Mental health has become a trendy topic these days. From TV shows to books to movies, conversations about managing one’s mental health are pervasive.
So yes, we understand the importance of being mentally stronger, we understand the benefits of having a healthy mind. The conversation that we are lacking to have though, is how exactly do you do that? How does one become mentally strong?
What Exactly Does it Mean to Be Mentally Strong?
Before we get into the ways to increase mental strength, let us first understand what exactly it means. There is a common misconception, that a mentally strong person knows how to remain stoic in the face of adversity. People assume that not showing emotions is what mental strength is all about. Nothing could be further than the truth. We are no more living in the “mard ko kabhi dard nai hota” (A man never feels pain) days.
There is never one strict definition of what it means to have good mental health. It essentially means having the ability to manage your emotions. Do not hide your emotions, but properly understand and manage them. Being mentally strong is keeping yourself in check and most of all being content in your existence.
Now, let’s talk about some ways in which you can be mentally stronger!
1. Set Aside Time to Move Your Body
We cannot talk about mental health without discussing how important it is to work on your physical health. Our body is the vessel, in which our mind thrives. Having good physical health is essential when you are on the journey to make yourself mentally stronger.
You need to make time, to work on your body. It could be as small a thing as going for a walk. Only if you are physically healthy, will you have the strength to work on the issues of your mind.
Just moving your body and getting up from the bed each day to work on it will definitely help.
2. Give Yourself a Daily “Mindfulness Break”
It is important to take some time out each day and focus on what you are feeling. We are so caught up in work and relationships that we barely have time to think about what’s going on in our minds. Each day we wake up, interact with people, and do our jobs.
It is important to take a break. Not in the sense that you scroll through social media, or watch a new series (albeit those things are important too). By break here we mean, a mindfulness break. To just sit and think about where your mind is at and about what you are feeling at a particular moment in time.
3. Practice Being Your Own Best Friend
We all take time for the relationships that are important to us. We make plans to hang out, we have conversations and we try to develop a healthy relationship.
Start thinking about what YOU need and don’t be scared to prioritize yourself. Why not show the same amount of protectiveness you would show to a best friend to yourself as well?
4. Develop Healthy Self-Talk
Human beings tend to be extremely harsh to themselves. A lot of times, our problems are caused because of toxic self-talk. “I’m not pretty enough”, “I look fat”, “they would never like someone like me”. Such statements, affect your mental state on a much deeper level than you could imagine.
You must avoid this. Developing a positive self-talk relationship is important. Remember that you are a good person. Keep a check on yourself, and identify situations where the self-blaming gets worse. Take active steps to prevent behaving in such a way. Keep the negative thoughts out.
5. Set a Monthly Budget Which Includes Something Fun
Each month when you make a budget of where you will spend your money, include something fun. It could be going out to eat in your favorite restaurant, going to meet a long-distance friend, trying out a new adventure sport, or going on a trip.
If, like me, your idea of fun is going to a bookstore and purchasing books, do that. Some of these activities can improve your physical health as well. Doing a fun activity gives you contentment and thus helps in developing mental strength.
6. Face Fears Head-On
Easier said than done, right? It’s a simple thing to say, face your fears. We all know the reality of it. It requires dealing with uncomfortable emotions and stepping out of your comfort zone. What we can do in such a case, is focus on the end result. So yes, it’s extremely tough but think of that feeling of accomplishment. Think of when you have done something you were scared to do. Think about how it increased your self-confidence.
No one is telling you to dive headfirst into your problems. Facing fears is about developing enough mental resilience to deal with issues.
7. Make Gratitude a Priority
Have you ever heard of gratitude journaling? or just practicing gratitude? To practice gratitude means to be thankful for what life has given you. To be thankful for the people and opportunities you have had.
Many problems are caused because we think that we don’t have enough. Thinking about what we have and not comparing it to others makes a huge difference. Express gratitude for every small thing.
8. Do a Hobby or Activity Daily that brings You Joy
We spoke about how it’s important to include something fun in your budget each month. Now let us talk about how the same should be done in daily life. Doing something you like keeps the negative thoughts and negative emotions at bay.
Each day take out the time for a hobby that would help you in feeling joyful. It could be reading a book, drawing, writing, or playing an instrument. Whatever your hobby may be, spending time doing what you like is a great form of mental therapy.
9. Cut Your Social Media Time in Half
It is very important to practice self-care to build mental strength. Social media has always promoted unreasonable standards of beauty, relationships, and life. We compare the stuff we see online and expect it to happen in real life and when that does not happen, it leads to a mental spiral.
It is thus important that we spend time away from social media. It would lead to less anxiety as you would realize that what is there online is not the reality of life.
10. Eat Healthy
This relates to maintaining your physical health in a way. Research suggests that if you stick to nutrient-rich diets it would lead to fewer mood swings. It can even help deal with symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Reduce inflammatory food in your diet (including ultra-processed food, carbs, fried food, and added sugar). This would improve your physical health and ultimately build mental strength.
11. Recognize the Presence of a Problem
When it comes to mental health, people feel inhibited to recognize that a problem exists. To be mentally healthy it is important to acknowledge that you can be mentally unhealthy as well. This is what mental toughness and mental strength are all about.
When life throws problems at you, your mental wellness is bound to be affected. Focussing on what thoughts you are thinking is essential.
Various mental illnesses exist. They range from OCD to eating disorders to personality disorders etc. You can’t help yourself or someone else if you are not even aware of the mental illness present.
