Mental Wellness: The Mental Health Continuum & ResilienceBianca Drennan
September 29, 2023
The topic of mental health, or as I prefer to call it, mental wellness, has become a global focus over the last 3 years since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The world turned upside down and forced many of us into uncomfortable, stressful, and challenging circumstances. The reality is that a huge portion of the world’s population has been struggling with their mental health for a long time.
But you might be asking yourself, what is mental wellness? How do I know if I am mentally well? Where am I on the spectrum of mental health?
Not everyone needs to have a clinically diagnosed mental health condition in order to feel out of balance. Some of us may not have access to a qualified professional to assess our mental health, and some of us may opt not to consult a healthcare practitioner for support. Or maybe, you feel as though your experience isn’t necessarily that critical and you’re able to cope and manage well enough day to day.
Below I’ll discuss what mental wellness is, the mental health spectrum or continuum, and tips and tools on how you can support your own mental health and build mental resilience.
What is Mental Wellness?
As I mentioned above, I prefer to use the term “mental wellness” over mental health. Why? Because mental wellness encompasses a far more holistic picture of what constitutes how we experience the world. To me, the term mental health is a slightly more narrow, clinical perspective, which lacks the full spectrum of what being mentally well really means.
Mental wellness is the ability to manage, cope, and persevere in the face of success or struggle. It is the ability to shift and adapt to success or struggle while maintaining a level of balance in our brain and body. It is about pursuing and engaging in behaviours and activities that you enjoy and create a generally positive life.
When we are mentally well, we are able to appropriately respond to life’s stressors. We are able to have clarity of mind to assess the situation. We are able to channel healthy and adaptive coping mechanisms to manage. We are able to have perspective on our overall lives and well-being. We are able to build resilience to serve us in the present and future.
Mental wellness is not the absence of stress, pain, or challenge. Life is not stress free, pain free, or challenge free. Mental wellness is about utilizing learned tools (internal and external) to support a balanced response to the experiences of life and continuing to engage with life.
How we choose to nourish our minds and bodies and how we speak to ourselves (our inner dialogue), may allow us to safely and effectively support our mental wellness along the mental health continuum.
The Mental Health Continuum
Each person’s experience with their mental health is different and unique. There is no single definition of mental health or wellness – it is what it means to you, it is a continuum, and it can ebb and flow. The manifestation of someone’s struggle with stress, anxiety, depression, or any other mental health concern can change over time based on circumstance, life stage, access to care, support networks, previous health/trauma history, and coping mechanisms.
For various reasons, some may experience severe mental health and wellness struggles short or long term, requiring more specific and/or invasive treatment. For others, the experience may be more of a chronic (long term) day to day or week to week struggle. One is not more legitimate, more important, or more worthy of support than the other. Your experience is yours, and that experience is valued, seen, and heard. Whether you have a clinically diagnosed mental health condition or not, assessing and treating your mental wellness should help you feel safe and deeply nourished.
It is OK to feel mentally out of balance throughout periods in your life. These are periods of opportunity to learn about yourself, to learn what serves and no longer serves you, to learn what YOU need, to learn how to listen to your mind and body, and to learn how to build mental resilience. This is the continuum of creating a more mentally well mind and body. It’s not the destination, but rather the journey and work toward mental wellness that has the greatest impact on our well-being.
Psychological stress is a very real part of life for most people. You are not alone in your experience. There is an incredible potential for change when we acknowledge our struggles and make choices aligned with positively supporting them. It’s so important to have perspective on that, knowing that things CAN shift for the better when we have some knowledge and tools to cope.
I have personally struggled with varying degrees and levels of anxiety since I was a teenager. It’s impacted me in a number of ways, and I’ve learned a wealth of knowledge throughout my experiences, building my resilience toolbox more and more. I’ve learned how I can best support myself, including when to ask for help, which are incredibly empowering and invaluable skills.
How to Build Mental Resilience
Building mental resilience to support your mental wellness isn’t about ignoring the issues or pretending like they do not exist. The best way to manage and cope with stress and mental health struggles is to support your wellness holistically – through diet, supplementation, and other lifestyle strategies.
Coping Mechanisms for Mental Wellness
1. Master your light
Aim to expose yourself to light first thing in the morning (or when it’s light where you live) to regulate your circadian rhythm, turn off melatonin, and improve mood. If it’s sunny out, you’ll need about 5-10 minutes. If it’s overcast, you’ll need 15-20 minutes. This is ideally done outside (versus looking through a window), without sunscreen or sunglasses (you won’t be outside long enough for any sun damage) and looking in the direction of the sun (not directly at it!). If you miss the morning opportunity, you can also do this in the early evening. This article is a great summary with some useful details on how to use light to your mood advantage, and when to avoid it.
