have to start the journey
There is no one moment when your mental wellness will suddenly blossom before you and you will say, “Aha! Here is the feeling I’ve been looking for!” It’s more like a slow, gradual, confusing process of trudging forward, adding in a new habit here or a self-improvement goal there.
Over time, these things add up, and it’s only when you look back at who you were a few months, a few years, or many years ago, that you’re able to see ust how far you’ve come, and what power mental healthiness has brought to your life.
If you’re’ reading this post and aren’t sure how to start working on your mental healthiness, this is my advice: Just want it.
Only after you start wanting to be mentally well can you really begin your journey.
If you want to share your own stories or mental healthiness journey in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you!