The Basics of Good Mental Health

By Jeremy Godwin

Welcome to Let’s Talk About Mental Health; I’m Jeremy Godwin and every week I look at one aspect of better mental health and I share practical and straightforward advice that you can apply immediately to improve your wellbeing. 

Today I’m going back to basics and talking about some of the most fundamental things you can do to improve and maintain your wellbeing — so get comfortable, and Let’s Talk About Mental Health…

Versión en español (clic aquí)

Listen to the podcast episode now in the Spotify player below (or using your preferred podcast service; see below for links) or continue reading for the full transcript.

Find links to other available podcasting services here.

Watch Episode 39 of Better Mental Health on YouTube — in this latest episode I’m sharing 5 simple tips for being more assertive.

Watch the episode below or visit the channel on YouTube:

Join my mailing list to receive episode transcripts in your inbox each Sunday and my weekly mini-newsletter, Thursday Thoughts, with a quick round-up of interesting and inspiring stuff each Thursday:

This podcast episode was originally released on 17 October, 2021.

Hello and welcome to Episode 101, and thanks so much for joining me!

This week I’m talking about the basics of good mental health and I’ll be discussing what good mental health is and what it isn’t, why looking after your mental health matters, and the basics of how to manage your mental health every day.

One of my favourite things to recommend is developing your assertiveness, which I covered back in Episode 45 of the podcast, and in the latest episode of Better Mental Health over on YouTube I’m talking about five simple ways to be more assertive. Watch it now on YouTube, and you’ll find the link in the episode description, or head to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/youtube where you’ll find all of my past episodes. Please take a moment to subscribe to my YouTube channel as well, because I’ll be sharing a lot more videos focused on simple advice for better mental health over the coming months.

So, with that covered, on with this week’s episode about the basics of good mental health… 

Introduction

Apparently, being ‘basic’ isn’t a particularly good thing — and I’ll leave the social commentary there — but when it comes to improving and maintaining your mental health, ‘basic’ is actually a great thing; we often try to do 5,000 different things and wonder why nothing seems to be working, when in fact you’re more likely to see long-term sustainable success by focusing first on laying a solid foundation of actions and mindsets that can support you daily, and then building on that over time.

So this week is about that foundation. Since this is Episode 101 and because ‘101’ is often used as a way to describe the foundational knowledge of a subject, I’ve decided to explore some of the most fundamental things that you can do to improve and maintain your mental health and wellbeing. I’m going to be talking about the core things that contribute to better mental health and I’ll be revisiting some of the most frequent bits of advice that I have shared over the past 100 episodes of this show, so that you can consider what may be the right approach for you in terms of managing your mental health and wellbeing.

And so, as I do in most episodes, let’s begin with some definitions and talk about… 

What good mental health is and what it isn’t

And I chose that term ‘good mental health’ for a reason: if we’re being completely honest, a lot of the coping mechanisms that we might use to deal with mental health challenges aren’t particularly ‘good’ or ‘healthy’, and they can do more damage to us in the long run; although some actions or approaches might seem to take the edge off in the short-term, over time we can find that a lot of those so-called ‘easy’ coping techniques become less effective, or stop working altogether, if they aren’t grounded in healthy decisions.

Because good mental health is not just the absence of symptoms of mental illness, just like good physical health is not just the absence of physical symptoms; that’s more neutral in terms of your health and wellbeing, rather than indicating that you are in good health. Let me share a quote from the UK’s Mental Health Foundation to explain what I mean:

“Good mental health is not simply the absence of diagnosable mental health problems, although good mental health is likely to help protect against development of many such problems.”  

Source: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/your-mental-health/about-mental-health/what-good-mental-health 

And the link for that is in the transcript. So with that definition in mind, I’m going to continue quoting from that article to explain what good mental health is; the quote is:

“Good mental health is characterised by a person’s ability to fulfil a number of key functions and activities, including: the ability to learn; the ability to feel, express and manage a range of positive and negative emotions; the ability to form and maintain good relationships with others; [and] the ability to cope with and manage change and uncertainty.”

Source: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/your-mental-health/about-mental-health/what-good-mental-health 

And, again, you’ll find the source for that linked in the transcript. So continuing on from that, let’s talk about…

Why looking after your mental health matters

And it matters because your health is the single most important thing you have. Ill health has a negative impact on your life satisfaction, while good health has a positive effect and it helps you to reach your full potential so that you can thrive. Health does not just magically come without any effort, either, and please trust me when I tell you that everything takes more work as you grow older (the other day I had sore legs for hours from just sitting in an odd position, so young people: be warned!).

