Mental well-being has become the most important power skill for thriving in the present and future. Let’s be frank though, mental well-being wasn’t always considered a skill to be trained and developed for success. Not long ago, for your average healthy and satisfied individual, the need for mental health presumed mental illness. But a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that nearly half of the USA population feels that COVID-19 pandemic harmed their mental health.
The COVID-19 era has pushed mental health to the forefront of conversations about what the future of well-being looks like. According to a Pew Research Center poll, 73 percent of people in the USA reported feeling anxious a few days per week or more since the beginning of the pandemic.
A significant portion of the decline in our mental well-being can be attributed to a sense of uncertainty about what the future holds. Information moves at the speed of light and it’s getting harder to decipher the veracity of information. Unfortunately, it seems we are great at technological innovation but slow to resolve how to live well with the new technology.
Mental Well-Being Goes Far Beyond Fitness and Healthy Diet
Despite the accelerating pace and complexity of the world, our brains remain wired much the same way they have been for millions of years. The primal brain has been key to the preservation of our species but now people aspire to more than survival. People want a flourishing life.
The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests conscience de soi to be “a state in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”. Furthermore, research by Bohlmeijer and Westerhof point to the three core components of well-being as feeling well, effective functioning of an individual, and effective functioning for a community.
In the COVID-19 era, even the most resilient people have felt their mental well-being put to the test. Prior to this new era, most of the conversation around well-being was focused on nutrition and physical fitness but what good are they if we neglect the mind?
Ironically, many fitness experts have long argued that the biggest limiting factor in fitness is the mind. Research has shown that mental well-being is as essential as a healthy diet or physical fitness, highlighting the importance of maintaining and improving mental well-being to prepare for unforeseen situations, extreme pressure, and prevent potential disturbances.
Mental Well-Being Requires Systemic and Self-Regulatory Processes
The ability to cultivate and sustain your mental well-being is a keystone power skill that will positively influence all other dimensions of wellness.
Beyond managing crisis situations, mental well-being allows for greater mental clarity to live a life aligned with your values and ideals, rather than being influenced by the chaos around you, as well as identify opportunities for personal growth and the development of other power skills – such as self-awareness, resilience, empathy, insightfulness, and creativity.
We should be careful not to address complex and nuanced issues such as mental well-being with a sound byte or inspirational quote. The cultivation of well-being should involve systemic and self-regulatory processes that can be learned, practiced, and applied in daily life, such as meditation, body intelligence, and breathwork. It’s key to integrate the different dimensions of well-being, rather than focus on a single component, in order to construct an anti-fragile mind.
How to Make Mental Well-Being Sustainable
For over 14 years I’ve been following the development of mental well-being in my students and mentees, teaching practical tools such as meditation, body intelligence training, breathwork, as well as active learning workshops covering stress tolerance, gratitude, values and purpose, emotional intelligence, and community.
I’ve found that the efficacy of training anything can only be tested by how well we carry the lessons over into the chaos and uncertainty of real life. Being proficient in mental well-being skills within a controlled environment is no guarantee that mental well-being will be preserved under pressure.
Mental well-being as a skill set manifests in our ability to stay true to our values and purpose, think clearly, cope, work and contribute to our community despite the context. Life is in constant movement. When this movement is harmonious it is an orderly ebb and flow between calm and chaos. Great dancers have mastered this art of balancing stability and instability.
Without the appropriate skill set, we find ourselves vulnerable to even the smallest obstacle. The potential for chaos exists in everything. Developing mental well-being as a power skill means we equip ourselves to be resilient in the face of entropy.
A study by Ryerson University showed that regular participation in meditation, breathwork, mindfulness led to increased self-awareness, resilience and emotional stability, improved self-control and many more skills that induce the mental well-being power skill.
“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor”. – Franklin D. Roosevelt
As we realize the era of COVID-19 is not likely ending anytime soon, we have the opportunity to reflect and repurpose it for positive change in our lives and the lives of others. Every aspect of our lives has been touched by this pandemic, creating space for significant change and opportunity to cultivate well being as a power skill.
The actions we take through this current global crisis will make us stronger in the future. As we navigate these challenges, our capacity to foster mental well-being today will lay a foundation where our generation and future generations can flourish.