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 strong and resilient if you are:
- consuming too many low-nutrition foods;
- choosing screen-based activities for all your downtime and recovery;
- using substances in ways that could undermine your capacities to cope.
You start here: the baseline is to take care of your physical body first. These behaviours are even recommended as part of an effective treatment plan for mental health problems such as depression and addiction. For information on a variety of healthy living topics, consult the healthy living section of the website. For information on the positive impact of regular physical activity on mental health consult the physical activity and mental health page.
Resiliency is the ability to “bounce back” from stressful experiences, and to approach challenging situations in a constructive manner. Resilient people often experience personal growth when faced with adversity.
To navigate difficult situations, 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 or personal relationships.
Emotional Resilience from MentalHelp and Building Your Resilience from the American Psychological Association are resources that can help you build your resiliency. Transforming Lives Through Resilience is an online program that consists of four modules.
Examine your thinking
Your thoughts have a powerful effect on your feelings and, in turn, on your mental health. By examining your thoughts, you can identify unhelpful, or “dysfunctional” thoughts that contribute to negative emotions and distress. You can then take steps to modify your thoughts into more realistic, helpful ones.
Developing critical thinking skills helps you build good mental health. Critical thinking involves analyzing the quality of your thinking and taking steps to improve it. You can learn about developing this essential skill by exploring the Critical Thinking section of the website.
You can challenge unhelpful, dysfunctional thoughts using a technique called cognitive restructuring. The goal is to identify problematic thoughts, examine them, and then change (“restructure”) them into more helpful thoughts.
You can learn more about this technique in the book and Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think by Greenberger and Padesky. It is available at local libraries and at the Concordia library.
Free online resources include:
- a Cognitive Restructuring workbook,
- the Living Life to the Full course,
- the 7-step self-help course at GET.gg
- Cognitive behavioral tools is a video delivered by a psychologist who "reviews several cognitive behavioral tools to deal with stress, anxiety and overwhelming emotions."
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 practical and emotional support in difficult times.
Having a few good friends is more important than having many friends. Social media makes 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 liveabout 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 “The Drama Free Way to Break Up With a Friend” from liveabout provides practical advice.
Find meaning and purpose
The ability to find meaning from life’s experiences is associated with better mental health. This is particularly true when facing challenging situations as it can help a person see the situation from a different perspective and handle it more productively, which contributes to resiliency.
Many people find meaning and purpose through spiritual expression. This involves building self-awareness and self-acceptance and connecting meaningfully with something beyond oneself.
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 information and a list of “Questions for Reflection” that can help you articulate your spirituality, consult “Get in touch with your spiritual side” from Action for Happiness. Here at Concordia, you can connect with the Multi-faith and Spirituality Centre.
Another way to express meaning and purpose is to give of yourself. Generosity benefits mental health in many ways. It is associated with reduced stress and depression, and it helps build social connections. 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 Centre to identify volunteer opportunities that are suited to your interests, character, and availability. 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.
Get help when you need it
There are many programs and services for mental health that can help you in times of need. To discover resources at Concordia and beyond, consult the mental health page of this website.
A helpful resource is 211. This “is an information and referral service that refers citizens towards community organizations, public and parapublic services and programs near them.” They have a phone line (dial 2-1-1) and a searchable directory of services.