We all have mental health, just like we have physical health, and it’s not something that we just acknowledge one day a year and be done with it (in case anyone was wondering why I chose not to post anything about World Mental Health Day on October the 10th!).    

Mental health challenges affect roughly 20% of the population worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation (source: https://www.who.int/health-topics/mental-health#tab=tab_2), with the most common conditions being anxiety and depression as well as substance use disorders. However, that data is pre-2020 so its already well out of date; nobody knows for certain what the numbers look like now, but there’s general agreement that it has significantly increased due to the far-reaching effects of the pandemic.

So looking after your mental health matters because now, more so than ever in recent memory, we need to find ways to not just get through the day but to proactively look after ourselves — and we also need to find ways to thrive in spite of all the challenges and upheavals that we’re still dealing with.

That starts with making your wellbeing a priority every day and it involves having open and honest conversations; because the more we talk about it, the easier it gets.

I’d also like you to consider that your mental health touches every area of your life. Our lives and our work are not separate; they’re all a part of who we are and so how you feel, both physically and mentally, will have an effect on your performance at work as well as your ability to lead a satisfying life. So if there were ever a case to be made for why you should make your mental health an absolute priority every day, let it be this: your overall life satisfaction is directly connected to what you do (or don’t do) to improve and maintain your wellbeing.

How do you do that? Well, let’s get into the how-to part of this episode and let’s talk about…

The basics of how to manage your mental health every day

Alright, so today I’m talking through a few of the most effective ways to improve and maintain your mental health, and you’ll notice I just said ‘every day’ and in fact that is the first big point I want to make here: better mental health requires daily effort, so please bear that in mind as I talk through these points and I’ll come back to that in a minute. OK, so my first main point is…

There are no quick fixes — because I may as well just get the tough message over and done with upfront: there are no magic pills that you can take or miracle cures that will ‘fix’ mental health challenges like anxiety, depression, etc. There just aren’t. Even many medications come with side effects that can make the situation more challenging or make it difficult in a different way. And in fact when I said about ‘unhealthy’ coping mechanisms a few minutes ago, most so-called ‘quick fixes’ fall into that category. For example, ignoring or suppressing feelings of stress and anxiety can often lead to the situation becoming much worse in the long run, so the healthy way to approach it is to deal with issues early — and I’ll come back to that in a minute. Before I do, let me say this next point…

Prevention is better than cure — and if you’re already dealing with mental health issues you might be thinking, “well I can’t go back in time and prevent what I already have” and fair point (obviously you’re not a time traveller, since only Cher can turn back time) but what you can do is put in the effort every single day to (a) address your current situation and (b) prevent your condition from deteriorating. Think of it the same way as your physical health (and in fact, your physical health has a direct effect on your mental health… just like your mental health has a direct effect on your physical health!). If you look after your body every day and are mindful of what you consume, you tend to have better physical health… well, your mental health is the same. And that leads to my next point…

Good mental health is a daily practice — and I’m sorry to have to break it to you, but there are no days off. Why? Because if you don’t look after your mental health, who will?! Improving your mental health takes time, effort and perseverance. So if you put in the time and effort every day to proactively manage your mental wellbeing, and you stick to it, you’ll find that — over time — that adds up to deliver great results. If you just wait until there is an issue, you’ll often find it takes more work to resolve the problem… so, please, be proactive and make both your physical and mental wellbeing a priority every single day! Good mental health is a combination of 20-30 little things every day (like rest, exercise, eating well, reflection, gratitude, mindfulness, journalling, etc.) combined with the odd big thing every now and then (like therapy), and it’s also about dealing with issues early to reduce the risk of them growing into larger issues. So, my next point is…

Good mental health is a combination of self management and external support — so, I usually say at least once in every episode that it may help you to work with a professional (like a therapist or counsellor), and I do that because if you try to do-it-yourself you might find that you get stuck or that you aren’t really sure what is working and what isn’t; a professional can help you with that because they can give you objective and unbiased advice and guidance (I mean, hey, it’s what I do with my clients that I work with one-on-one as a coach and counsellor myself). There’s a couple of things to consider here: first, nobody can do the work for you because it’s your mental health and so therefore you need to be the one in the driver’s seat. But, secondly, if you are dealing with challenges on your own and you’re not seeing a lot of progress, then it’s probably time to think about getting support. I am a fan of balance in all things as a general approach to life, and I find that having an external support system to help guide me as I take action myself each day allows me to be more strategic about what I’m doing and more mindful of what is working versus what isn’t. You don’t have to see a professional one-on-one either; you could also find a support group if that works for you. I’m not saying external support is the answer for everyone, but it’s definitely worthwhile considering if you don’t feel like you’re making progress. Which leads to my next point… 

