Advance with MUSC Health

Mental Health Wellness Month: 12 Prompts to Boost Well-Being in the New Year

Advance With MUSC Health
January 19, 2023
Dr. Alyssa Rheingold

Ask yourself these questions to consider and improve your mental wellness

“New Year, New You” is about much more than nutrition and exercise. And with Mental Wellness Awareness Month upon us, now is a perfect time to remind you that mental wellness is a big part of living your best life. But what is mental wellness, why is it important and how can you improve it?

The World Health Organization defines mental well-being as “a state of well-being 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.”

The definition does not include the word “happy” because mental wellness does not mean happiness, says Clinical Psychologist Alyssa Rheingold, who is director of the MUSC Health Mindfulness Center.

“It does not mean the absence of mental illness, either. It’s about general psychological well-being — how we think, how we handle life stressors, how we work with others, how we make choices,” she explains. “It’s also how we keep our cup filled.”

Good mental health means different things to different people. Rheingold created a 12-question checklist to help. “Everyone is different, so find what is meaningful and satisfying for you.”

Rheingold’s Checklist for Mental Wellness 

  1. Are you involved in things that give meaning and purpose? Doing things that matter to you can give you a sense of daily fulfillment. Clarify what’s important and represents your values. Working daily to uphold those values can help give you a sense of purpose and direction.

  2. Are you living in the present? Paying attention to the here and now can foster a greater sense of contentment.
  3. Do you take time to breathe? Pausing to breathe fully can regulate your body, help slow things down and improve focus and attention. “Taking just three minutes each day to focus on your breathing can clear your mind,” says Rheingold. “Try doing this when you first wake up or during a work break.” 

  4. Do you practice gratitude? Often, we go on autopilot and forget to notice what’s good and right. “Allow yourself to integrate gratitude as a daily practice, paying attention to things you’re grateful for during the day. This can reset how you perceive and approach your days,” says Rheingold. 

  5. Do you acknowledge your emotions and thoughts? “It’s important to our mental wellness that we notice all our thoughts — the good, the bad and the ugly,” says Rheingold. “Pushing negative feelings away doesn’t work. Creating space to notice all your thoughts can help you move through the difficult feelings.” 

  6. Do you move your body regularly? Try to exercise each day. Just a few minutes of walking or stretching your body daily can bolster mental fitness. 

  7. Do you eat healthy foods and drink plenty of water? Eating right gives you energy and improves mood. Drinking water keeps your body hydrated and affects mood, focus and memory. 

  8. Are you getting restful sleep? Sleep is a core essential for mental wellness. Sleep, or lack of it, can affect concentration, memory and mood. 

  9. Are you getting outdoors? Getting out in nature has been shown to lower stress and improve mood. “Even just 15 minutes a day outside, sitting on a porch, breathing in the fresh air, looking up at the sky and trees, can help,” says Rheingold.

  10. Are you challenging your mind and body? Learning and trying new things keeps us mentally fit. “A new food, a new game, a new place or route, a new hobby, even a new friend can stimulate your brain and add to mental wholeness.”

  11. Are you connected with others? Foster relationships with those around you. If you’re isolated or have limited social support, try joining a group or club. “It can be faith-based, social, athletic — such as a bridge or pickleball group. It’s best if you can connect in person, not just virtually.” 

  12. Are you seeking help when you need it? Mental wellness is about taking care of yourself. “Sometimes we need help,” says Rheingold. “It’s important to reach out and seek support when you need it, whether from a family member or friend, or from a professional.”

There is no single way or thing that will foster mental wellness, but a combination of many different things, explains Rheingold. MUSC Health and Wellness Institute offers coaching and guidance to help optimize mental wellness, including a Mindfulness Series with techniques to help improve your everyday quality of life. To learn more, call 843-985-0802.