But, how does one become aware? It’s an easy answer. Study. Read about problems people face, and watch movies depicting such issues. Take active steps to BE AWARE.
12. Seek Help
Now that you are aware that a problem exists, to increase mental strength it’s important to understand that there is no shame in asking for help.
As a first step, you can approach people you trust and try to sort out your issues by talking to them. These people could be friends or family or even a teacher, or an online supportive community. Tell them that there is a problem and seek advice.
Going to a doctor or licensed mental health professional is sometimes considered a taboo. People feel ashamed to seek medical help. Having conversations about mental health and normalizing such issues is the way to go.
Instead of mocking someone when they think of medically solving an issue, support should be given. Therapy should be generalized. It is a great way to develop mental strength as it helps you to deal with your issues rather than blocking them.
13. Take it One Step at a Time
Developing mental strength is not an easy process. Achieving mental wellness and doing self-care are difficult tasks. It is a time-consuming process.
Developing new habits would, at first, certainly take a toll. The best thing you can do then, is to take it one step at a time.
It is important to have self-compassion and one needs to realize that there is no benefit in setting unrealistic expectations. You don’t get results overnight so just be patient and don’t give up. Be your own cheerleader.
14. Do What Works Best For You!
Your notion of mental strength could be entirely different from somebody’s else definition of mental strength.
Various things can be helpful in developing mental strength. It could be meditation or physical exercise. It could be talking to a friend or a therapist. Explore different options and keep in mind that you are unique. Trust yourself to choose the right thing.
15. Forgive Yourself and Others
It is essential to have a positive outlook on life. This can’t happen if you are harboring negative thoughts about a situation or a person. Learn to let go. It is important for your personal growth that you avoid negative self-talk.
Understand that people make mistakes. Things happen and life goes on. You can’t spend your time dwelling on past things. Forgive people and most importantly forgive yourself for the mistakes you have made.
What Does it Mean to Have Mental Strength?
So now we come back to this question. After all our discussions we can say that mental strength is having positive relationships with others around you and importantly with yourself. It means prioritizing yourself. It means to take care of yourself. Self-care is essential.
It also means developing positive thinking and becoming emotionally resilient.
Think of Others as Well
When you work on developing your own mental strength it is also important to think of others. Aid in the emotional journey of the people around you.
It’s a well-known saying “Treat others how you wish to be treated”. So yes, work on improving your own mental strength but ensure that it does not come at the expense of others.
Understanding Emotional Hygiene and Emotional First Aid
Before we conclude our discussion on how to increase mental strength, I would like to discuss a concept called emotional hygiene. Guy Winch popularized this concept and he explains it in much depth in his TED talk which will be linked below. Here, I would like to discuss a few learnings from the same.
What Do We Mean by Emotional Hygiene?
It means being aware of our psychological health and addressing psychological wounds as and when they occur.
What is a Psychological Wound?
Psychological wounds or psychological injuries can happen because of mental trauma caused by either failure, rejection, or chronic loneliness.
By chronic loneliness, we mean being alone and secluded for a large part of your life and having essentially no one to depend upon for your mental wellness.
Guy Winch talks about 7 ways to practice emotional first aid. They are as follows
1. Pay Attention to Emotional Pain:
This means being aware that a problem exists and that the mind has suffered an emotional wound. As talked about before, the first step in solving any problem is recognizing that there is a problem.
2. Stop Emotional Bleeding
Emotional bleeding refers to a lack of confidence and experiencing a feeling of helplessness. Take steps to recognize such patterns.
3. Protect your self-esteem
Avoid negative self-talk that would prove detrimental to your self-confidence.
4. Battle Negative Thinking
This means that you need to stop ruminating. It means constantly thinking about the old issues. Excess negative emotions can lead to a risk of depression as well as other physical diseases. This is because it increases the stress levels.
5. Become informed about the impacts of Psychological wounds
Psychological wounds could lead to excess trust issues, fear about things, and even distortions of reality. It is important to be aware of such impacts so that we can understand how to deal with them.
6. Don’t Let Excessive Guilt Linger
Too much guilt can prove to be toxic. It can hamper your everyday activities if not dealt with immediately.
7. Use Positive Distractions
Sometimes, all you can do to stop thinking about a particular thing is distract yourself. Play a game, listen to music. Do whatever makes you feel better.
Understanding all this is very important when you are on your journey to develop and better your mental health.
An Ideal Day in the Life of Someone Trying to Build Mental Strength!
As mentioned before, there is no pre-set formula but spending your day in the following way might help
- Wake up early in the morning and set your goals for the day.
- Write a Journal
- Go for a walk, do exercise.
- Go to work/school.
- Try to consciously do at least one thing to help someone else. Eat healthy food even if you’re out of your house
Once the work is done, it’s your time. Spend at least half an hour each day pursuing a habit that interests you. Divide your priority in the week to follow, you cannot do everything in a single day
Spend time with your loved ones, and finally try and get at least eight hours of sleep each day!
Developing mental strength is a comprehensive process. You will have to work hard to let go of the bad habits and focus on the positive aspects of things.
When on this journey of self-improvement, the most important thing is self-belief. Believe that you can and you will. Things don’t happen overnight. Just keep pushing and you will definitely see results.
Stay focused, have a positive view of life, and don’t let past experiences hamper you. Put just one foot forward each day and you will reach your destination.