Prioritise daily self care — and by ‘self care’ I simply mean doing things to recharge your batteries. Self care often gets a bit of a reputation as being all bubble baths and a cheeky chocolate or two, but it’s actually more about making time for yourself; I know this is a cliché to say, but your phone needs to be recharged and so do you! Make time every day to do things you enjoy: go outside for a walk, read, write, create, sing, dance… there are thousands (if not millions) of different options, so choose what is right for you, but the main thing is to do something every single day (even if it’s just for 5-10 minutes) because it’s part of that whole ‘prevention is better than cure’ thing I talked about before! And let me just say here that if it feels indulgent or not a priority, consider this: if you don’t look after yourself and replenish your energy, who will? Because I can guarantee you that nobody is going to do it for you; it starts and ends with you. If you want to have the physical and emotional strength to show up for the people you care about and for what matters most to you in life, then you need to recharge your own batteries on a regular basis. End of sentence! OK, so my next point is related and it is…

Know your priorities and focus on them — and by ‘priorities’ I mean not just at work but in life; make what matters most to you the core of what you do and don’t do. There are only 24 hours in a day, and hopefully you’re using some of those for sleep (if not, please do!), and so you need to be conscious of where your time is going. My philosophy on this is that if it doesn’t matter in terms of the main five priorities in my life, I let it go. You don’t have to say ‘yes’ to everything and nor should you! There will always be demands for your time and attention, however you need to be clear on what you will and won’t take on board. Which leads nicely to my next point…

Set and maintain healthy boundaries — and who knew I was going to talk about this one?! Oh that’s right, all of you that have ever listened to more than one of my episodes since I say this one nearly every time! Boundaries are simply about being crystal-clear on what you will and will not accept, and then setting and maintaining limits. You can do that with kindness while still being assertive (and as I mentioned at the start of the episode, I have a video on YouTube about assertiveness and mental health plus I covered assertiveness in Episode 45). And once you set a boundary it’s then up to you to maintain it; because unless you stick to it, a boundary is just an imaginary line. If you’d like more on the subject, I talked about boundaries back in Episode 53. OK, so next…

Focus on what is within your direct control — many of the things we worry about are outside of our direct control. Will it rain on the weekend when you were planning a barbecue? Maybe! But unless you have developed superpowers I don’t know about, you have no control over that. It’s the same with other people; you can’t control them, and when you accept that it makes it easier to let go. All you can control is what you choose to do and say; you can influence other people and events, but you cannot control them. When you accept that fact, it makes life far simpler. For more advice on control, check out Episode 48. And speaking of simplicity, that leads to my next point…

Embrace simplicity — and I’m not saying that you need to go all Marie Kondo and clear out your entire house (or your life for that matter), but I really do encourage you to adopt a ‘simple is best’ mindset and consider how you can remove complications from your life (or at least reduce them)… and you’re very welcome to substitute the word ‘drama’ for ‘complications’ there, because simplicity is a life free from unnecessary drama. Let me be clear and say that shit will always happen — because you cannot control other people or the circumstances of life and the world in general — but you don’t have to take an active role in drama. I have made it a personal goal in life to stay as far away from drama as possible, and to embrace simplicity as much as I practically can, and those two choices have made an enormous difference. Yes, that has meant I have had to let go of relationships, but that’s just an unavoidable part of growth. I talked about simplicity in Episode 63 if you’d like to explore the topic some more. And speaking of relationships, my next point is…

Focus on healthy relationships — the people you spend time with (willingly or through obligation, like family), have a direct effect on you because we human beings are social creatures with a desire to be seen and loved. So when there are negative or unhealthy relationships in your life, it can drag you down and cause damage to your self esteem and self worth (by the way, I covered self esteem in Episode 43 and self worth in Episode 78). Choose to treat yourself with respect and only maintain positive, healthy relationships (note that even a healthy relationship has conflict sometimes, and I covered conflict in Episode 88, but the difference is that in a healthy relationship both parties choose to focus on solutions rather than doubling-down on the conflict). And if I may also say here: being related to you does not give someone the right to treat you poorly, and you are not obligated to put up with shit. Set boundaries, maintain them, and be willing to meet people part way without sacrificing your own needs. And if necessary, remember this: you cannot change the people around you, but you can change the people around you. Moving on, my next point is…

