Want Better Mental Health? Focus On These 5 Key Fundamentals

26th October 2023
 minute read

Table of contents

What do we mean when we talk about ‘good mental health’? To start with, we're not just talking about the absence of mental and emotional issues. In fact, good mental health is a holistic concept that encompasses your psychological, emotional and social wellbeing. It’s also closely connected to your physical health, as well as your quality of life and relationships. Meaning that to truly flourish, we need to understand and nurture our mental health across various dimensions of wellbeing.

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Yet if this sounds a little daunting, it can be useful to break good mental health down into five key fundamentals. Let’s explore them one by one.

Mental Health Fundamental: Self-Awareness

The journey to good mental health begins with self-awareness — but what does that actually mean? In essence, self-awareness means getting to know yourself better, including your strengths and weaknesses, as well as what drives you. It also means embracing your unique qualities and imperfections, including those hidden parts of yourself that may be dormant or underdeveloped. However, none of us can become self-aware overnight — in fact, it is a lifelong journey. Yet that is not an idea to feel discouraged by, as it can be a very rich and rewarding one too. And when you have a clearer understanding of who you are, you can navigate life's challenges better and make choices that align with your true self.

Self-awareness is also about understanding why you act the way you do. It’s about peeling back the layers and getting to know yourself on a deeper level, including becoming aware of how feelings like shame might be affecting your decisions and relationships — and also how your inner critic might be triggering that shame. 

For instance, have you ever wondered why you react to certain situations in ways that surprise you, including with panic, anger or avoidance? In developing self-awareness, you can begin to understand your triggers and learn why you respond to things in certain ways. By gaining insights into your behaviours and reactions, you can also work towards developing more intentional and positive responses — in other words, you can feel more in the driving seat when faced with different situations. 

Finally, self-awareness is about identifying what matters to you and what you really want from life. After all, you can’t live a fulfilling life unless you know what you truly value. Yet many of us can find that our deepest goals and dreams lie buried beneath the weight of other people’s expectations, including those of our parents, friends and partners. 

Our true desires might also become repressed when they don’t align with certain cultural norms and values. That is why an important part of self-awareness is recognising your genuine passions and aspirations. What do you want to achieve? What kind of life do you want to lead? When you have a clear vision of this, you can take steps to turn it into a reality.

Mental Health Fundamental: Emotional Intelligence

Emotions are a key part of our lives and emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and express our feelings while also being able to manage them. Emotional intelligence also includes having empathy for others while being able to maintain healthy boundaries with them. It means being able to express yourself better and connect with people on a deeper level.

When you can label what you're feeling, you can gain more control over your emotional responses. You can also start to recognise the triggers that distress you and then choose different ways to react to them. So instead of losing control when you are faced with a challenging or painful situation, you can reflect for a moment and steer your reactions. You can say to yourself ‘I’m tense because I’m feeling angry right now and that’s because my boss is talking to me in the same condescending way that my dad used to talk to me. But I don’t need to react with anger’. 

Understanding what triggers your reactions is a powerful tool for emotional intelligence. It's about recognising the situations, words or actions that spark particular emotional responses. With this knowledge, you can anticipate and manage these reactions more effectively, developing a healthier mental state and having better relationships with others. 

Finally, as emotions can be so intense, one big part of emotional intelligence is developing techniques to manage them healthily. From relaxation exercises to mindfulness practices, you can learn strategies to help you stay calm and centred, even during challenging moments.

Mental Health Fundamental: Resilience

Resilience is your ability to adapt to difficult or painful situations, bounce back from them and even grow from your experiences. A resilient mindset enables you to navigate life's ups and downs with grace.

Flexible thinking plays a significant role in this mental health fundamental, as it allows you to adapt to change, find alternative solutions to problems and maintain a positive outlook in difficult times. 

Self-compassion and supportive inner talk are also crucial to this, as being kind to yourself is a key element of handling things resiliently. Self-compassion involves treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer a friend. Cultivating a supportive inner dialogue boosts your mental strength and helps you to overcome challenges.

Also, acceptance is a cornerstone of resilience — in other words, accepting that life will be difficult at times. When you recognise that life will present setbacks, you can start approaching them with a new sense of calm and adaptability. It is a reminder that it's okay to struggle and that through resilience, you can come out stronger.

