Are You Wondering How to Improve Your Mental Health?
When life gets crazy, it can feel like you are putting a puzzle back together that got knocked apart. If you feel like your Life Puzzle has been knocked apart, it’s highly likely that your mental health has taken some kind of hit, and you really want to learn how to improve your mental health. Life is a puzzle and you had worked so hard to figure out where each piece went, and then you must start over.
This is the third post in my Life Is a Puzzle series. Because Life can really feel like a puzzle sometimes, ok, maybe most of the time. And we feel so dang good when we are getting the pieces to fit together, and so dang frustrated when something happens and they fly apart. One thing that I have found can help to organize your life, is to “start at a corner of the puzzle”.
The Physical Corner
My last post was about starting with the “Physical” corner. That’s made of things like exercise, food, and sleep, among other things. I like to start with that corner when I’m putting my puzzle back together because it’s very concrete. You know if you are exercising or not. You know if you are making healthy food choices, or not. Numbers don’t lie, your doctor can tell you if your cholesterol or blood sugar is going up or down. Getting a good night’s sleep, brushing your teeth, these are obvious yes/no things. When life has fallen apart, the physical corner can be a very reassuring place to start. However, it’s not for everyone.
The Mental Corner
Or maybe the particular flavor of Life falling apart that you are experiencing is pointing towards a need to focus on your Mental Health? In that case, you may be wondering, how to improve your mental health?
This week, I explored the definitions of mental health, as well as the benefits of having “good” mental health. I will, however, start with a WHOLE BUNCH of DISCLAIMERS. Mental health overlaps considerably with Social, Emotional and Spiritual health. It is also ridiculously closely tied to Financial, Environmental, Vocational and Physical health. So, while I’ll try to be very clear about what I define as Mental health within the context of this series, please understand that this is a very squishy topic, and many people use it interchangeably with Social, Emotional and Spiritual health.
How do I define Mental Health?
For the purposes of this post, I consider Mental health to be a person’s cognitive and intellectual functions and functionality. Within this very narrow definition, there are three supporting pillars: Learning/Mastery; Adaptability/Perspective; and Open-mindedness/Fairness. Within the field of psychology, this is also often listed as “Executive Function”. Mental health to me is all about planning, problem solving and productivity. And again, I am discussing what I define at mental health. Social, Emotional, and Spiritual health will be discussed in later posts.
This first Pillar is Learning and Mastery.
This means both ends of the learning spectrum, learning NEW things, as well as practicing MASTERY of things that you have been working on for a while. The reason that both of these are important, is that the human brain craves new things, That’s the dopamine hit of scrolling endlessly through the social media channel of your choice. All the New things, all the dopamine make you feel good.
However, MASTERY is what gives you the feeling of accomplishment and control over your environment. Mastery is when you already know how to solve a problem and can roll seamlessly into the solution, without having to stop and really spend a lot of time or effort figuring it all out. The process of problem solving can be the learning. That’s why in some professions, you really never stop learning, because there is always a new problem to figure out and solve.
In any case, the human brain and psyche needs BOTH experiences to feel safe and balanced. Learning new things is good for alleviating depression and anxiety, just as having mastery over a thing can also create a feeling of safety and competence. Feeling competent that you can handle pretty much anything that may come up in a particular scenario, allows you to then feel safe to experiment. And to experiment successfully, is to accurately predict the outcomes of your experiments, based on the massive number of previous experiments and experiences that you have had with that topic. Learning and Mastery are the two keys to the first pillar of mental health.
When you have a good handle on this first pillar, you are able to effectively plan your time. Because, as you move from learning, to mastery, to learning and back to mastery, you gain the ability to figure out what the steps are in any given project, as well as how to go about accomplishing a goal. Learning and mastery give you an increased ability to effectively plan your projects.
The Second Pillar is comprised of Adaptability and Perspective.
These two build somewhat on the first two, and they can be interrelated. Your ability to learn (NHS, 2022)and master (Six-factor Model of Psychological Well-being, 2023), is directly relatedto your ability to adapt what you already know, and to take alternative perspectives. This Pillar is the one that allows you to be innovative. It allows you to understand where other people are coming from and to work with them as a team to create new and better solutions. Adaptability and Perspective are the Pillar that relates to flexible thinking, and flexibility in thought, is highly related to overall mental and emotional health.
