What does physical health mean to you, compared to physical strength?
Well, similar differentiation applies to mental health and strength. Mental health encompasses everything from your brain and body chemistry to psychological states, emotions, and cognitive processes, while mental strength mostly reflects mental resilience.
In the following paragraphs, we will elaborate further and explain these two concepts, but also share some tips on how to build your mental strength.
Mental Health vs Mental Strength
Being physically strong can positively contribute to your physical health because building muscles requires healthy eating, regular exercise, and getting proper sleep. But, physical strength is not a guarantee for good physical health.
While physical health depends on many factors that are in your control, like your overall lifestyle which includes stress exposure, exercise, and self-care, it also depends on many factors that are out of your control, like your genes and family history.
When it comes to mental health, a similar principle applies. Exercising your mental strength can help you improve your mental health, and better mental health is also a fruitful ground for becoming more mentally strong, resilient. However, mental strength is not a guarantee of good mental health.
Let’s make things even clearer.
Mental Health Definition
Mental health refers to the presence or absence of mental health issues. To be more precise, it includes our emotional, social, and psychological well-being, and it affects our cognition and behavior. If we are in a mental health imbalance, the way we think and behave significantly changes, and it also affects our environment.
The main factors that impact our mental health are biology (neurological, endocrine, and genetic processes), experiences in life, and family history, but also our lifestyle and how well we take care of ourselves (for example, obesity is causally linked to depression).
Mental Strength Definition
Mental strength is characterized by several things that mostly refer to one’s resilience. It can be defined as determination (to finish something), persistence (even when things are going south), focus (even under pressure), or refusal to be intimidated. It is often also called mental toughness.
Besides these cognitive aspects, mental strength also involves the dimension of emotional and social intelligence, the ability to recognize and manage one’s emotions, as well as proper assessment of one’s environment: knowing when to react and when to step back, when to engage in an emotional process and when to let go, and so on.
According to the author Morin Amy, there are three important elements of mental strength and thirteen “don’t-s” of mentally strong people, so let’s briefly discuss them.
Three Elements of Mental Strength
The three main elements that actually construct our entire mental system, are also the elements involved in building mental strength.
Dealing with your emotions, working against suppression and denial, acknowledging yours and others’ emotions, as well as being able to accept discomfort all refer to being mentally strong in your emotional life.
Although people who suppress their emotions may seem strong, that is only a facade. Mental strength supports processing feelings and awareness over hiding and escapism.
Fantasies and daydreaming are important and often very pleasant, but in order to put these into action, we also need to be rational. Being rational simply means doing the right thing in a given context. It means differentiating between the realistic and unrealistic and making a decision.
Mental strength can be reflected through our thoughts also in the way we balance the negative with positive thinking. If we are being overly self-critical, it’s important to know when to stop and show some compassion.
In many cases, mental weakness can be exhibited as a lack of meaningful action. Deciding to skip a workout day, although there’s no real reason for that, or being overly indecisive in certain situations, are signs of lacking mental strength.
Mental toughness means daring to take meaningful action, but also practicing self-care and knowing what’s good for you.
13 Things that Mentally Strong People Don’t Do
According to Morin Amy, mentally strong people don’t do the following thirteen things.
Give Away Their Power
Mentally strong people know their strong sides, but they don’t reveal them without clear intentions or purpose. They know how to turn them into their secret weapon.
Feeling Sorry for Themselves
Self-compassion is one thing, and it’s always encouraged, but self-pity is something completely different. Self-pity can take us down a very negative rabbit hole of justifying various wrong actions and maintaining a toxic or unhealthy status quo. If you want to be mentally strong, you need to recognize and resist the urge for self-pity.
Change is as exciting as it is scary, and embracing change in one’s life is a major sign of mental strength. It means that you are able to adapt and be resilient under any circumstances, and that is a trait that will take you far in life.
Focus on Things They Can’t Control
This is usually a big waste of time and a derailment from those things you actually have power over. For example, trying to convince a teacher that you should pass an exam after failing one is far less likely to succeed than passing the exam after studying for it for the second time.
It’s impossible to make everyone in your surroundings happy. It’s also energy-draining and not very useful. What’s far more important is that you focus on those people who are important to you and on your own wellbeing. You can’t please everyone all the time, and this is something worth accepting.
Fear Calculated Risks
While there are many meaningless risks a person can take, there is also a way to take smart risks. For example, starting your business without a business plan is not a smart risk, but starting a business after you’ve informed yourself and created the best strategy you could is a calculated risk worth taking.
Dwelling on the Past
Mentally strong people are aware that life is happening now and they invest their energy in being aware of the present and planning their future goals instead of dwelling on the past.
Repeating the Same Mistakes
Learning from mistakes is one of the growth mindset cornerstones. Mentally strong people use the mistakes they make as valuable lessons and grow out of them in future situations, instead of repeating them.
Resent Other People’s Success
There are several issues about resenting other people’s success. First, it reveals that the person resenting is actually insecure, which is why they are comparing themselves to others in the first place. Second, this kind of resentment is keeping them away from making meaningful friendships with people who could affect them in a positive way.
Other people’s success should serve as inspiration, not as a basis of resentment, so the only person we should compare ourselves to today is to who we were yesterday.
Give Up After the First Failure
As we mentioned already, persistence makes up for a huge portion of what mental strength is. Mentally strong people know that the good things in life take time, energy, and consistency. It’s the self-limiting belief that we need to succeed at everything from the first shot that’s keeping us from actually achieving that success. If you fail, you need to get up and try again. That is how you learn.