Learn to consciously observe your thoughts — because thoughts are not facts, but often we treat them like they are (especially if we’re stressed or overwhelmed). Consider what you’re thinking and ask yourself where it’s coming from, and then once you have an answer to that question, dig a little deeper and keep on exploring until you’re clear on what the cause is so that you can then address the root cause. If you just react to your thoughts then you’ll often find it can create more issues than if you had paused and taken the time to consider what is actually going on before then responding in a thoughtful way. Thoughts are not facts, and neither are feelings or emotions (which I talked about in Episode 28, about feelings, and Episode 57, about emotions). Of course you will feel things — you are a human being, after all! — but feelings don’t tell you the whole truth and they are often deeply rooted in your own ego and fears (and I talked about those two topics as well — ego in Episode 68 and fear in Episode 10) so instead of just reacting stop, breathe for at least 10 seconds, and allow your rational mind time to catch up. Your emotions tell you how you feel about things, and so they play an important role, but they need to be balanced with logic as well (otherwise, your feelings will control you and that usually leads to a lot of messy situations). Speaking of emotions, my next point is…

Don’t bottle up your emotions — because if that energy stays inside you then it will pick up speed and keep on bouncing around in your mind, so let it out in a healthy way! Do something physical, like walking or running, or grab a notebook and pen and just write and write and write until you run out of steam (don’t worry about what you write and don’t go back and read it!)… and I do suggest using an actual pen and paper here, because it’s more tactile than typing on your phone and it helps you to channel that energy out of your body. And this is where having a regular outlet — like therapy or counselling — makes an enormous difference, because you can use it to get things off your chest while also working through bigger issues or focus areas over time (I see my therapist weekly and most sessions start with 10 minutes or so of me doing a download of whatever I need to release, and it makes the world of difference because once it’s out, it’s out!). Even if you’re doing that on your own, for example by journalling, it’s a way of getting that stuff out of your mind and that takes away a lot of its power. OK, so next…

Cultivate a positive mindset — and I talked about mindset in Episode 31 and positivity in Episode 90, as well as optimism in Episode 47, so I’ll be brief here: you can choose to look for the positives in life or look for the negatives; either way, what you look for is what you get. Only one of those two options is going to help you improve and maintain your mental health and wellbeing (and in case you hadn’t already figured it out, it’s not negative thinking!). In the words of the 17th century writer Joseph Addison, “Cheerfulness is the best promoter of health and is as friendly to the mind as to the body.” And so my final point, before I wrap up, is…

Create your life — you are the one in control of your life and you get to decide what you do and what you don’t do. With that comes  great opportunity, because you can be and do absolutely anything you want. Rather than letting that overwhelm you, I encourage you to use that knowledge to help you to grow — which you do by taking small steps each day to be the best version of yourself possible. All things can be achieved over time and with sufficient effort and perseverance… so if there is some aspect of your life that you want to change, change it. Don’t wait for someone to do it for you, because you will be waiting for the rest of your days on this planet. Your future is in your hands (something I just talked about in Episode 100, about the future). And remember this: if nothing changes, then nothing changes… so make choices that are going to steer you slowly in the direction of your hopes and dreams.

Summary and Close-Out

Because when it comes to the basics of good mental health, what it all boils down to is this: You are the one in control when it comes to your mental health. I know from personal experience how challenging it can be when you’re dealing with issues like anxiety and depression, and how it can feel like a rollercoaster every day, however the fact remains that with time, effort and perseverance, all challenges can be overcome. You get to decide what you want to do with your life, and if you make the choice to prioritise your mental health and wellbeing — by taking steps each day to improve and maintain it — then you are setting yourself up for success in the long term.

The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will YOU make today? 

Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by Sai Baba, and it is:

“Health is Wealth. Look after it.”

Sai Baba

Alright… that’s nearly it for this week. Next week I’ll be talking about anxiety. I usually focus in on one specific aspect of mental health each week, however as anxiety is the most common mental health condition worldwide and it is something that affects many of us (and no doubt more thanks to the pandemic), I felt it was time to give it the attention it deserves with an episode dedicated to anxiety. So next time I’ll be talking about what anxiety is (and what it isn’t), why understanding anxiety matters, and how to manage anxiety.

I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday the 24th of October, 2021. And on Wednesday, catch the latest episode of Better Mental Health on YouTube, or head to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au where you can also join my free mailing list for podcast transcripts and my weekly newsletter. You’ll also find the link in the episode description on whatever podcast service you’re listening to me on.

Follow me on Instagram at @ltamentalhealth, where I post extra content daily.

Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time.

Jeremy 🙂

Did you like what you just read? Then please share this with someone who might appreciate it, like a friend, family member, or coworkerbecause word of mouth helps other people to find Let’s Talk About Mental Health! Thank you 🙂

Find more content at www.letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au

Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Simple ideas for better mental health.

Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2021 Jeremy Godwin.

5 thoughts on “The Basics of Good Mental Health

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.