Mental Health & You: How to Improve Mental Wellness

In Mental Health, Wellness by Courtney Archer2 Comments

When discussing mental health, mental illness is often one of the first things that come to mind. However, it is not only people dealing with mental illness who benefit from increasing mental wellness.

Mental health affects everyone with a brain. So, yeah, that would be everyone. Even your not-so-intelligent ex (shocking though it may seem that they do, indeed, have a brain).

Brains are tricky creatures with a serious penchant for safety at all costs. They tend to be extremists but, with the right strategies, can be trained to be intentional middle-pathers.

Some of those strategies just might surprise you, while others may come across as obvious. However, what is obvious to one brain is not obvious to all brains (hence the warning on those silica packets that they are NOT food), so we are going to cover them all.

Mental Health & You: How to Improve Mental Wellness

What Is Mental Health?

Mental health is not simply the absence of mental illness. You can actually be mentally healthy even if you have been diagnosed with a mental illness.

Physical health runs along similar lines. A person with type 1 diabetes can be just as healthy as a person without it if they take their medication, eat right, and exercise. They might be more healthy because they are actively engaging in healthy lifestyle practices.

So too can a person with depression be just as healthy as a person without depression–a person with depression actually has a leg up in some ways because the depression demands that they be aware of their mental health.

The thing is, mental health is just another facet of physical health. The brain is, in fact, an organ. Hearts are organs, kidneys are organs, brains are organs.

You can surely name off some basic heart health strategies–eat well, exercise, etc. But how many basic mental health strategies can you name? Chances are high that it took at least a few more seconds to name mental health strategies than it took to name heart health strategies.

In order to buoy up your mental health, you need a good basic understanding of it. A good mental health definition is the ability to acknowledge, understand, and utilize thoughts. Mental wellness comes from the ability to do so in an effective, helpful manner.

How Mental Wellness is Different from Emotional & Social Wellness

Mental wellness is often confused with emotional wellness, as well as social wellness. All three are very interconnected and related, but still different.

Emotional wellness is the ability to identify, understand, and learn from emotions.

Similarly, social wellness is the ability to identify, understand, and engage in healthy relationships. Healthy relationships are not relationships without problems, but rather relationships with the ability to work through problems.

Likewise, mental wellness is not an absence of mental problems. It is the ability to recognize and deal with mental problems and dysfunctions.

All three aspects of wellness are important. The ability to understand ourselves emotionally, socially, and mentally gives us the ability to assess where we are and determine how to get to where we want to be.

The truth is that each of us has some work to be done. An extra dose of truth though? That is not a bad thing.

If we are able to see our flaws, we are able to do something about them. There is nothing more stifling or stagnating than the belief that there is nothing to be done.

Why Mental Health is Important

Mental health is important because the thoughts we think affect everything we do. Thoughts can be true or false, but whichever they are, they flavor our experience of reality.

Your version of reality is always going to be different than someone else’s. Sometimes it will be vastly different, and sometimes it will only be a little different.

My favorite example of this is if you draw a 6 and then flip the paper upside down it becomes a 9. Which number it is will depend on which direction you are approaching it from, but neither is necessarily wrong.

While the difference between a 9 and a 6 is one thing, the difference between “everything sucks,” and “today’s been rough,” is huge. Those who know me very well know that when I start saying, “Life sucks and then you die,” I’m not in a good place.

I mean, is anyone who says that in a good place? If your thoughts are straying toward the negative, or toward absolutes like “always” or “never”, it might be helpful to start paying more attention.

Our thoughts shape everything we do, but they do not have to be as all-encompassing as they sometimes seem. We have some control, some power over what we do with the thoughts we think.

That is not to say that improving mental health is easy. Change is very rarely easy. But an unchanged life is a life unfulfilled.

Barriers to Good Mental Health

Your journey to mental health will have barriers along the way, but they are not insurmountable. Know that they will come and do what you can to prepare.

From a general lack of personal awareness and insight to the massive stigma that can accompany working on mental wellness, a lot of things get in the way.

However, one of the biggest, most crippling barriers that people run into over and over is one they unwittingly put into place themselves.

This huge barrier is the belief that the only way to make something better is to tear it down. One of our brain’s most common strategies to protect against future failures is to convince ourselves that current failures are because we are failures.

If you never try again, you cannot fail again, right?

Wrong. Our brains are wrong sometimes. This plays out in the thoughts we think, the emotions we feel, the behavior we engage in–the way we live our lives.

The thing is that this is something we can change. Often our thoughts are the gateway into improving our mental wellness and our lives.

How to Improve Mental Wellness

The first step to all improvement efforts is to know there is something to improve. Given that you are here, reading this article, chances are excellent that you can check that step off. The next step is to understand what is already going on.

What thoughts play on repeat through your mind like your favorite song? You likely have a mix of both positive and negative. The one that is currently on repeat likely depends on your mood.

