A PLACE TO LEARN ABOUT RESILIENCE, OPTIMISM, RECOVERY, AND GROWTH
-- Updated April 10, 2011 --
Welcome to Dr. Sterling's Mental Wellness Web Site!
The mission of this Web site is to provide information and resources for understanding mental wellness. Dr. Sterling starts this page with an answer to a reader question about mental wellness. Further down the page are sections entitled "The Five Factors of Mental Wellness," "The Fight-or-Flight and the Relaxation Response," and "The Psychology of Retirement."
It is important to keep in mind that no one is perfectly mentally well and no one is completely mentally ill. Each of us is a mixture of illness and wellness. We all have different "hot buttons." What might depress or upset one person may not affect the next person. In addition, we all have different "breaking" or "burn-out" points. The best questions we can ask ourselves are "What factors and skills lead to a healthier state of mind?" and "What are our weaknesses and strengths?"
Our baseline mental wellness is determined mostly by our biology. If we are not challenged by genetic or other brain or body abnormalities, we may have an easier time achieving a healthier mental state. However, even if we are affected by biological circumstances beyond our control, we can still develop skills and utilize psychological tools that will help us maximize our potential for enjoying life and reaching goals.
The factors that will help any of us achieve healthier states of mind are self-appreciation, resilience (optimism, perspective, meaning, humor), affiliation, negotiation, curiosity, exercise and leisure activities (reading, board games, playing musical instruments, and dancing). In fact, if we each made a list of our shortcomings in these areas and worked on them proactively, we would each "pump up our mental wellness power" significantly.
Self-appreciation is the ability to not just notice what is wrong with us, but to also notice what is right with us and to appreciate our strengths. Resilience is the ability to deal with and recover from hardship, misfortune, change and shock. The qualities that allow for resilience are optimism, a sense of perspective (seeing the big picture), believing that there is a positive meaning to life, and the ability to laugh at some of the tricks that life plays on us.
Affiliation is the ability to allow ourselves to get close to other people and negotiate give-and-take alliances and friendships and build mutually-supportive social networks. Negotiation is the ability to see that we may not have all the answers and to allow ourselves to learn from others and alter our beliefs based on new data and information.
Exercise, curiosity, and leisure activities have a lot in common, but they are distinct tools and skills that have each been proven to enhance mental wellness. Research has consistently shown that physical exercise protects against depression and that "leisure activities" such as reading, playing board games or musical instruments, and dancing enhance brain functioning and decrease the risk of dementia.
Each and every one of these skills that can increase our mental wellness power can be developed and enhanced by appropriate learning programs and exercises. We now know that no matter how old we are our brain is capable of a certain amount of repairing itself and creating new neurons and new circuits. -- Best wishes, Dr. Sterling.
The five factors that I feel are involved in the equation of mental wellness are noted below. You will find links to pages devoted to each factor.
Resiliency researchers and experts might say that resilience is the overriding characteristic which predicts how well we handle challenges to our physical or mental health. In my opinion, no single strength or weakness, on its own, predicts what may happen. For instance, a person with limited resilience may have great affiliation skills and their network of mutual support may get them through some hard times just as well as someone with greater resilience but who has less of a network of mutual support. So, the equation for mental wellness is:
Click on the following links to go to pages which are devoted to each of the five mental wellness factors. Links to general mental wellness resources are further down this page.
Resilience -- the ability to deal with, recover from, overcome or "bounce forward" from hardship, misfortune, change or shock.
Affiliation -- the ability to allow ourselves to get close to other people and negotiate give-and-take alliances and friendships and build mutually supportive social networks.
Negotiation -- the ability to see that we may not have all the answers and to allow ourselves to learn from others, from experience, and alter our beliefs based on new data.
Mental and Physical Exercise -- exercising our brain and our body.
Mental wellness is not just about stress management techniques, although how you handle stress could be called resilience. Mental wellness is a condition related to how well we have developed and utilize the five different mental wellness factors noted above.
Here are a few links to general mental wellness Web sites:
Dr. Sterling has written several articles on many aspects of depression, including the neurobiology of depression and how stress produces major depression. You can read most of those articles by visiting our All About Depression web page.
The Fight-or-Flight and the Relaxation Response.
Dr. Sterling has written two short articles on anxiety disorders, the fight-or-flight response, the relaxation response, and anti-anxiety medications. Those articles can be found at MindMatters.ws. See the following links to learn more about anxiety disorders and anti-anxiety medications.
How much of a detrimental psychological impact retirement has on any particular person has a lot to do with the circumstances of retirement. Is it forced? Is it due to a disability? Or, has it been planned? A forced retirement that is unexpected and unwanted, can result in feelings of hurt, resentment, anger, and jealousy, which will greatly complicate a retirement.
As much as we all more-or-less dream of retirement as a time of relaxation and no one telling us what to do, the reality of retirement can be feelings of loss, lower self-esteem, boredom, social isolation and, often, more complicated relationships with spouses who may not have seen so much of us while we were employed.
To read a short article about some psychological aspects of retirement or to find more information, please see the following links.
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