2. Learn how to breathe
Have you ever noticed that you breathe really short and shallow into your chest when stressed? There are a number of ways to breathe to reduce anxiety and stress, and improve mood. But, the first step is learning to breathe into your belly first, expanding the rib cage, before sending the breath to your chest. This can down regulate your nervous system, induce calm, and trigger the rest and digest arm of your nervous system. It will also help you more accurately oxygenate your brain cells for better function. This is an amazing and in depth podcast episode on how and why to breathe properly for psychological stress.
3. Express gratitude
Write down 3-5 things in the morning and/or evening that you’re grateful for, small or big. Over time, this can shift your outlook and perspective on your own life and serve as a reminder of all the positive elements in your life. Remember to also be grateful for yourself.
4. Move your body, consistently
Exercise has been consistently shown to improve mood over and over again. The best type of movement is the one that you enjoy the most and will stick to consistently. Exercise releases brain chemicals and messengers to promote feeling well and can lead to making better dietary choices which further supports mental wellness.
5. Optimize sleep
Going to bed and waking around the same time daily has been shown to improve mood, energy, and motivation. Sufficient sleep is essential for proper brain function and recovery. Sleep is your body’s main opportunity to heal. In addition to a regular sleep schedule, good sleep hygiene is essential. This especially means avoiding electronics and potentially triggering stimuli (negative news, social media) at least 1 hour before bed.
Nourishing Nutritional Support
1. Replenish nutrient deficiencies
A huge portion of mental wellness is ensuring that your body has all the resources it needs to function optimally. That means it’s important to identify where you may be lacking nutrients either via a blood test, consultation with a health care professional, or identifying gaps in your diet. Supplementing with individual nutrients or Botanica’s Perfect Greens (in various flavours) for an all-around nutritional support are great options. You can sneak those greens into a nourishing smoothie like this Tropical Smoothie for a quick and yummy breakfast option.
2. Eat quality protein
Protein is calming to the nervous system and essential for its repair and growth. Most of us don’t get enough high quality protein in our diets, which is a great place for protein powders. Botanica’s Perfect Protein Elevated Brain Booster has 20g of complete plant protein, with the added brain bonuses of Lion’s Mane mushroom for focus and concentration, as well as Rhodiola for stress reduction and mental performance.
Botanica’s Perfect Protein Elevated Adrenal Support also has 20g of complete protein, but contains Ashwagandha, Reishi mushroom, and Vitamin C for stress and immune support. These Chocolate Tahini Protein Balls are a tasty and efficient way to get more protein in at snack time (or dessert!).
3. Get more omega-3s
Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that our body cannot produce on its own. This means that we need to get them through our diet or via supplementation. Omega-3s are used to nourish brain cells and protect their membranes which ensures proper neurotransmitter function and smooth signaling of messages. Eating lots of fatty fish like salmon and sardines, walnuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and Botanica’s Perfect Omega oil are great ways to get more omega-3s in your diet.
4. Lean on adaptogens and stress supporting compounds
Adaptogens help the body cope and manage stress. They’re often taken in low to moderate doses, over time, to support the body’s stress response, increase internal resources (like a gas tank!), and build resilience to stress. Other nutrients to support the stress response would be those that nourish the immune system, which becomes depleted during times of high stress, and those that calm/ground the adrenal and nervous system. Botanica’s Perfect Protein Elevated Adrenal Support and Perfect Protein Elevated Brain Booster are incredible formulas to keep in your mental wellness toolbox. This Smoothie Bowl featuring the adrenal support protein powder is a really easy way to support your stress response at breakfast.
How to Find Mental Health Support
Feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and out of balance are very common experiences. But, if you feel like your ability to cope is no longer working for you, then it might be time to seek additional support from friends and family, or a professional.
- Reach out to close friends and family that you trust to share your experience with. Let them know you’re struggling. It’s important not to carry the weight of your mental health alone, and staying connected to loved ones is essential in developing a solid support network.
- Look for any local therapy or support groups (grief, addiction, etc) – these can be a great introduction to 1-1 therapy and are often cost effective.
- Consult your Medical Doctor and/or Naturopathic Doctor for direct mental wellness support or for a referral to a vetted psychiatrist or psychotherapist.
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Using Light for Health. Huberman Lab. https://hubermanlab.com/using-light-for-health/
How to Breathe Correctly for Optimal Health, Mood, Learning & Performance. Huberman Lab. https://hubermanlab.com/how-to-breathe-correctly-for-optimal-health-mood-learning-and-performance/
Smith PJ, Merwin RM. The Role of Exercise in Management of Mental Health Disorders: An Integrative Review. Annu Rev Med. 2021 Jan 27;72:45-62. doi: 10.1146/annurev-med-060619-022943. Epub 2020 Nov 30. PMID: 33256493; PMCID: PMC8020774.