So I’ve been providing updates on a student-led Mental Health Promotion Project recently and thought I’d share some additional ideas coming out of that project.
We gave the participating students a hypothetical scenario, namely that a close friend or family member had come to them asking for advice about how to build positive mental health.
This is not really a scenario that we encounter that much in everyday life.
We’re more likely to discover that a friend is struggling with mental ill health and be providing advice on how to get back to health, but we don’t talk as much about how to supercharge our mental health, beyond that of just an average level of ‘yep, OK’.
This is a shame because we do this in the realm of physical health. For example, there are plenty of people who want to achieve a level of physical health and fitness that is beyond the ‘average’ perhaps because of participation in competitive sports or simply a desire to at peak physical fitness.
It isn’t that psychology has ignored this entirely. The ‘positive psychology’ movement has been primarily about understanding how one pushes their mental health to the top of the achievable range. But as a movement it probably achieves less public attention than the focus on mental ill health (we all like a bad news story).
What was cool though was that when we asked students the question of how should someone build positive mental health, their answers differed to when we them asked how someone should address mental ill health. There were obvious crossovers. For example, investing in one’s social support network had a strong showing in both lists, but the strategies for building positive mental health were more diverse.
So I’ve recreated that list below. If you are curious about building positive mental health, this list isn’t a bad start. I then encourage you to check out a site like GGIA (Greater Good In Action) who have been documenting positive psychology interventions for a while now and have an excellent collection.
I’ve littered throughout the list some additional links to resources or sites that provide additional information/support.
How to build positive psychological states
- Visualise where you want to be.
- Create goals for the week, month and year.
- Create things to look forward to (a chocolate bar, a party, a marriage).
- Set goals (doesn’t matter how small) and celebrate achievements.
- Think of all the great things you could accomplish if you put your mind to it.
- Set goals, specifically goals which interest you so you are more likely to follow through.
- Make a plan and think about where you would like to be a few years in the future.
- Make a list of things you can do.
- Once you feel comfortable sitting with your experience then you can start thinking of a plan to actively work through your experience. “I am going to make time to exercise twice a week and reduce time on social media to reduce my stress levels” etc.
Engage and invest in your social support network
- Regular check-ins with friends and family.
- Catch up with old friends and don’t hesitate to be the first one to make the move.
- Build a network of friends (through extracurricular activities or hobbies).
- Surround yourself with positive people.
- Talk to friends when you least want to.
- Tell other people about your goals so you have some accountability.
- Seek support from others. Your friends and family also want what is best for you.
- Talk to a friend you trust to help you empathise with your own circumstances and shade them in a new light – someone who makes you feel accepted no matter what (or maybe you can find this acceptance through watching a YouTuber or listening to an artist you love who addresses the experience you are having).
Use positive affirmations
- Life can get better.
- Write and follow affirmations.
- Learn positive self-talk and mantras (i.e. this is temporary, I radiate love).
- Remind self of positive qualities and coping ability.
- Positive self talk.
- Minimise negative thoughts through positive self-talk and affirmations.
- Morning mantras
- Acceptance of the thoughts and feelings you experience.
- Accept the things you cannot change and have the courage to change the things you can and have the wisdom to know the difference.
- Acceptance that life can be hard and it often isn’t your fault.
- Life is hard right now, it not your fault.
- Accept your mistakes and know you can learn from them.
- Acceptance that you might not be the ‘best’ but it doesn’t mean you aren’t great.
- Acceptance of your capacities and don’t set unrealistic expectations.
Self reflection and self understanding
- Connection with your values – take action on your values and what’s important to you.
- Identify the person that you ultimately want to be.
- Start writing a journal without worrying about what to write and how often to write.
- Learn how to track your mental health and flag negative states.
- Try to identify the causes of feelings so you can enhance the positive and address the negative.
- Know and recognise your strengths.
- List things you like about yourself.
- Ask a loved one to identify one characteristic you have that they wish they had.
Change your thinking
- Don’t think about money all the time, you are not starving.
- Try to cultivate optimism.
- Practice being able to reflect on an experience is a positive way e.g., if something went wrong not to blame themselves first.
- Question your inner critic.
- Question your negative thoughts using reason and evidence.
- Remind yourself that everyone is dealing with their own battles and are likely not paying attention to your flaws.
- Continue to challenge yourself, fail, and become less scared of failing.
- Address your fears. Work out what you’re afraid of and why.
- View things as challenges and become more confident in your ability to deal with them.
- Remember that mistakes help you grow.
Be your true self
- Honesty, transparency. authenticity.
- Honouring your feelings – Allow yourself time to act according to your experience – if you are stressed then vent your feelings by talking to a friend or writing them down, if you are sad, watch a sad movie and let yourself cry, if you are depressed and cant get out of bed, allow yourself time to stay in bed without guilt.
- Write out your feelings and practice being honest. For example, “I have been anxious lately at work, and that is okay.”
Remember the past
- Look at old photos and possibly make new albums or collections.
- Make a list of things you have overcome/ achieved.
- Recognise all the good things you have/have achieved/people in your life and allow that to show you that you aren’t defined by any negative experiences and have good things in your life at all times.
- Think of a time you have overcome something you didn’t think was possible – allow time to be proud of yourself for it.
- Try a new hobby or pick up any old hobby.
- Take chances and positive risks (ask somebody out to coffee, take up something you’ve been putting off).
- Make time for a hobby you love.
- Try to say yes to more things (even if its small e.g., trying new food)
Create a positive environment for self
- Create a physical haven for yourself (decorate your room, have a spot in a park).
- Create a safe space (internal and external).
- Make your living spaces beautiful.
Self-care and self compassion
- Love yourself.
- Talk to yourself like you would talk to a friend going through a hard time. * (This point is something that has really helped me reframe my attitude towards myself to achieve a sense of validation in my hardships and experiences).
- Get up early in the morning and don’t stay up late.
- Sleep well.
- Get out of bed at a consistent time each day.
Build empathy, sympathy and understanding
- Be kinder and more understanding of people, and be more patient and loving with them
- Drink enough water.
- Eat more fruits and make smoothies.
- Healthy eating.
Acts of kindness
- Do more small acts of kindness, give charity or volunteer.
- Help someone less fortunate.
- Note 3 good things about your day.
- Keep a record of things you are grateful for.
Monitor your progress on things that are important to you
- Seek positive feedback
- Set goals (doesn’t matter how small) and notice and celebrate achievements along the way.
Take a different perspective
- Understand scope of experience – how many others go through this? (You are not alone in experience and you will get through it).
- When you move through your experience, be careful how you frame it in reflection. Continue to think of your experience as a valid and human experience and do not feel need to hide or deny that you were susceptible to it. E.g. “I went through a period where I was extremely anxious. That doesn’t change who I am or affect my worth as a person.”
Take pride in your appearance
- Buy clothes/shoes/makeup etc. that make you feel comfortable and like yourself.
Present moment awareness
- Present moment focus/ mindfulness
- Mindfulness meditation
Enjoy the little things
Find and engage in spiritual practices
- Focus more on your spiritual health.
- Try forgiving someone if they are unhappy with or themselves for their past mistakes.
Practice a new skill (e.g. positive thinking)
Pace yourself, give yourself time to develop confidence
- Find some positive role models.
- Stick with it. Everybody has bad days so it’s important to keep on going even if there are slumps.
Make a list of things your body does for you
- Compile a playlist that makes you feel powerful & listen to it when you are hit with self doubt
PHEW!! – Did you get this far? Nice work 🙂