Self Care

Pursuing Mental Wellness

By Cara Spagnola MSW, LISW, LCSW

It can be difficult at this time of year to focus on mental wellness as the temperature, weather, and limited sunlight produce an urge to throw routines to the wind in favor of hunkering down and hibernating. Across the country, spiking Covid rates have created additional complications, uncertainties, and safety concerns for all of us. Making deliberate decisions that honor and value our mental wellness during these stressful times will help see us through to spring. But what exactly is mental wellness?

When you hear the term “mental wellness,” different things may come to mind. If you spell it and break it down, it looks like it might be the opposite of mental illness, or the absence of a diagnosis, or a state of excellent mental health. Maybe you think of examples or activities like spending quality time with a loved one, practicing mindfulness, or routinely going to therapy. For some, the word “wellness” may raise an eyebrow. A very profitable billion-dollar industry thrives on this buzzword, showing that we will try many different things in the pursuit of feeling better. In reality, mental wellness is more complex and nuanced than a stand-alone product or service, and worthwhile to understand.

The Global Wellness Institute sought to define mental wellness − a tricky task − and determined it to be “an internal resource that helps us think, feel, connect, and function; it is an active process that helps us to build resilience, grow, and flourish.” While related to mental health, GWI asserts that wellness exists on its own continuum and is a personal and holistic life-long journey. It lists several dimensions of mental wellness, including a mental component (how you think, process, understand, and use information), an emotional component (how you manage and express your feelings), a social component (your connections to others), and a psychological component. With a working definition of what mental wellness is, let’s look at what it isn’t, and then let’s consider some practical steps you can take to work on your own mental wellness.

Mental wellness is not:

  • The absence of mental illness. You can absolutely have a diagnosis, be in treatment, or be on your journey of recovery while still valuing and working on your mental wellness.
  • Having a stress-free life. Everyone experiences some sort of stress. How you understand and cope with the ups and downs and unexpected issues is indicative of your mental wellness.
  • Expensive. One product or service isn’t going to bring instant contentment, connection, or peace.
  • All or nothing. If you struggle one day or with one component, you are not back to square one. Mental wellness is a fluid process.
  • A list to check off and say “I’m done.” Mental wellness is an ongoing process to work on throughout your daily life. It’s also personal to you, so while the components are the same, there is no identical prescription for every person to follow. Your mental wellness is as unique as you are.

Steps for working on your own mental wellness:

  • Reevaluate your values. What is important to you and what is taking your time, energy, and focus? If you are not living according to your values, what might you need to change? What actions can you take today that move you toward living a meaningful life? If you’ve never really looked at your values or you’d like a refresher to help you answer these questions, The Good Project can help.
  • Put down the phone. Smart phones can be fantastic tools to help us in our daily lives, from a morning alarm to a way to connect with loved ones near and far, but there are downsides. Doom scrolling and the endless activities available on these little machines grab our attention and the opportunity to fully experience what is going on around us. There is research on how social media is poor for mental health and self-esteem, and that boredom could actually be a good thing.
  • Give your body and mind time to rest. You can do this by aiming to get enough sleep and by practicing mindfulness and meditation. While it may be more fun to binge-watch a TV show, doing so won’t produce the same benefits as intentionally taking time to reset. If you don’t know how to reset on your own, here are a few videos to get you started: Leaves on a Stream Meditation, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Four Square Breathing.
  • Explore what you are grateful for. There is evidence that gratitude can positively impact many aspects of our individual lives, enhance our relationships, and benefit society as a whole. You can practice gratitude in multiple ways, such as by acknowledging the good things you have or that happened to you, recording your thoughts in a journal, or expressing your appreciation to someone.

As you read this short list, I encourage you to reflect and explore other ways you can improve your mental wellness. If you are struggling with mental wellness on your own and need professional support, please contact us for a free assessment at 1-866-477-0793. If you are interested in outpatient referrals or additional resources and support, please send us an email at and we would be happy to help.

Written by

Cara Spagnola MSW, LISW, LCSW

Cara has over 10 years of experience working with children and families in a variety of settings. She learned along the way that connection, education, and support help alleviate the stigma and…

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