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A continuum with four phases: healthy, reacting, injured, ill.
The most useful mental health resource I’ve ever come across describes our well-being this way. I first stumbled upon it last December and it’s been top-of-mind for me ever since.
Why? Because thinking about mental health like this leads to three specific insights:
- There’s way more to it than being healthy or being ill. If we assessed a population’s mental health with these four phases in mind, would we find that the majority of us are actually in the two phases in between?
- Our position on the continuum is flexible, not fixed, and it can move in both directions. Mental well-being is a (lifelong) journey, not a destination.
- Like any journey, you can choose to take steps toward the direction you desire.
I’m not a mental health expert and I can’t speak about mental illness. That’s a complex and critically important topic all on its own, and one that’s best left to individuals with lived experience and the professionals who support them.
And yet, as the idea of a mental health continuum makes clear -- wellness is about more than the absence of illness.
The conversation is, and should be, much richer. And while the distance between health and illness may look different for everyone, a lot of possibility and mystery certainly exist there.
The steps along that journey can be big, small, fast, slow, frequent, intermittent, a shuffle or a leap. And each one is personal.
Even the generally accepted recommendations of sleep, healthy food and exercise have so much nuance within them. Those prescriptions tell us what to do, but not how to do them in a way that works for us, motivates us, or benefits us that most.
Those finer details? They’re up to you.
The Now Atlantic articles being published throughout the month of May will take a look at some of those personalized experiences of mental well-being. They may share insight into what hinders, what helps, or what steps other people in your region are taking.
And this article is the one that asks: what do your steps look like?
What micro moments or personal choices help nudge you toward the healthy end of the continuum?
The answers may not spontaneously appear; you might have to go looking for them. Here are 20 questions that can reveal some clues.
- What simple moments in a day or week do you look forward to?
- How do you like to be outside or in nature?
- What makes you feel relaxed, lighter, calmer, more easy-going?
- When do you just feel at your best?
- What powers up your batteries?
- What gives you more energy than it takes?
- What do you like to give, add and contribute to the people around you?
- What would you like the people, experiences or opportunities in your life to give and contribute to you?
- What do you like to make and create?
- What boundaries do you need to set?
- What hard, courageous or vulnerable things are you secretly wanting to do?
- What do you want (or wish) you could learn?
- What or who do you appreciate, and why?
- What do you want more of?
- What do you want less of?
- What or who makes you laugh out loud?
- What do you wish you had more time for?
- When was the last time you breathed a sigh of relief?
- When was the last time you felt relaxed?
- Where, when or with whom do you feel safe?
When it comes to nurturing our well-being, the range of possible experiences is as vast as a 100-acre field filled with wildflowers. Each of us could walk through that filed and pick ourselves a unique bouquet.
Similarly, what makes you feel safe, calm, healthy, grateful, content, rested, peaceful, energized, engaged, clear – it’s a bouquet that’s yours and yours alone.
ABOUT LAURA: Insatiable appetite for plain language, curious questions, growth experiments, tiny joys, and creativity that gets made.