Stress. Stress has a negative connotation almost exclusively (e.g., "I'm stressed out!"). Stress can actually be a good thing, when it's at a moderate level. Studies have shown that stress not only affects your physical health, but also your mental health. Chronic stress has been linked to depression, anxiety, and other psychological issues.
Relationships. It's rare to find a psychologically healthy and well-rounded individual who lives in social isolation. People are naturally social and connecting with others is healthy. Relationships provide support and safety. When we feel safe, we tend to feel happier. When we isolate we tend to feel confused and lost.
Coping Skills. I am a firm believer that our mental health is a fairly simple equation:
Stress - Coping Skills = Mental Health
Our mental health is directly related to the stress-coping relationship. There will always be stress. Many people who have the most stressful lives never suffer from a mental illness. I believe this is mostly due to their ability to manage stress with coping skills and resources. The more healthy coping skills you have, the better you are able to manage stress, and subsequently decrease your risk of experiencing a mental illness. The opposite applies if you have limited and unhealthy coping strategies; your chance of having a mental illness increases.
Nutrition. I am also a believer that our diet impacts our mental health. Obesity is highly correlated with depression. Obesity is also a sign of an unhealthy coping skill: excess eating.
Your diet in general affects your mood and mental health. Ever "splurge" on a meal that your body isn't used to? If you have, then you know that unpleasant feeling and mood you have after the meal. Research indicates people who report some level of psychological distress report eating less fruits and vegetables. Those who eat more fruits and vegetables report less mental health issues.
Optimism. I spent years researching optimism (if you are bored, you can read my dissertation here). Optimism's impact on mental health is undeniable. Optimistic individuals have healthier, more positive attitudes, are more resilient to stress, and use healthier coping strategies. Some may say that being optimistic doesn't change the circumstance, but it impacts your mood which changes your confidence and commitment.
I wrote about these 5 factors instead of genetics, environment, or culture because you can actively change each of the 5 factors at an individual level. It takes time and there will be ups and downs, but it can happen.
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