Like many complex concepts, mental health has many definitions which all hold value. I would venture to say that mental health is the cornerstone to our overall health. Let’s look at some other descriptions of mental health.
The World Health Organization defines mental health as:1
“a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.
Another definition of mental health incorporates three key factors: emotional well-being, psychological well-being and social well-being.1
A third definition divides mental health into three domains: self-realization meaning that individuals are able to maximize their potential; a sense of mastery over the environment; and a sense of autonomy or the ability to confront and solve problems.1
I know I am not telling you anything new when I say that mental health is the cornerstone of our overall wellness. But just how much of an impact does mental health have on our lives and why should we spend valuable time and energy on it? Below are 10 important, quality of life improving reasons.
1.So we can achieve our goals
When we fail to achieve our goals it can be because our mind gets in the way. Maybe we set a goal for ourselves (big or small) and we take a few steps towards it and give up. Has that ever happened to you? It certainly has happened to me. Consider this blog for example. My goal was to start this blog in 2014. I bought my domain name and a book about how to start a blog and then nada! I just thought I was just going to write and put my posts online. The reality of what it took to start a successful blog was different than what I thought and because of that I felt overwhelmed and defeated. I allowed those feelings to cause me to believe that I couldn’t do it and so for the past 4 years I didn’t.
2.So we can increase our feelings of happiness
A healthy mind does not equal a life that is full of only rainbows, puppy dogs and candy. Things happen in life that are beyond our control that can cause anxiety, depression, anger, fear, etc. When we are intentionally focusing on our mental health we are able to rebound quicker from setbacks by choosing skills that help us feel better quicker and get back to experiencing the happiness and joy that our lives have to offer.
3.To reduce our feelings of sadness and pain
I am not saying that improving your mental health will eliminate all negative feelings from your life forever. Trust me, I want to be able to say that but it is just not reasonable. However, improving your mental health can help you let go of unwanted, unpleasant and unhelpful emotions faster and experience them less intensely.
4.To get the most out of our relationships
Raise your hand if you’ve ever allowed your emotions to control your words or behaviors towards someone you love? Raise your other hand if those actions impacted the relationship in a negative way. I am raising both of my hands after I type this sentence. A healthy mind will increase our ability to be able to effectively express and receive information from others even when experiencing negative emotions.
5. To get our wants and needs met
As an extension of #4, getting our wants and needs met in life means being able to effectively ask for what we want without allowing our emotions or thoughts to stop us. It also means being able to tolerate any anxiety and fear we may experience as we are acting with intention to get what we want. Maybe most importantly, it means being able to say no to people without racking ourselves with guilt. I have been a bonified people pleaser my entire life and struggled to say no to big and little things. This resulted in making decisions to please others (i.e. playing volleyball so my dad wasn’t disappointed) which led me to feeling unsatisfied, resentful and confused and doing things I didn’t want to do.
6. To develop healthy self-esteem
If you are a people pleaser (see above) it is hard to develop a healthy self-esteem because you are essentially living your life to please other people. While that way of life may cause immediate feelings of pleasure and happiness, the long-term effects can cause feelings of emptiness, loneliness and self-confusion. A primed mind is able to strengthen abilities and talents while embracing and owning personal flaws.
7.To optimize our productivity at work, school, home etc…
A primed mind is able to focus on one thing in the moment so we can accomplish our goals effectively and efficiently in various facets of our lives. Have you ever found yourself staring blankly at your computer screen while thinking about the argument you had with your husband an hour earlier? Or reading and re-reading and re-reading a book because the words feel like they are in Chinese? When our minds aren’t healthy we struggle with completing tasks and being productive because our minds aren’t focused.
8.To optimize our physical health
“Without mental health there can be no true physical health”- Dr. Brock Chisholm, the first Director General of the World Health Organization.2
Our mental health has a direct impact on our physical health. Research has shown that mental illness is a risk factor that affects the occurrence and diagnosis of noncommunicable diseases.1 Researchers have also found that addressing mental health in a primary care setting will improve survival outcomes of individuals diagnosed with various diseases (diabetes, heart disease, cancer) as well as delay the progression of these diseases.1 Drop the mic!
9.So we can feel in control of our thoughts and emotions
We experience many thoughts a day and despite scouring the internet, scientific journals and textbooks I have yet to come up with a credible source confirming the exact number. Different sources claim anywhere from 15,000 to 80,000 and while I’m not endorsing any specific number I think we can conclude that we experience an enormous amount in a 24 hous. A healthy mind means you are able to recognize thoughts and emotions as simply that; they are not things that need to be acted upon but non-threatening occurrences. A primed mind has the ability to recognize an unwanted thought and let it go without holding on to it, acting upon it or believing it to be factual.
10. To be able to cope with stress
A healthy mind is able to cope with stress and life’s unpleasantries without making the situation worse. With a healthy mind you are able to respond to life’s challenges instead of react to them. What’s the difference? A reaction is guided by our feelings and unconscious thoughts; it is quick, in the moment and doesn’t take into account the consequences of our behavior.3 A response is more deliberate and is influence by our emotions and our conscious mind with an understanding of future consequences.2 When we react to life’s stressors we are making ourselves vulnerable to worsening the stress and problem at hand.
Take a minute to write down which reason(s) are motivating you to focus on your mental health? With intention, effort and persistence we can get your mind in tip top shape and improve the areas most important to you.
1.U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2015). Toward a new definition of mental health.
2.Kolappa, K., Henderson, D.C. & Kishore, S.P. (2013). No physical health without mental health: lessons unlearned?
3. James, M. (2016). React vs Respond.