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Doctor Debug was published in the Seattle magazine Tekbug

Now published in Montana's Natural Life News and Directory
Published in September-October 2003 Edition

Boosting Your Mental Wellness

    Dear Dr. Debug:

      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 so far in Doctor Debug 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 Billings.

    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 this 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 brain cell loss as we age.

      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 the aging brain is capable of repairing itself and creating new nerve cells and new circuits. If you would like to read more about mental wellness, I invite you to visit www.MentalWellness.ws. -- Best wishes, Dr. Debug.

    Feeling bugged? Write to Doctor Debug and ask him about mental wellness, personal, relationship, medication or sexual concerns. E-mail sent to Doctor Debug is read only by Ron Sterling, M.D. No identities, whatsoever, will be revealed in any published answers. Disclaimer: The content offered by or through Doctor Debug is for information only and is not intended for medical, psychiatric, psychological or behavioral health diagnosis or treatment. Never disregard professional advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read in this column. Copyright 2003, Ron Sterling, M.D. All Rights Reserved. E-mail: deardoc@doctordebug.com. Back issues: doctordebug.com.

    Ron Sterling, M.D. (Dr. Debug) is an award-winning psychiatrist in Seattle, Washington. He has been writing for newspapers and magazines since 1998 on subjects ranging from good manners to senior mental health. He hosts and maintains the well-known Internet mental health center, DearShrink.com. The Doctor Debug column is dedicated to assisting with the "debugging of malfunctioning elements in our own personal programming."

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