Mind Matters -- August 2003
Written by Ron Sterling, M.D. and Published in Northwest Prime Time Magazine

Pumping Up Mental Wellness

    Dear Dr. Ron:

      I have a simple request. Could you tell me and your readers more about mental wellness? I notice that most of the questions you have answered have been about a particular problem or illness. I would like to know how people stay mentally well? Are there principles of mental wellness? Signed: Wondering About Wellness in Wallingford

    Dear Wondering:

      Thank you for writing! You have brought up an excellent topic. Although "mental wellness" is a very complex subject, I think there are some well-established principles that can be discussed even in a short article.

      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 even in older folks, the brain is capable of repairing itself and creating new neurons and new circuits. To read more about the mental wellness, please go to MentalWellness.ws. -- Best wishes, Dr. Ron.

        Author Bio:

        Ron Sterling, M.D. is a 64 year-old General and Geriatric Psychiatrist with a private practice in Seattle. He invites you to e-mail him at with any questions about mental wellness or emotional, relationship, or aging concerns. He is the only person who reads e-mail sent to Dr. Ron. Please be assured that your questions and identities are completely confidential and protected. For more information about Dr. Ron and for resources related to senior mental health, please go to SeniorMentalHealth.org. Read our Disclaimer.

        Thank You for Stopping By!

      Have a great day!

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