With a firm grasp on this second pillar of Adaptability (Brad Bowins, 2021) and Perspective (PETERSON, 2022), you gain the ability to problem solve effectively. When you can quickly and efficiently adapt to the current situation, and change your perspective on a problem, you are well on your way to effectively solving your problems. Einstein said that “the mind that conceived of a problem, cannot solve it.” You will always need to adapt and change perspective to find the solution to your problems. While that may mean learning or mastering new skills, you will first need to identify which skills you need to have to solve your problem, and effect a solution. So, adaptability and perspective are essential features of any problem solving scenario
The final Pillar is made up of Open-mindedness and Fairness.
These two qualities are more judgment (or lack thereof) related. And again, they are closely related to the previous two, as you will struggle to be flexible and to see other perspectives, if you cannot have an open mind and an ability to see others with fairness.
Open-mindedness (Randy Withers, 2021) and Fairness are essential to effectively building and utilizing the first two pillars of Learn/Mastery and Adaptability/Perspective, it is when you put all three pillars together that you are able to find the productivity Holy Grail. Productivity is all about planning effectively and executing that plan. These three pillars are what it takes to put together the Mental Health pieces of your puzzle.
What happens when you learn how to improve your mental health?
So, in conclusion, there are 3 pillars of mental health that you can check up on and maybe make improvements, if you need to know how to improve your mental health. First, check to see if you need to learn something new, or if you need to prove to yourself that you have reached mastery over something that you’ve been working on for a while. You can do this by giving yourself a challenge and evaluating how you went about accomplishing your challenge .
Second, you can check in with yourself and see if you have been practicing adaptability and perspective. When was the last time you tried doing something in a different way? Brush your teeth with your off hand, make substitutions in a familiar recipe, or literally, go to the park and flip yourself upside down on the monkey bars (safely) and see what the world looks like from a different perspective. Maybe climb a mountain? Go somewhere new, take a different route than your usual, try a new coffee or tea, whatever it takes to shake yourself out of your rut and see things differently.
Third, and finally, use your new skills and perspective to look at the situation or world with a sense of open-mindedness, and fairness. Are there things that you hadn’t considered? Can you let go of your sense of judgment and allow yourself, or others to just be the way that they are, because it most likely makes sense to them? Can you see and evaluate new problems and new solutions? These three pillars of skills and practices will set you up to experience great mental health, and to put the Mental Health pieces of your Life Puzzle into place.
Which corner of Life’s Puzzle are you working on today? What pillar of the Mental Health Corner makes sense to you? How do you regain perspective? Practice Adaptability and Fairness? What are you just starting to Learn? What have you Mastered and how has it impacted your life? Share in the comments below!
Brad Bowins, M. F. (2021, 08 30). 7 Behaviors for Improving Mental Health. Retrieved from nami.org: https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/August-2021/7-Behaviors-for-Improving-Mental-Health
NHS. (2022, 12 16). 5 steps to mental wellbeing. Retrieved from NHS: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/self-help/guides-tools-and-activities/five-steps-to-mental-wellbeing/
PETERSON, T. J. (2022, 03 25). What Are the Components of Mental Wellbeing? Retrieved from Healthy Place: https://www.healthyplace.com/self-help/self-help-information/what-are-the-components-of-mental-wellbeing
Randy Withers, M. N. (2021, 01 08). Why I Embrace 12-Step Principles as a Therapist. Retrieved from National Alliance on Mental Illness: https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/January-2021/Why-I-Embrace-12-Step-Principles-as-a-Therapist
Six-factor Model of Psychological Well-being. (2023, 02 26). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six-factor_Model_of_Psychological_Well-being#:~:text=The%20Ryff%20Scale%20is%20based,indicate%20higher%20psychological%20well%2Dbeing.
What IS Mental Health? (2022, 02 28). Retrieved from MentalHealth.gov: https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/what-is-mental-health
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