When I was in graduate school, I vividly remember someone asking my professor “so what is mental health anyway”?  At first I thought “well that’s an absurd question”….  However, I quickly realized I couldn’t formulate an answer.  Of course, that made it a great question….
Was it the absence of diagnostic symptoms, was it not needing medication, was it not acting “crazy”, not feeling “crazy”, not feeling anything, or maybe no one noticing that you were feeling anything at all?  My professor, who was rarely at a loss for words, took a long pause as he formulated his response.  And I have never forgotten the definition he gave.
Mental health is simply the ability to move from one crisis to the next without staying down – without getting stuck in one of the crises.
It is real life living with real life responses and the management of what comes up for each of us.  It isn’t a quest for perfection or not having a response.  Isn’t that liberating?!  Mental health doesn’t require we always get it right or that we even manage life with the elegance of a ballet dancer, but rather that we just keep moving.  We do that without carrying too much of the pain forward and we stay in the joy of living.
I realize that isn’t always as easy as it sounds.  So I spent some time developing a few ideas to increase forward movement in 2016:
1 – Step out of your comfort zone.  This does not mean you have to start cliff diving or move to a new city.  It just means to try something new.  Maybe you don’t like to talk to people.  So, strike up a conversation in the grocery line, at your exercise class, in the classroom and see what happens.  Or, do you live your life in a no-wiggle routine?  Shake it up, do it all backward, add new people to the mix or do something by yourself, try a new hobby or engage in a new thought.  Push your own boundaries of what is possible.
2 – Say yes more often.  I am not talking about increasing a to-do list.  I’m talking about increasing in possibility.  Here’s what I mean:  Imagine this hot bed of politics we are watching….  What would happen if both sides said “why yes, we can absolutely work that issue out together”.  Imagine what would happen if they decided a solution was possible and then went forward looking for it (rather than telling us all the reasons it can’t be done by the other).  Oh my – the possibilities are endless!  What if you were to begin looking at the issues in your life and declaring, yes, I can do that, heal that, forgive that, change that?  I get excited considering all that we could become if we began with the simple word “yes”.  If we made space for a solution.
3 – Say no more often.  And no, I am not contradicting myself.  As we increase our ability to say yes to opportunities that help us expand, achieve, become and grow, we also have to start saying no to the ideas that constrict us.  We want to increase our ability to say no to things which include the beliefs “I should” do, “I must” participate in, the thoughts that we insist are required make us a good child, parent, partner, employee, you fill in the blank, but at the end of the day leave us empty and resentful at the requirement.  Blech.  Draw a boundary and try out this complete sentence.  “No.”
4 – Elevate your awareness.  In my work as a counselor I often hear this:  “I don’t know why I do that”.  “I don’t know why I feel ____.”, “Rosemary, I don’t know.”  And what parent hasn’t asked their kid why they did something to hear the uber frustrating response of “I dunno”?  Increase your emotional awareness, get off autopilot and engage in charting your course and choosing your consequences.  I do this with meditation, my own process therapy and lots of focused attention on the subject of wellness.  Learn to get still and to get clear.
5 – Increase your gratitude.  Shift your perspective.  See the positive.  Set your intentions for the day. This practice will absolutely change your life.  I have a friend who is so super positive that in my positive polly state (and I like to think that a pretty positive place) he wows me with his ability to find a beautiful reason to smile.  He tells the story of learning this skill from his mother which really brings me joy as I think of the possibilities for helping children manage their own moods.  (Definitely a future blog post)  I saw him the other day and as we passed I asked the obligatory “how are you?”.  His response made me stop and engage.  He said, “Doing great!  As expected.”  Think about it.  He was feeling exactly as he set his intention to do so and he didn’t hesitate to express lots of gratitude about his life in the conversation we had.  What a beautiful example of how powerful gratitude and intentions are!
At my core I believe this….  Life is meant to feel good.  It isn’t meant to be without its share of struggles or crisis as my professor recognized.  But, it is meant to be a lovely journey.  And we always have the possibility to course correct.
Integrate something new in 2016.  Increase your mental health.
In possibility,
P.S.  If anyone reading this knows where I can find Dr. Henry Grubb, please let me know.  I would love to share this with him.  He taught me so very much.

2 comments on “5 Ideas to Improve Your Mental Health in 2016

  • I really enjoyed this. I will try some of your suggestions. I am about to embark out of my comfort zone by retiring. Now I have to decide what do I want to do with the rest of my life. Thanks again.

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