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Well-being, Resiliency, and Mental Health: Questions, Facts, Metaphors


How important is your overall well-being to you and how would you describe your general state of mental health? Would you consider intentionally tending to your mental health to strengthen your resiliency and improve your well-being?

If you are reading this blog, you likely have an interest in or concern about your own mental health or that of someone you care about. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 U.S. adults suffers from some type of mental health problem in a given year, while 1 in 25 adults suffers from a mental health problem that seriously interferes with their work, family and other aspects of life. There are more statistics on youth and children here:

Research tells us that just as some people are genetically predisposed to developing problematic health conditions such as hypertension, heart disease and diabetes, some people are more emotionally sensitive and vulnerable to environmental stressors and the development of troublesome mental health problems. We also know too well that while life has many gifts to offer, there are painful experiences that affect us all. Emotional and psychological resiliency as well as the development of mental health problems lie within one's DNA, and are heavily influenced by one's family upbringing and early life experiences.

Your mental health affects your relationships, productivity, daily habits, decision making, distress tolerance, and more. In turn, these aspects of living influence your mental health and the well being within your family. What can you do to help yourself maintain a relative state of "mental health" so that difficult times are handled to the best of your ability? Consider the following metaphors:

In order to remain hydrated, you must drink enough water several times a day, every day, and have enough salt in your diet. Hydrating properly on Monday won't get you through the week.

Take too long of a break from exercise and you will feel the difference when you get back to the gym. Make exercise a regular habit and you reap the benefits.

Different plants need various amounts of sunlight, water and soil to flourish. You've got to provide what they need in order for them to survive.

It's not possible to drive around on an empty tank of gas for more than a few miles. If your wiper fluid isn't filled, you're in trouble when the snow is melting. Tires need the right amount of air and oil changes must be performed regularly, not to mention the other "recommended" maintenance required to keep your car running and dependable. Even when you take good care of your car, emergency break downs occur.

Engaging in pleasurable activities that contribute to your physical health, spending time with people who bring out the best in you and having downtime are some of the things you can do to build resiliency and take care of your mental health. In addition, the more you understand yourself, your strengths, and what types of situations are most difficult for you, the better you will be able to get through painful experiences. Some activities that help facilitate this process include journaling, letter writing, various forms of meditation, prayer, artistic expression, and psychotherapy (therapy).

People tend to put off seeking therapy for a variety of reasons: Not enough time, concerns about privacy, the expense, fear of being vulnerable, etc.... Some individuals find themselves in a crisis and need support, some notice something brewing and reach out to hopefully ward off a crisis, while others enter therapy during times of relative calm.

During or immediately after a crisis, your therapist will provide emotional support, education and strategies to help you feel more grounded while tolerating the distress. As change is often forced or a necessity after a crisis, your therapist will work with you on decisions related to needed changes. A good therapist acts as a neutral sounding board with whom you can gain perspective, process the deeper meaning behind your pain, and learn a variety of methods to help yourself. Unfortunately, what most don't realize is that while beginning therapy during a crisis situation is helpful, it's often not the best time to initiate the process.

Beginning therapy when you are struggling with something that is "brewing" or when things are relatively calm is a proactive step in taking care of your mental health and wellbeing. When you are not in a state of crisis, you have the opportunity to consciously tune into yourself, your concerns, relationships, vulnerabilities and values. You can choose to work on resolving issues rooted in the past that are holding you back, and plan for how to better manage upcoming stressors. It is possible to practice and strengthen coping skills so that when you are hit with a something painful, you will be better prepared to cope.

If you are willing, take a brief inventory of yourself in terms of your well- being and general mental health. Contemplate making this a priority, there are so many ways to strengthen your resiliency.... What might work for you?

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