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When was the last time you stopped to evaluate your mental strength? It’s an important part of your overall wellness—one we often neglect, especially as young Black men. It’s time to take a closer look at what it means to be mentally strong and what you can do to get there. When you begin taking steps to improve your mental fortitude, you’ll see for yourself just how valuable it is.
First things first: mental strength is an enormous component of mental health, but it isn’t the only part of being mentally healthy. You can have a mental illness diagnosis, like depression or anxiety, while also being mentally strong (especially when your condition is well controlled). Your mental toughness is all about self-awareness and self-confidence, resilience, and the ability to handle whatever challenges life throws your way. It’s also about practicing self-acceptance and being kind to yourself even when things don’t go as planned.
Does all this sound like you—or is this unfamiliar territory? Unfortunately, even in 2021, talking about our mental and emotional health is stigmatized. As a society, we’re overdue for an attitude adjustment about mental wellness and self-care. It’s high time we learned to speak more openly about our thoughts, feelings, and moods and how we can improve our mental strength. Knowledge is power, and in this case, it can help us to improve our self-esteem, work toward building resilience, and enjoy positive emotions more frequently.
I feel like I need to be honest, and speak candidly here—or else it wouldn’t be authentically me. As young Black men, we’re especially reticent to discuss our mental states. This is due in large part to us believing that others will perceive us as weak if we talk openly about our emotions. If we can be brave enough to speak up and make vulnerability commonplace, we can make it safer and easier for others to do the same. As a united community, we can end the shame surrounding mental and emotional health issues by making these conversations the nucleus of true change. We’re all in this together, and no one should ever feel alone. Vulnerability, in this instance, is the ultimate strength.
It’s easier to navigate life when you find someone who is in the same place you are—but finding that person can be a challenge. That’s why I want to encourage anyone reading this to be brave in revealing what’s going on inside of your mind. When you have the guts to speak up, you’ll be amazed at how quickly other people will empathize with your experiences and share their own.
Changing your outlook requires more than merely thinking positive thoughts. Let’s explore the habits of mentally strong people and how those behaviors can improve our own mental and emotional wellness.
1. Practice mindfulness
If you’ve never experienced mindfulness meditation before, now is a great time to give it a try. Mindfulness exercises are simple behaviors that quiet your brain and bring you back to the present moment. If you struggle with persistent negative thoughts, meditating can help you to learn to direct your attention to calmer and happier places. Its benefits include reduced stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as better sleep and lower blood pressure. Do you want to get started? Check out these helpful mindfulness tips, which you can incorporate into your life as soon as today.
2. Stay physically healthy
Your physical and mental health go hand-in-hand. That’s why it’s so important to eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and get a good night’s sleep. Aim for at least five days of exercise per week, with a minimum of thirty minutes per day. If you’re pressed for time or aren’t a gym person, try going for a brisk walk on your lunch hour or after work. When you’re exercising for mental health, it’s important that you find an activity you really enjoy. You might also ask your doctor if using a mood-boosting supplement, like Onnit New Mood, is a good choice for you.
3. Write in a journal
Here’s another way to boost your mental strength: try writing in a self-affirmation journal. A self-affirmation journal is a safe place to reflect on who you are, what you’re all about, and where you want to go. It’s a great way to practice speaking kindly about yourself and to remember all the good you bring to the world around you. You can purchase a journal with helpful self-esteem prompts or use a plain notebook and these free prompts. Keep in mind that there’s no right or wrong way to do this—whatever helps you to practice self-acceptance and celebrate your achievements is perfect for you.
4. Ask for help when you need it
I know it’s not easy to reach out and ask for help, but sometimes it’s necessary. If you haven’t been feeling your best, it’s smart to seek support from the caring people in your life. It could be as simple as venting your fears and frustrations to a friend or asking your boss for an extension on a work deadline. Or, if you’ve been feeling unwell for some time, you might need to check in with your general practitioner or a mental health specialist. In any case, you aren’t weak for asking for help when you need it. As a matter of fact, admitting that you could use some emotional support and empathy means you’re strong and self-aware.
5. Find your people
Speaking of friends, life is so much better with good people by your side. Remember that we’re all on this journey together and that leaning on one another is how we survive and thrive. When you find friends who really understand you, support you and champion you, you want to hold onto them for dear life. And while it isn’t always easy to make new friends as an adult, it’s still possible. Wherever you find your people—at work, at school, at the gym, or on a digital app—you should make them a priority. Your friendships can improve your self-esteem and help you to meet life’s challenges head-on.
6. Train your subconscious
Once I figured out how to reprogram my subconscious mind, it did wonders for my mental strength and overall mental health. I’m huge on fitting autosuggestion, visualization, and daily-affirmations into your routine. Using myself as an example, in order to train and reframe my subconscious, I repeat this phrase to myself 20 times in the morning when I wake up, and 20 times at night before I go to sleep: “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.” Along with gratitude journaling, I visualize my goals and imagine that I can see, touch, and feel the end result of me achieving them. My favorite books on the subconscious and these daily philosophies are Think And Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior by Leonard Mldinow.
As you may have guessed, mental strength isn’t developed overnight, but we can all take steps to improve. Just like our biceps, triceps, hamstrings and quads, our brain is a muscle—and the most important one that we have. Without aligning ourselves mentally, we won’t get the most out of ourselves physically. As you spend more time and energy on building your self-esteem and sense of resilience, be patient with yourself. Every small choice or change you make is an excellent step in the right direction. Because at the end of the day, small steps equal great distances. Now let’s take those first few steps.
When you think of self-love what do you think of? Bubble baths, walks on the beach, facemasks, or what? Self-love can mean so many different things but when we think about self-love, we have to acknowledge loving ourselves both on the outside and on the inside. The way that we show ourselves love is one of the most important things we will ever do.
How do we treat ourselves? How do we talk to ourselves? What foods are we putting into our bodies? How are we thinking about our overall well-being when practicing self-love?
As self-love defines and redefined itself for you over the years, here are a few foundational tips to think about when easing into your self-love journey.
Don’t we love this one? Loving ourselves has a lot to do with the boundaries that we have for ourselves, with others, and for others. Take time to think about your own emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual needs when setting boundaries that reflect your personal needs. Boundaries don’t have to be big and scary; they are here to remind us that you get to have your lived experience and still have expectations about how you’d like to be treated and what you’d like to feel.
When thinking about your boundaries, ask yourself:
In a world where perfectionism and curated existences have been rewarded, begin to cultivate compassion for yourself. You are a soul having a human experience and it’s totally okay if things are not perfect.
Mindfulness exercises such as Breathwork, self-care activities, and self-compassion, all help train the mind, emotions, and even the body’s stress chemicals to be able to deal with undesired situations. Self-compassion means, can you be nice to yourself? Can you find empathy and kindness for yourself in the middle of what feels chaotic, stressful, or unwanted? Self-compassion means that we get to make mistakes, have our plans not work out the way that we wanted, and we still get to celebrate that we are doing the best that we can and it is enough.
When thinking about self-compassion, ask yourself:
In every sense of the word “nourishment”, begin to learn what nourishes you and what depletes you. Nourishment doesn’t just mean food for yourself; it means that whatever you are consuming whether it be media, podcasts, people, energy, information, etc. all impact the way that we think, feel, and experience life.
Nourishing yourself definitely goes right along the lines of having your boundaries intact and practicing self-compassion.
When thinking about nourishment, ask yourself:
That’s it. Those are the foundational steps to cultivating a self-love practice that you can ease into your daily routine. Come back to these questions often, because like anything else, self-love is a practice and it takes effort, time, and intention to maintain.