Keeping our minds well deserves as much attention as keeping our bodies healthy and strong. Use the A-Z below to investigate where your mental wellbeing could use a little boost (or perhaps a decent workout).
A – Acceptance. When we are in pain (physically or emotionally), our natural reaction is to resist, to struggle, to fight against what feels unfair or unmanageable. In doing so, we add another layer of unpleasant feelings on top of our pain. Acceptance of the current situation allows us to let go of this additional, self-inflicted suffering, and to focus our energies on moving through the hurt.
B – Balance. When one area of our lives takes over or is unattended to, it’s common to feel like something is missing. Consider the core elements that make up your life – work, family, friends, health (mental and physical), and recreation. How well balanced are your time and efforts amongst them? Is there anywhere that needs to be scaled back or scaled up?
C – Connection. Even the most introverted of us are social animals at the core. Make sure to get enough connection into your week, whatever amount is right for you – it’s too easy to make catching up with friends and family a last priority.
D – Dreams. When we get stuck in the mundane routines of day-to-day life, we lose sight of our dreams (or stop dreaming altogether). It’s easy to feel flat, bored, and dissatisfied in this situation. Think back to your dreams from five or ten years ago – are there any that still excite you that you want to pick up again? What are your new dreams, and how can you work towards them?
E – Exercise. Exercise has been linked to important mental wellbeing benefits such as improved mood and better ability to handle stress. Even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing (or perhaps especially if it’s the last thing you feel like doing), getting outside or into the gym for at least a brief walk or workout can help change your mental state.
F – Fun. Having fun isn’t frivolous – it’s one of the key components in a fulfilling and well-lived life. Like connection, fun should be planned in and prioritised. What is fun for each of us is individual, so revel in your own personal brand of fun.
G – Gratitude. Paying attention to and feeling gratitude for the thousands of tiny beautiful moments in our days brings life into technicolor. From a hot shower, to the gleeful after-work greeting from the dog, to a warm coat that keeps out the winter elements – we have an infinite number of things to be grateful for on a day-to-day basis.
H – Happiness. It’s the human condition to seek happiness, and yours is no less important than anyone else’s. Allow yourself to include those people, places and activities that bring you happiness into your top daily priorities.
I – Inner life. We all have an inner life, though some are more or less connected to it. How well do you know yourself – your preferences and dislikes, what brings you meaning and purpose? These aspects of ourselves change over time with age and stage of life – if it’s been a while since you’ve checked in, it’s time to catch up with yourself like you would with an old friend.
J – Joy. Joy is next level happiness and often linked to those priceless moments and peak experiences we remember throughout our lives. When is the last time you felt joy? How can you next experience it?
K – Kindness. Kindness enriches the lives of both the giver and receiver. Performing an act of kindness for someone else can lift your mood better than any treat or reward you give yourself.
L – Laughter. A good laugh has a direct effect on mind and body, reducing heart rate and blood pressure, and boosting endorphin levels. Phone that friend that always has you in stitches, or search for videos of your favourite comedian online.
M – Mindfulness. Research has shown mindfulness to be correlated with a myriad of benefits from reduced stress, improved emotional regulation, and better relationships. If you’re not practicing mindfulness yet, get on it!
N – No (know when to say it). There are so many demands on our time that receiving another invitation or request can become a burden – but you do not owe anyone a “Yes.” If you are struggling with saying no, consider how you would feel if the situation were reversed. Would you want someone to say yes to you out of obligation? Most people understand and accept when you politely decline – and those that don’t will get over it.
O – Outdoors. Even if you don’t consider yourself an “outdoorsy” person, spending time in nature has a soothing effect on the mind, especially when we spend so much time indoors and in front of screens during the week. Make it a weekend excursion to discover a new park, trail, or hill to climb. Or if you usually exercise indoors, try getting outside instead once or twice a week.
P – Psychology. There are many schools of thought and practice within psychology that aim to explain why we think, feel, and behave the way we do. Finding one that resonates with you and learning a little about what might be going on in your mind can be freeing, and allows you to develop strategies to give you greater control over your mental wellbeing.
Q – Quiet. Like the flipside of connection, even the most extroverted of us need some space for quiet time and reflection. More introverted souls will need even greater amounts – if this is true for you, honor that. It’s not selfish to take some time alone to recharge so that we can freely give of ourselves afterward.
R – Relaxation. With the amount of input we are now exposed to with email, social media, smart phones, and television, our brains and bodies often function under a consistent level of stress. It’s therefore important to also induce a relaxation response to counteract this, promoting healing of the mind and body and calming of the nervous system. Try meditation, yin yoga, visualization exercises, or a warm bath.
S – Self-care. We spend much of our time caring for the needs of others, but burnout can occur when we fail to also care for ourselves. Self-care involves monitoring our own wellbeing and applying preventative measures to ensure our mental and physical health needs are accounted for. We cannot take care of others when we are run down and maxed out.
T – Thinking. Our thoughts are the source of our joy and our stress. Not everything we think is true – in fact, a lot is based on incomplete information, assumptions, or conclusions based on our past experiences. Challenge your thinking – how much evidence do you have that your thoughts about a situation are correct? Are your thoughts helpful or harmful? Is there another way to see it?
U –Understanding. Great comfort comes when we understand that we all suffer the same struggles. Anything you are going through, any thought or belief you have about yourself, any secret pain or shame – it has been and is currently experienced by millions of others. Have compassion for yourself, and know that there is nothing wrong with you. You are not alone in the experience of being human.
V – Validation. Much of our unhelpful behavior comes from our need to seek validation from others. Sadly, we will find that it is never enough to satisfy that internal drive for approval. The only cure for this is to learn to validate and approve of yourself. You are good enough, just by virtue of being you. All human beings are worthy, and you are no exception.
W – Willingness. Be willing to experience all the feelings that come your way (not just the pleasant ones), to do the work required to let go of old patterns, to hear feedback from others, to be responsible for your own mental wellbeing. Willingness gives us back a sense of control over our lives, rather than feeling like life or experiences are being done to us.
X – eXamine your life. As stated by the great philosopher Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Are there aspects of your life (inner and outer) that are hindering your happiness, and is it time to let go? When you are on your deathbed, will you feel fulfilled with how you spent your time? Take action now towards making changes in the areas that come up short in your examination.
Y – Yes (know when to say it). Playing small keeps us safe, so many of us tend to stay securely within our comfort zone. Saying yes to something new stretches us – and this is how we grow. If fear of the unknown or wanting to stay comfortable is making you want to say no, consider how saying yes may enrich your life and opportunities.
Z – Zen. Loosely translated, a zen state occurs when our body and mind are in total sync. Outside of Zen Buddhism, we might say we experience something like this when we are so absorbed in an activity that we don’t notice time passing and lose any self-consciousness. Known as “flow” in Western psychology, this state has been correlated with higher self-esteem and life satisfaction, and positive emotions. What activities bring you into this state, and are you engaging in them regularly?
Averil Linn’s mission is to make mental wellbeing something we talk about as easily as physical health. She writes from a background in psychology and behavior change over at her site This Short Life.