Although the causes may differ, we all have times when life becomes difficult. Right now there are many stressors, and mental health is more important than ever. Staying mentally strong gives us what we need to navigate challenges successfully. Just like steadily building physical strength over time results in strong muscles, steadily building mental strength helps us navigate our tough times with clarity and resiliency, even when we feel our world is crumbling.
In researching her book “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do,” psychotherapist and mental strength coach Amy Morin discovered strategies that mentally strong people use when life pushes them the hardest. Let’s give our mental health some attention by exploring some of the healthy coping skills that can help us manage our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Acknowledging our inner strength is essential because choosing to believe that we’ll never get through a situation ensures our inability to cope. Mentally strong people remind themselves that they’re capable, even if answers aren’t yet clear. Self-talk is kind instead of judgmental. Our inner strength is enhanced by a strong spiritual practice that focuses on the kind of love and compassion that celebrates the humanity of everyone. Meditation is used for present moment awareness, a calm mind, and stability.
Accepting reality keeps us mentally strong because we are acknowledging what is happening – whether we like it or not. This helps us see where we have control so we can decide how to respond. Our resources are focused on what is needed to keep us healthy, but for all those things that are out of our control, the only thing we can change is our attitude.
We strengthen mentally when we release ourselves from rigid thinking that says there’s only one solution to a problem, or a situation must turn out a certain way. When we remain flexible, we’re able to adapt to new challenges and see more options. We don’t sweat the small stuff, so petty annoyances won’t ruin our day. The focus is on what matters most, so strength is saved for the important issues that yield meaningful results.
Mentally strong people admit their mistakes but don’t hyper-focus on their failures. Instead, the focus in on what is learned and what can be done differently. Maya Angelou wrote, “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
Trying something new can feel daunting, but mentally strong people know that changing course may be the only way to move ahead. Avoiding anything new keeps us stuck in a difficult place. Small incremental successes can build the confidence and comfort needed for major changes. That’s building mental muscle before a crisis. Taking action is also part of creating mental strength. If a problem can’t be solved (like a serious illness or passing of a loved one), choices are made to cope with the distress in healthy ways.
Healthy self-care is another sign of a mentally strong person. Taking care of our self involves healthy eating, exercise, and plenty of rest. It also involves saying “no” to job, social, or family engagements that drain our energy. Saying “no” helps to clarify our priorities and focus because it sets needed boundaries. We boost our capabilities when we identify what would help us most so we know what to ask for.
Mentally healthy people practice gratitude, even when life is difficult. This is not denying pain or minimizing hardship, but rather finding things to be grateful for in the middle of a trying time. Sometimes gratitude comes from reflecting on what we’ve learned in our darkest hour. Some of our greatest insights are gained from the toughest challenges, and the value of these insights will stay with us the rest of our life.
Building mental muscle also involves not taking everything personally. Social media gives us the opportunity to be goaded into arguments with complete strangers. Instagram photos can make everyone else look like their doing great while we’re struggling. Mentally strong people focus on their goals and avoid the negative distractions that can be part of Twitter and Facebook. Obstacles or setbacks are not taken personally, because we recognize our own worth is not attached to the challenges of others.
Let’s keep building our mental strength so we have what we need when we’re tested. As always, we learn through challenges, so we’re learning on the job right now. Paying attention to our mental strength helps us emerge from a struggle with new perspective, clarity, and confidence. That makes it worth all the hard work.
Until Next time – Sylvia