Scientific evidence points to five steps that we can take to improve our mental wellbeing. If you give them a try, you may feel happier, more positive and able to get the most from your life.
Your mental health is important. Some mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, are common. If you have such an illness, it’s important to get the right treatment.
However, there’s more to good mental health than avoiding or treating mental illness. There is also positive mental wellbeing.
This article explains:
- What is mental wellbeing?
- Wellbeing and society
- The five steps to mental wellbeing
- Why is mental wellbeing important?
Building up our wellbeing is important because we all want to feel good; both about about ourselves and about the world around us. We all want to be able to get the most from our lives. However there is evidence that good mental wellbeing is not only about feeling good, it is also important for our physical health, and for helping us achieve the goals we set for ourselves.
What is mental well-being?
Sarah Stewart-Brown, professor of public health at the University of Warwick and a wellbeing expert, says that when we talk about mental wellbeing, we mean more than just happiness.
It’s useful to start with the idea that overall wellbeing involves both the mind and the body. And we know that physical and mental wellbeing are closely related.
Of course, feeling happy is a part of mental wellbeing. But it is far from the whole. There is a deeper kind of wellbeing, which is about living in a way that is good for you and good for others around you.
Feelings of contentment, enjoyment, confidence and engagement with the world are all a part of mental well-being. Self-esteem and self-confidence are, too.
So is a feeling that you can do the things you want to do. And so are good relationships, which bring joy to you and those around you.
Of course, good mental well-being does not mean that you never experience feelings or situations that you find difficult. But it does mean that you feel you have the resilience to cope when times are tougher than usual.”
Mental wellbeing can take many different forms, but a useful description is feeling good and functioning well.
Wellbeing and society
Over the last fifty years, many societies across the world have become richer. Despite this, evidence from population surveys – in which people were asked to rate their own happiness or mental wellbeing – shows that mental wellbeing has not improved.
So we’ve got more possessions, more money to spend, and are able to take more expensive holidays, but we are not any happier! This suggests that many of the things we often think will improve our mental health do not, on their own, lead to a lasting improvement in the way we feel about ourselves and our lives.
The message is clear: It’s time to rethink wellbeing.
Evidence and wellbeing
Over the last 20 years new evidence has emerged about what really causes lasting improvements to mental health and wellbeing.
“Some of this evidence comes from observational studies, in which scientists look at the behaviour and wellbeing of certain sections of the population,” says Professor Stewart-Brown. “Other evidence comes from trials in which scientists take a group of people and ask them to change their behaviour or participate in a treatment or other intervention – such as an exercise programme – and then watch what happens to their wellbeing.”
To obtain evidence on wellbeing, scientists have to find ways to measure it. Often, scientists measure wellbeing using a series of questions that ask people how they feel about themselves, their lives, and the world around them.
In fact, we have our own “Wellbeing survey” with which you can find out how happy you are. Use our interactive Wellbeing self-assessment tool.
Wellbeing in your life
Many factors influence our wellbeing. Evidence shows that the actions we take and the way we think have the biggest impact on wellbeing.
It can help to think about “being well” as something you do, rather than something you are. The more you put in, the more you are likely to get out.
“The first thing you can do for your own wellbeing is become curious about it,” says Professor Stewart-Brown.
“Start to think about what you’ve done in the past to promote mental wellbeing, and whether it worked. Then think about new things that you can try. Remember, no one can give wellbeing to you. It’s you who has to take action.”
Five steps to mental wellbeing
Evidence suggests there are five steps we can all take to improve our mental wellbeing. If you approach these steps with an open mind, and genuinely give them a try, you can judge the results yourself.
The five steps are below. Click the button to learn more about each one.
Connect with the people around you: Your family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. Spend time developing these relationships.
You don’t have to go to the gym. Take a walk, go cycling or play a game of football. Play Pokémon Go! Find the activity that you enjoy, and make it a part of your life.
Learning new skills can give you a sense of achievement and a new confidence. So why not sign up for that cooking course, start learning to play a musical instrument, or figure out how to fix your bike?
Give to others
Even the smallest act can count, whether it’s a smile, a thank you, or a kind word. Larger acts, such as volunteering at your local community centre, can improve your wellbeing and help you build new social networks.
Be more aware of the present moment, including your feelings and thoughts, your body and the world around you. Some people call this awareness “mindfulness,” and it can positively change the way you feel about life, and how you approach challenges.