A great example of this is a kid on Christmas Eve, who can hardly think of anything besides the Christmas tree and the presents underneath. When we are excited about something it is difficult to think of anything else.

On the flip side, when we are upset we tend to ruminate on whatever we are upset about. Rumination is a powerful tool, and not always negative despite the way it is often spoken of.

Many therapeutic approaches begin with bringing awareness to the thoughts that take up so much space in our minds. However, they can differ a little on how to deal with those thoughts once you are cognizant of them.

The best approach is the one that works best for you. While there is a myriad of options out there, they typically boil down to two essences. Sometimes they mix with each other, but there is usually a central focus with the addition of overlapping interventions.

The Cognitive-Behavioral Approach

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a very common Western approach to mental health and wellbeing. To put it very simply, the theory suggests that thoughts lead to emotions which lead to behavior.

If the mental health strategy you are looking at includes noticing and changing your thoughts, it is likely based in CBT. The idea is that connecting your thoughts with the emotions you experience helps you to shift your behavioral reactions.

This therapeutic approach has been around for a few decades and has a ton of research to back it up. There is a reason it has not faded into the background like Freud’s psychoanalytic approach. It is a powerful approach to mental health that can make a difference.

CBT Interventions

Generally, CBT based approaches begin with taking a look at thinking patterns. Common thinking patterns that tend to be unhelpful include:

  • Black and white thinking is the tendency to think that something is all one way or all another way. I.e., all bad, all good, all stupid, all smart, etc. If it is not one thing then it must its opposite; for example, if my soup is too salty it must be disgusting.
    • This line of thinking lends itself to absolutes and makes problem-solving difficult.
  • Catastrophizing is the tendency to jump to the worst-case scenario. For example, if I am two minutes late to work my boss is going to put me on probation, and if I go on probation I’ll be easy to fire, and if I get fired I won’t be able to pay my rent, and if I can’t pay my rent then I’ll be homeless, etc.
    • It might not be that drastic each time, but catastrophizing can take fear from a tolerable level to completely overwhelming in a matter of seconds.
  • Another commonly unhelpful thinking pattern is personalization or thinking that everything that happens is because of you or your fault. An example of this is thinking that it is raining today to punish you for saying something unkind yesterday.

This article about cognitive distortions (another term for unhelpful thinking patterns, or thinking errors) does a good job of explaining them and other things they affect if you are interested in learning more.

Once you know what your unhelpful thinking patterns are, the goal is to notice them and how they are disrupting your life, and to replace them with more helpful thoughts. This mental health daily journal printable is a great way to come up with some ideas and make them more helpful every day!

The Mindful Acceptance Approach

Many theories borrow bits of mindfulness and acceptance, but it an approach all on its own. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction is quickly gaining traction in the mental health field.

The approach still concerns thoughts, but has different nuances to it. While CBT is about noticing and changing thoughts, mindfulness is more about focusing the mind to notice thoughts. A popular theory that utilizes this approach is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT.

Where CBT is trying to change thoughts, mindfulness is trying to notice them so that a person can respond in the way they would like to rather than the way they always do.

Mindfulness and Acceptance Interventions

Mindfulness is far more than just meditating, although meditation is certainly involved. Guided imagery and guided meditation are common mindfulness interventions, along with grounding practices.

Other strategies include distancing from thoughts, pausing before responding, and acceptance of self. Mindfulness aims to allow one to take a breath and choose the right course.

  • Distancing from thoughts is separating your identity from your thoughts. In practice, this is noticing a thought and labeling it thus. For example, “I am having the thought that my life sucks,” instead of “my life sucks.”
  • Pausing before responding is exactly what it sounds like. Once you realize you are having a thought, you take the time to think about your response instead of reacting on auto-pilot.
  • Acceptance of self is allowing yourself to be who and where you are. This does not mean there is no room for improvement. Rather, it is accepting that being a flawed person does not make you any less worthwhile.

Mindfulness is a recognized tool for dealing with difficult thoughts and emotions in a healthy way. Check out this article on mindfulness if you are interested in learning more.

In Conclusion

You might have noticed that both of the above approaches, CBT and mindfulness, have some great options. If you would rather not pick one or the other, good news. Well researched modalities that utilize both approaches are growing increasingly popular and available.

If you are interested in improving your mental health you have a lot of options. Increasing your self-care is a great place to start that does not have to cost anything.

And remember, you have already conquered the first step of improvement: you know there is something to be improved. Having something that needs improving does not make you bad, it makes you human.

Trust me, we all have problems. The silver lining is that we also all have access to solutions, it just takes serious elbow grease and digging sometimes.


  1. Like!! I blog frequently and I really thank you for your content. The article has truly peaked my interest.

  2. Hi there! This post couldn’t be written any better!
    Reading this post reminds me of my previous room mate! He always kept talking about this.

    I will forward this post to him. Fairly certain he
    will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.