1. Start by creating a purpose for yourself
Feeling a sense of purpose — any purpose — is directly linked to improved wellbeing. To find and cultivate purpose, the best place to start is often by looking towards the future. How do you want to be remembered? What legacy do you want to leave, both on the individual scale of your relationships as well as your impact on the world?
Take an hour to really consider and then write down your desired impact on the world. Once you’ve identified that, you’ll be able to break that huge goal down into small, achievable goals to move towards that. You don’t necessarily have to change the world, but find a theme under which you want to live your life. This will help add meaning to your day to day existence.
The more definable goals you can outline, the more direct impact this strategy will have on your psychological wellbeing.
For instance, one of my wellness coaching clients found purpose in cleaning up her community. She bought one of those trash picker-upper sticks, started remembering to take trash bags with her, and found that the measurable impact of a cleaner neighborhood was incredible for her overall purpose. At first, she was nervous about her neighbors judging her, but ultimately, they’ve given her nothing but support. It’s been a great conversation starter that have opened up new relationships and a sense of community for her.
2. Actively recall positive events from your life
Most of us live amazingly fortunate lives — you’re reading this article right now on some kind of personal internet-connected device, and the fact that you’re working on improving your psychological wellbeing means your hierarchy of needs below, like food and shelter, that have probably been met.
You have positive experiences in your life.
It may feel a little twee to imagine that just thinking about the good times can make you feel better, but it’s true. This study from 2017 demonstrates that recalling positive events in your life acts as a buffer against acute stress and has a direct neurological impact on people. Try to set yourself up for success here by not only recalling previous events but also keeping a running list of meaningful moments — a birthday party, a walk with your partner, a particularly successful business meeting. By maintaining an ever-growing tally, it’s easier to rely on this list in stressful times when you might find it tougher to bring the lighter moments to mind.
3. Cultivate your sense of mindful curiosity
When you feel in control of your life, you feel happier — more settled, and less at the whims of the universe. Simply by cultivating your mindful curiosity, you can take the first steps in achieving that sense of control. The best way to do this is to pay attention to not just who and what is around you, but also your own thoughts and feelings in relation to your environment. It may sound silly, but by getting to know yourself, the way you think and feel, you’ll be empowered to feel more in control of your actions. You’ll understand more about why you feel happy, sad, lonely, or jealous at particular prompts from your environment.
This 2016 study reveals that external reminders pave the way to promoting curiosity and decentering — separating your true self from your thoughts — through metacognitive self-reflection. In the case of this one study , a mobile app was used as a tool for the reminders, but whatever tool you like can be equally effective.
It’s true that you can’t control your surroundings — only the way you react to them. But even that can feel out of reach sometimes. By mindfully reflecting on your body’s reactions, thoughts that pass through your mind and the environmental triggers to them, you’ll get to know yourself better and begin to connect the dots of cause and effect to your psychological wellbeing.
4. Take steps to identify and diminish loneliness
Even in the best of circumstances, being surrounded by other people isn’t enough — it’s imperative to actively form deep connections. And these are not the best of times. This is worse than you think — according to this 2019 study, “Loneliness (i.e., feeling alone) and social isolation (i.e., being alone) are among the most robust known risk factors for poor health and accelerated mortality.” How do you become less lonely? Honestly, it’s tough — simply connecting with others on social media is a start, but people who rely on it run the risk of feeling like they’re connected with their peers, while actually maintaining only very shallow, tenuous connections.
Deep connections with your friends, family and loved ones are the only type of social interaction that will allow you to offset the cost of loneliness in your life.
Instead of using social media as a prop, I suggest my clients use it as a reminder. When you see an update or notification from a friend or family member you haven’t spoken with in a while, let that act as a nudge to call them or set up an in-person meeting, if it’s safe to do so.
That way you can deepen your relationships while using the tools you already have at your disposal.
5. Accept and unpack your emotions
This step to achieve better psychological wellness is hard, because many of us have spent years building the opposite habit. And it is so much easier to bury, deny or avoid unpleasant emotions. Aside from the fact that using unhealthy coping mechanisms can be actively harmful (e.g. drinking, drugs, mindless entertainment), it’s healthier to accept and resolve emotions rather than dodging them. Similarly to mindful curiosity, accepting emotions puts you back in the driver’s seat of your own life.
One of the most straightforward strategies to learn to accept your emotions is an old-fashioned pen and paper. Research from Harvard Medical School suggests writing about emotions can ease stress and trauma. The individuals from the study who wrote about emotional events experienced physical and mental benefits, compared to those who wrote only about trivial matters.
Next time you find yourself feeling a strong emotion, try expressive writing to identify the root cause and lay out your feelings in a controlled way.
Do the work
Improving psychological wellness will make you feel good and function effectively. Especially in times like these, it’s hard to overstate how amazing it would be just to experience that state. The good news is it’s entirely in your hands. Even though there will always be a reason to ignore your psychological wellbeing — work, the political climate, trouble at home — by prioritizing your wellness first, you empower yourself to cope with everything else that comes your way.
These five strategies are proven to work, but nobody will do them for you. Take your psychological wellbeing into your own hands to improve your quality of life. Finding purpose, recalling positive life events, cultivating curiosity, diminishing loneliness, and accepting all your emotions are a good place to start, but these will hopefully be the first steps on your journey to improving your personal wellness