Our mental health — how we consider the world and our role in it — is every bit as important as our physical health. And just as we must work to stay physically fit, we must also work to keep our minds “in shape.”
Positive thinking. An optimistic outlook. These are great attributes that can help improve our mental health and well-being. In fact, how we respond to an opportunity or a challenge is as important, if not more important, than the opportunity or challenge itself.
Caregiving is one formidable challenge that more and more people are facing these days. Few hands-on caregivers have the time or energy to see to their own physical health and personal needs, so it makes sense that working towards developing a more positive mindset to improve mental health isn’t high on the priority list. However, a few small tweaks here and there can help set the groundwork for a better attitude, a more fulfilling life, healthier relationships with oneself and others, and even a less stressful caregiving experience.
Much has been written about attitude, emotional strength, avoiding negativity, self-pity, the benefits of optimism and the problems with pessimism. A quote from Anthony J. D’Angelo’s book, The College Blue Book: A Few Thoughts, Reflections and Reminders on How to Get the Most Out of College and Life, sums up the message I am trying to convey: “Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine.”
Leaving the bad weather behind is what mentally strong people do to avoid pessimism. Amy Morin, LCSW, psychotherapist and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, offers the following tips for improving mental health by being emotionally strong and independent:
- Don’t waste time feeling sorry for yourself.
We all have been dealt a “bad hand” at some point in our lives, and we quickly come to understand that life is not fair. When those with mental fortitude hit a rough patch, they take responsibility for their actions, emotions and outcomes, move on, and start the next chapter.
- Don’t allow others to demean or talk down to you.
Mentally strong people are in control of themselves and comfortable working with others. However, they don’t allow themselves or others around them to be belittled or abused. They recognize that they have power over their emotions and how they allow other people to treat them. Life is not a single sum gain where one person’s loss is another’s gain. Adding to the total is what happens when folks help each other thrive.
- Change is here to stay, so don’t resist.
Resisting change just makes things more complicated. Having a healthy fear of the unknown is okay, as long as the fear helps to create an “edge” that improves performance and doesn’t become paralyzing. Strong individuals often view change as a new opportunity. Flexibility is the key to navigating unfamiliar territory.
- There is much in modern society that we can’t control, so don’t waste time and energy trying to change these situations.
Running over a nail and getting a flat tire, flight delays, traffic, bad weather—all these things happen to countless people every day. Make a point of not sweating the small stuff. Instead of fretting over frustrating yet minor situations like these, concentrate on the things that are in your control and you will be far better off.
- Avoid creating enemies AND trying to please everyone.
As a rule, strive to be fair and kind to everyone (including yourself). It’s okay to set boundaries and say no. This may mean that some people will get upset with you, but no one can please everyone and still make significant progress. If you know you have been considerate and reasonable, there should be no reason why you cannot tactfully face another person’s criticism or disappointment head on.
- Don’t be afraid to take risks.
You don’t have to be a professional or an expert to start a project. After all, professionals built the Titanic; amateurs built the ark. Risk-taking is part of life. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” the old saying goes. That remains true and relevant today.
- Avoid dwelling on the past.
Instead, live in the present and anticipate, plan for and enjoy the future. The past, whether glorious or not, is still the past. Cherish old memories and successes and learn from past hurts and failures, but don’t rest on your laurels or rehash bad experiences. The present moment and the days ahead have the potential to hold infinitely more promise than those behind you.
- Learn from mistakes so you don’t repeat them over and over.
Being self-reflective in an accurate way is one of the greatest strengths of successful executives, entrepreneurs and everyday people. This can take some practice, but it is important to be able to admit when you are wrong and make adjustments so you can continue moving forward.
- Don’t succumb to jealousy.
Sincerely appreciating other people’s success is a positive characteristic that benefits everyone. Positive feedback is rare in today’s society. Taking genuine pleasure from others’ success will uplift them and serve as inspiration and a morale booster for you. It is never constructive to take pleasure in others’ pain or misfortune. The German term for this is “schadenfreude,” and it is theorized that this phenomenon stems from feelings of envy, inferiority and hostility.
- Life is not always easy, so perseverance matters.
Everyone experiences failures both large and small. The ability to pick oneself up and continue moving forward is a core characteristic of strong, successful people. Diligence in the face of adversity separates the winners from the losers.
- Learn to enjoy being alone.
While many people find solitary time lonely or dull, mentally strong people tend to use this as an opportunity to reflect, recharge or be productive. Set aside quiet time to contemplate, meditate, innovate, read and study. These activities may not seem “productive” in the traditional sense, but they do nurture the mind and body. Learn to appreciate silence and enjoy your own company. Too often we are interrupted by “urgent but unimportant” activities that interfere with “important non-urgent” productive behaviors, according to Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Staying focused is an attribute of productive people.
- If you feel the world owes you something, you are in big trouble.
A sense of entitlement is never a desirable trait. We are all responsible for our own welfare and happiness. Sometimes good things happen, or others step up to help us out, but we cannot rely on these factors alone to sustain us. Understanding this concept about individual productivity and motivation is key for success in any area of life.
- Understand that life is a long-term process, not a short-term plan.
We all need to get past the “nanosecond culture” that glorifies immediate gratification. Being patient and compounding positive results are the hallmarks of people and institutions that are successful and self-sufficient over months, years and decades.
This list provides as good a road map as any to become a mentally strong person. Let me close by citing a famous 1910 speech delivered by President Theodore Roosevelt entitled “Citizenship in a Republic.” The following notable passage from this speech is referred to as “The Man in the Arena.”
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
No one should expect to be perfect 100 percent of the time, whether it is in caregiving, relationships, one’s career or even mental fortitude. The most important thing across all these areas in life is that we persevere, participate, and remain diligent and compassionate. That’s how we build our mental and emotional strength and become successful.
–Dr. Allen Weiss | agingcare.com