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Strategies for Building Good Mental Health

Engage in healthy behaviours

Eating a nutritious diet, getting sufficient quality sleep and engaging in regular physical activity are associated with better mental health and a reduced risk of mental illness. Indeed, it is unreasonable to expect to be mentally healthful if you are not engaging in these behaviours.

These behaviours are even recommended as part of an effective treatment plan for depression, addiction and other mental health problems.  For more information on these topics consult the "Healthy Living" section of our website. For information on the impact of regular physical activity on mental health consult the "Physical Activity and Mental Health" section.
 

Build resiliency

Resiliency is the ability to “bounce back” from stressful experiences, and to approach negative events in a constructive manner.  Resilient people recover quickly from difficult situations and are often better off because of the experience.

Resilient people develop and use their internal resources—known as assets—such as problem solving skills and communication skills.  They also identify and use external resources such as supportive community organizations.

For more information consult The Road to Resilience from the American Psychological Association or Emotional Resilience from MentalHelp.net.

Transforming Lives Through Resilience is an online program that consists of four mini-lectures, or modules. Each module takes about 30-45 minutes to complete.

Change the way you think

Your thoughts have a powerful effect on your feelings and, in turn, on your mental health.

You can challenge and change unhelpful, dysfunctional thoughts into realistic, helpful ones using the Cognitive Therapy (CT)  approach. A central technique in CT is cognitive restructuring, where you identify problematic thoughts, examine them, and then restructure them into more helpful thoughts.

You can learn more about this technique in the books Feeling Good: The new mood therapy by David Burns and Mind Over Mood: Change how you feel by changing the way you think by Greenberger and Padesky.  

Online resources include a Cognitive Restructuring workbookMoodGYM, the Living Life to the Full course and the mini 7-step self-help course at GET.gg.

Build good critical thinking skills

Lack of good critical thinking skills is a contributor to many mental health problems (e.g. anxiety, depression, low self-esteem).  Treatment for mental health problems often includes changing thinking through the building of good critical thinking skills.  For example, people with depression often focus on the negative aspects of a situation or have illogical thoughts related to it.  People with anxiety also tend to overestimate the chances of bad outcomes.

An excellent resource for building critical thinking is the framework developed by Richard Paul and Linda Elder.  It helps you analyze your thinking (reasoning) and provides a strategy for improving it.  The central feature of this strategy is to assess the elements of your thinking using intellectual standards. include using intellectual standards. You can learn more about this approach at criticalthinking.org.  Start by exploring the “Begin here” tab, from which you can access "Critical Thinking: Where to begin". The book Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life provides details of this approach.  The framework is summarized in the critical thinking section of the Health Services website.

Change the way you feel

Cultivating positive emotions like joy, contentment, interest and gratitude enhances mental health. A powerful way to enhance positive emotions is to “count your blessings”.  Focus on what is good in your life.  Be thankful for what you have. Also helpful are to prioritize activities that give you joy and purpose, and to find positive meaning in experiences.  

For more information consult the book Positivity by Dr. B. Fredrickson or watch this video to hear the author describe her research findings and practical recommendations.

Set realistic goals

People who set unrealistic goals tend to be unreasonable in their assessment of their talents, resources and various aspects or conditions of the situation.  They set themselves up for failure, and when they don’t succeed it causes much misery.  They may feel that they are worthless if they fall short of their goals, or make mistakes in attempting to achieve them.

Many people are so sure of their success that they fail to make plans in case they don’t succeed. 

To reduce the chance of negative emotional consequences related to unrealistic goals Dr. Mark Goulston suggests:
“The next time you want something, ask yourself how likely it is to happen. List everything that’s necessary to achieve your goal. Look at yourself objectively and evaluate your ability to accomplish what has to be done. Rate your goal on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being totally unrealistic and 10 being a sure thing. The lower the score, the more important it is to have a backup plan that will work. Set your expectation level at “want to have it,” “need to have it,” or “gotta have it,” according to how realistic your goal is. Try not to feel “gotta have it” with a long shot unless you’re prepared to be devastated.”

Challenge materialism

At the heart of consumer culture is the idea that having wealth or “stuff” will allow us to secure our needs and move closer to an idealized identity.  Material objects are often associated with attributes like success.

People who are materialistic and pursue extrinsic goals like money or status are more likely to be anxious and depressed, less satisfied with life, and have more psychological problems.
     
If you critically examine yourself, you may realize that it is not wealth or stuff you want; rather, it is the feelings you hope to get from these things, such as security, love, or intimacy.  Possessions will not build character or estimable personal qualities. Challenge the belief that having certain things will make you happy or help you become the person you aspire be.  Practice and build self-control by delaying gratification:  before you buy something take a day to think about it.

Research has revealed that spending money on experiences (such as a concert or a trip the museum) rather than objects leads to greater happiness.

An online resource that can get you thinking about the value of owning less is Becoming Minimalist.  "Talks to watch instead of shopping" by TEDTalks lists a dozen videos about consumerism.

Cultivate a healthy social network

Positive relationships are associated with better mental health.  Having people in your life that care for you and that you care for increases your sense of belonging and self-worth.  Friends can celebrate with you in good times and provide instrumental and emotional support in difficult times.

Having a few good friends is more important than having many friends.  Social networks like Facebook make it easier to make new connections and to keep in touch with old friends.  However, research reveals that online relationships are not as meaningful or beneficial as face-to-face encounters.  

For information on building healthy relationships consult "Making Good Friends" from Helpguide.  The Friendship page at lliveabout has articles on a wide variety of relationships issues.

Just as important as nurturing healthy relationships is cutting ties with bad (“toxic”) relationships that zap your energy and drag you down.  Commit to breaking these unhealthy ties.  The article "How to Break Up With a Friend" provides practical advice.

Give of yourself

Generosity benefits mental health in many ways.  It is associated with reduced stress and depression, helps build social connections and enhances a person's sense of purpose.  Serving others can increase well-being and life satisfaction, build empathy and gratitude, and give you a more balanced perspective on yourself and others.

One way to give of yourself is to volunteer.  Contact Concordia's LIVE center to identify volunteer opportunities that are suited to your interests and character.  Another resource is the Volunteer Bureau of Montreal.

You don’t need to volunteer to benefit from giving of yourself.   Even small daily gestures (e.g. helping a mother carry her stroller down the metro stairs) can make a difference in your mood and your sense of self-worth and purpose.

Be careful, however, not to give more of yourself than you are able to as this will overwhelm you and contribute to poorer mental health.

Express your spirituality

Spiritual expression and growth involves building self-awareness and self-acceptance, connecting meaningfully with something beyond oneself, and developing a sense of meaning and purpose.

There are many ways to positively experience your spirituality.  They include spending time in nature, using creativity and art, engaging in observances like meditation or prayer and participating in a faith community.

For more information see “Get in touch with your spiritual side”.  Here at Concordia, you can connect with the Multi-faith and Spirituality Centre.

Get help when you need it

There are many mental health related programs and services that can help you in times of need.

Resources at Concordia include Health Services, Counselling and Psychological Services and the Applied Psychology Centre.

In Montreal, contact the Information and Referral Centre of Greater Montreal (514-527-1375).  This agency provides information on hundreds of community resources. They direct people seeking help in solving their problems to the agencies that provide the services they need.  A similar service for the greater Montreal area is 211 (dial 2-1-1), which has a phone line and a searchable directory of services.

 

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