Have you ever taken the time to think through and write out what a healthy state of mental functioning looks like for you? We know automatically what physical wellness feels like. It’s something we have been in-tune with our whole lives. Our first wellness checks at the doctor start at 2 days old, and they never stop (if you’re following medical recommendations of yearly wellness checks). We know that physical wellness feels like an absence of pain, having substantial energy to get through the day, restful sleep, joints that don’t dislocate easily, and blood and organs remaining mostly inside our bodies at all times.
But mental health? Spiritual health? Emotional health? These areas are just as important, and potentially more complex at times, than our physical health, however there are no wellness checks built in.
It wasn’t until recently that I had the realization that I had never thought through and defined what mental wellness meant for me. There are some facets of mental wellness that are universal (a lack of motivation could signal depression, for example), but there are other areas that are more specific to each individual and should be monitored, or at least recognized. The individualization here is key. I have eczema so my definition of healthy, happy skin is going to look vastly different from somebody who does not have chronic eczema. In fact, when I’m at my best, eczema-wise, would surely send someone else, without eczema, running to the doctor asking, “What is wrong with me? Fix me!” — it’s all relative, our health and peak wellness.
Brainstorming and writing down what mental wellness looks like for me was an important exercise. It allowed me to not only assess my areas of weakness and things I should pay attention to, but it became a sudden barometer that I could come back to and quickly assess how things are going. Sometimes we get so bogged down in fear, anxiety, restlessness, and stress that we forget what it even feels like to be at our peak. I’m sure we’ve all experienced this physically, right? Once when I was sick for two weeks, a mere 14 days, I began to forget what it felt like to be healthy. How did it feel to lay in bed and sleep soundly? Did food have taste, or was it just a texture experience that I would have to get used to? Was the sun always this bright and offensive to my sensitive eyeballs? When I finally was on the mend and my body began to regulate, it was a beautiful reunion with myself. Remembering how good it felt to be healthy, how good it felt to be alive.
Writing down what mental wellness looks like for you can serve many purposes. As mentioned above, it is a barometer that you can reference daily to see how healthy you feel that day. It can be a wake-up-call, a gentle reminder that maybe you aren’t operating as efficiently as you like to. And it’s not somebody else telling you this, which can sometimes be hurtful and cause defensiveness– it’s your own words and definitions of mental wellness, so hopefully it will be received better. Finally, it can serve as a guide for how to find your way back.
A few months ago I wrote down my mental wellness barometer. I have since used it to not only gauge where I am on random days, but also as a way to work through stressors. I use each item on my list as a journal prompt. If I know I’m not meeting a specific item on my list as well as I’d like to, I know exactly where I need to start diving in and and exploring. It’s also helpful in allowing me to realize where I’m stuck. When I am feeling especially frustrated, depressed, or anxious, I read through my list and can quickly pinpoint which area of mental wellness is being affected by my current state.
What does your mental wellness barometer look like? Your brain, emotions, and processing are different from everybody else’s, so how could it benefit you to define your own levels of peak performance?