Mental Health Fundamental: Self-Care

Self-care means taking care of your physical, mental and emotional needs — and also understanding that all three are interlinked. In other words, if you are feeling tired or burned out, then this is going to affect your mood. 

This is why self-care includes good physical maintenance like eating well, sleeping well and exercising regularly. It also means taking care of your emotional needs, like the need to self-soothe when upset and the need to express your feelings safely. And it means taking care of mental needs too, such as making time for stimulating activities, yet also giving your brain a chance to wind down with relaxation exercises like meditation. 

Yet self-care can have other elements as well. For instance, understanding your limits and setting healthy boundaries is essential to looking after yourself. This involves saying ‘no’ when necessary and prioritising your wellbeing when needed. By respecting your boundaries, you can reduce stress and protect your mental health.

Self-care is also about maintaining a balance in your life. In other words, managing your time and energy in a way that ensures you have room for relaxation, hobbies and a social life. Balance prevents burnout, helps to regulate your mood and makes life feel a lot more rewarding.

Mental Health Fundamental: Healthy Relationships

Last but not least, healthy relationships are absolutely central to good mental health. Essentially, healthy relationships are ones where you can open up to others and let yourself be seen, safely and without judgement. Opening up is core to any good relationship — whether it’s with a friend, family member or partner — because authentic connections start with vulnerability. Being open allows deeper connections to develop as when you can be real and honest with others, it creates a foundation of trust and support. 

Communication is also vital in maintaining healthy relationships. Healthily expressing your thoughts, feelings and needs ensures that your interactions with others are mutually beneficial. A relationship where you are constantly giving isn’t healthy and will only lead to you being drained. Good communication also reduces misunderstandings and conflicts, which can have an impact on your mental wellbeing. 

Finally, in a healthy relationship, you will be able to resolve conflict and repair difficulties. Of course, conflicts are a natural part of any relationship, yet in a healthy one, you’ll be able to address and resolve those disagreements safely and constructively. Learning how to navigate disagreements and difficulties can strengthen your connections with others. It also promotes mental harmony, which is key to wellbeing. 

If you feel that you can’t express yourself safely with a person, or your needs aren’t being met, or there is a lot of ongoing conflict between you, then it’s important to explore this. It’s possible that you may be in an unhealthy or trauma-bonded relationship and ought to seek support and advice.

3 Steps for Improving Your Mental Health

Now that we’ve looked at the five fundamentals of good mental health, let’s look at some key ways to maintain it. These include:

1. Checking in with yourself regularly

Checking in with yourself is an important step towards better mental health. This includes taking time to reflect on your emotional state, stress levels and overall wellbeing. When you check in with yourself, you can identify potential issues early and take action to address them. Sometimes it’s as simple as giving yourself five minutes to sit quietly and ask: ‘How am I feeling right now?’

2. Training your ‘mindfulness muscle’

Mindfulness is a powerful practice for improving your mental health. Essentially, it’s about staying present in the moment and cultivating awareness of your thoughts as they are happening. Mindfulness training can improve your self-awareness, emotional intelligence and resilience. Research has shown that six weeks of maintaining a regular mindfulness meditation practice can reduce feelings of depression and anxiety.

3. Getting help from a professional to highlight the bits you can’t see 

Sometimes, we all need a little help to gain clarity on our mental health. Just like none of us can see the back of our heads without a mirror, there can also be aspects of our lives that we can’t see without the input of another person. A good therapist can help to hold a mirror up to your inner self, including your blindspots and any feelings that you are burying. 

When you get support from a therapist, you benefit from a compassionate, non-judgemental perspective on your life. You can also get expert guidance in dealing with underlying issues like unhelpful behaviour patterns. Remember, it's a sign of strength to reach out for help when you need it.

Good mental health is holistic and encompasses the five fundamentals of self-awareness, emotional intelligence, resilience, self-care and healthy relationships. In understanding this, you can steer your journey to wellbeing with much more intention. 

Want to talk to someone about how you’re feeling? Connect with a world-class Lumo Health therapist today to find support and understanding.

Want Better Mental Health? Focus On These 5 Key Fundamentals
Clinical Director
Lumo Health team
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