In the past year, we all have faced difficult and challenging moments, at home and at work. Most probably you have read articles or talked with friends or colleagues about mental health and well-being. What do these words really mean and what can we do to reach a state of well-being?
Let’s start being clear on the terminology. According to the World Health Organization:
“Mental health is not just the absence of mental disorder. It is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.“
Following this definition well-being is a state of being that contributes to our mental health, which means that long periods of poor mental well-being could lead to mental health conditions.
So, what is really well-being? We could define it as the overall state of prospering and shining in the different areas of our life: from our relationship with friends and family, our free time and hobbies, to our working life. It is how we function and how we react to the ups and downs of life, to stress and to sadness.
Well-being doesn’t mean avoiding negative thoughts or being happy, smiley, and positive all the time. Well-being is not the lack of problems, challenges or difficulties either, as we all live moments where we feel sad, unhappy, overwhelmed or angry.
Well-being means understanding and accepting these feelings, it is how we handle our emotions, how we react to the hard moments and ultimately how we behave in rough times.
What affects our well-being and how can we improve it?
All aspects of our life contribute to our state of wellbeing, from our working life, our relationship with friends and family, to the time we dedicate to our hobbies and passions.
Here are few factors to consider and that come into play:
- Biological factors: sleep, exercise and rest, nutrition
- Individual factors: communication and social skills to connect with others, capacity to manage stress and mental chatter
- Social factors: sense of belonging, community and group connectedness, social support and participation
- Structural factors: work, education, living in a safe environment, having access to economic resources
These components are interrelated with each other and, during certain moments of life, some of them can compensate for the lack of others.
A crucial role for well-being is played by the presence of certain skill sets and personality traits, which can be developed and strengthened through time. These are some of the traits:
- a desire for continuous personal growth
- feeling part of something greater
- developing healthy relationships (in personal life and working environment)
- knowing own values and honor them in daily life
- sense of self as a person not depending on others for own happiness and identity
- being aware of own character strengths and leverage them in difficult moments
- being active and proactive in contrast with a passive way of thinking and waiting for things to get better
- emotional resilience
Improving well-being is in the hands of everyone, independently from the state of mental health. People with mental illness can reach mental well-being while people with no mental or physical illnesses could have a poor state of mental well-being. It is so much is about our behavior and what we decide to do.
Let’s start by paying more attention to the present moment and define the first small thing we want to start implementing today to improve or elevate our well-being. “Now is a great time to be present. Now is good too. And now.”
- When in a difficult moment, what’s your first reaction? How can you switch from assuming the worst to remaining open to new opportunities?
- What are your stressed body signals? How do you recognize you are getting overwhelmed?
- What are your well-being rituals to help you cope with stress? Which others can you integrate into your life?