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How to Stay Mentally Healthy: A Wellness Checklist

Cultivate mental wellness to preempt emotional crisis.

Aaron Burden on Unsplash
Source: Aaron Burden on Unsplash

We are living during emotionally challenging times. Recently, there has been widespread discussion of the mental health pandemic. More people are seeking mental health services now, and a shortage of providers is hindering their ability to get the help they need.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we can turn our attention more to prevention and early intervention. There will always be a need for mental health services, and people will need to continue seeking therapy, medication, and other resources to address their emotional challenges. However, I wonder what it would look like if we worked to stay on top of our mental health before it reaches a point where we are in a crisis.

The concept that I am referring to is “mental wellness.” Through mental wellness, we can proactively achieve better mental health and protect ourselves from reaching a crisis point that leads to a breakdown in our emotional and psychological functioning.

Below are some questions to ask yourself, and some steps to take in creating your own mental wellness checklist.

  1. Assess how you are feeling right now. There has recently been talk of primary care doctors conducting mental health screenings. But you don’t have to wait until you go to the doctor to find out how you’re feeling. Are you feeling anxious or depressed? If you aren’t sure, Google “What is anxiety?” or “What is depression?” and there will be no shortage of articles and blogs to help you find out (check to make sure the source you're reading is credible). Increase your awareness of what you are feeling and the extent to which it is affecting your functioning. If you decide that you are feeling anxious, for example, rate the severity of your anxiety on a scale from 1 to 10. A lower rating means you are a little bit anxious, and a higher rating indicates greater anxiety.
  2. Determine how much your emotional state affects your daily functioning. Sticking with the example of anxiety, does the level of anxiety that you experience prevent you from living your life the way you want? It may affect multiple areas of your life, so make a list of those areas and think about how each area is affected specifically by your anxiety. If there are things that you would be doing, or relationships you might pursue if it weren’t for your anxiety, make note of those, as well. Everyone experiences anxiety sometimes, same for sadness or fatigue. But the extent to which those experiences affect our lives determines whether we need to do something about them. If several areas of your life are affected by how you are feeling, it is time to act. It’s never too soon to reach out to a therapist, but sometimes it’s easier to start by talking to a trusted friend or family member. Then, you can determine if you need more help than friends and family can provide.

  3. Identify your sources of social support. A big part of mental wellness is knowing that you have people who love and care about you. There may be people around you that you haven’t thought of that you could talk to, or even invite out for coffee or a meal. If you need to talk to someone about the way you are feeling, and you’re having trouble coming up with who to talk to from your circle of friends and family, it may be time to increase your social support. If you have trouble finding a confidant, this could be an area to explore with a therapist.

  4. Think about what you are looking forward to in the future. If you don’t have anything planned, maybe it’s time to put something on the calendar. Plan to do an activity that you enjoy, or invite a friend to do something. Having experiences to look forward to on the calendar, as well as taking the concrete steps necessary to make sure that they happen, can make the harder days more bearable.

  5. Think about what you need to do to take better care of yourself. Determining how you feel and how it affects your functioning is the first important step. Assessing your resources and social support and identifying things that you look forward to are additional measures on your mental wellness checklist. Once you have addressed those items, you have enough information to figure out what’s missing. Then, figuring out what to do to take better care of yourself might mean filling in the gaps. Improving our self-care looks different for all of us. Sometimes, we need to increase our social support network to feel less alone. Other times, we just need to plan ahead so that we have activities we can enjoy, so the days don’t feel like a blur and we can lead a fuller life. But self-care doesn’t happen automatically: we have to be intentional.

It is possible to proactively create a mental wellness checklist that will allow us to stay on top of our emotions and create better experiences. This does not mean that our mental health will always be optimal, because life throws us a lot of curveballs. However, it does mean that we will recognize sooner that we are struggling and we will have some tools to increase our resilience so that we can live our best lives.

If you get to the end of your mental wellness checklist and there are items that you don’t have and feel like you can’t provide for yourself, then it’s time to seek professional help.

To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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