Fear Alone Time
Feel the World Owes Them Anything
Very often you can hear people complaining about the world being unjust and the society owing them something in their life. While these thoughts may or may not be true (it always depends on the position you’d take in a discussion), they are not very productive. These thoughts are mostly just excuses for not doing anything to change your (perhaps unpleasant) situation.
Even if the world owes us something, and society is unjust, there is not much we can do as individuals if we’re constantly complaining and playing the victim. If you want to change something outside or inside yourself, you need to take concrete action and accept the fact that the only person who can do that is you.
Expect Immediate Results
Nothing good and valuable in life comes served on a plate. The more effort and time you put into achieving a certain goal, the more valuable that goal will be. Mentally strong people don’t expect to see the results of their efforts immediately. They keep fighting for the cause or working towards a goal, but they know that they need to be patient to see the real results of their efforts.
How to Become Mentally Strong?
Now that we’ve defined what mental strength is and what being mentally strong isn’t, we can ask ourselves: What is it that I can do to enhance my mental strength? What is it that you need to do to “stop being x or y” or to gear your feelings, thoughts, and behavior towards mental strength?
Here are some tips from us, each focused on strengthening your thinking, emotions, or actions.
1. Learn How to Think Differently
There are several thought exercises you can use to learn how to take multiple positions and reflect multiple perspectives when approaching a certain problem in your life. The exercises given here will teach you how to reframe your thoughts from negative to positive, as well as how to assess your reality rationally.
Practice Opposite Thinking
Whenever you feel like you’re getting mentally weaker, and your thoughts are leading you in the direction of catastrophizing and conceiving the worst possible scenarios that could happen, try to think about the complete opposite: What would it look like if everything would go just fine?
Then, how close are you to that scenario? What needs to be done to get there?
Keep a Reflective Journal
Keeping a reflective journal helps us collect our thoughts about everyday life events as well as other life events we consider important. It also trains our cognitive system to think about these situations from multiple perspectives.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
One of the best things you can do to remain rational and mentally strong is to keep a gratitude journal. Gratitude journaling doesn’t only shed a positive light on atomic events in our lives, but it helps us maintain a generally positive outlook on life.
2. Train Your Emotions
Emotional literacy and intelligence is an important part of mental strength. Emotional exercises can increase our self-awareness and make us more tolerant in stressful situations. They can help us read and use our emotions to our benefit, and enhance the positive or reduce the negative experiences of emotions.
One of the best ways to establish emotional stability and mental strength is through the practice of meditation. Meditation provides us with a deeper connection to ourselves and our environment. It trains us to stay calm even in stressful or otherwise unpleasant situations, so it’s worth a try.
Do Breathing Exercises
If you tend to get anxious in certain situations or your thoughts become too overwhelming, you can return your mental strength and clarity by doing some breathing exercises or other spiritual practices.
Practice Healthy Coping Mechanisms
Although many toxic or dysfunctional coping mechanisms that we use today used to help us deal with some situations sometime in the past, once we grow up, it’s our responsibility and duty to identify and “fix” these dysfunctionalities.
If you notice that you have a pattern of unhealthy dealing with certain stressful situations, consider the following:
- Identify the negative or unpleasant emotions;
- Try to understand how they relate to your coping pattern;
- Think about the alternative ways to deal with such situations.
The first step to employing healthier coping mechanisms is to learn how to delay your reactions. If you know how to identify the emerging negative emotion, you can then “halt” the process that usually follows, and just let that emotion be. Do not react to it. Take a walk, do some breathing exercises, or talk to a close person. Then, when the “storm” is over, try to analyze the situation and pick the right reaction.
This is a process of many trials and errors, but once you find what feels right for you, you’ll know it, because you’ll feel more positive, successful, and connected.
Enhance Your Emotional Intelligence
Enhancing your emotional intelligence can do miracles for your mental strength. By learning how to recognize and manage your own emotions, you gain more control over your reactions, feelings, thoughts, and behavior. But also, learning how to recognize and react to other people’s emotions or how to stay calm and reasonable in stressful situations will significantly level your mental strength and overall wellbeing and stability.
3. Empower Your Behavioral Control
Becoming more mentally strong is also about gaining better control over your behavior. This means knowing why, when, and what you are doing. Behavioral exercises are all about gearing your behavior towards things that benefit you and away from things that are only wasting your time and energy.
Allocate “You” Time
Mentally strong people don’t fear being alone. They are able to allocate and enjoy their solitude. Social contact is usually healthy and necessary, but so is the time we use to consolidate our thoughts, take care of ourselves, and maybe just rest and enjoy our hobbies.
“You” time can be extremely helpful with enhancing your mental strength because being alone is not always easy. But by learning how to be alone and okay, you are enhancing your mental strength as well as learning who you really are as a person.
Take Time to Do Something Positive Each Day
Positive activities boost our self-esteem, confidence, and bring us a positive outlook on life. Allocating time for positivity can mean engaging in a new project such as volunteering at the local community kitchen, but it can also mean smaller things such as enjoying a good book after dinner, meeting a dear person, or simply preparing and enjoying your favorite meal.
Commit to Hobbies That Make You Happy
Hobbies are a very important part of our lives. They help us keep our life energy fresh and shift our focus from everyday and existential questions to more positive, fun, and exciting ones.
Hobbies can be an excellent asset to your mental strength practice. Whether it’s dancing, sewing, baking, or reading, try committing to it for a longer period of time, and the accomplishments you achieve will help you maintain a positive outlook on yourself and the world around you.
Being mentally strong is a very important part of living your best life. Mental strength means that you persevere even in the hardest moments, that you manage stressful situations and your emotions appropriately, and that you successfully maintain your joy de vivre. It’s a long process that requires your commitment, exercise, and re-thinking yourself, your values, and your worldviews––and you achieve it through self-development, growth, and mindful, conscious living.