Mental Health 101: Understanding Your Own Mental Health


, by Sarah Broadhead

Photography by: Felix/

Why is it important to understand your own mental health? Our brains and bodies are inextricably linked, so if you feel good mentally you are more likely to want to be active. You will have more energy for training and performing and will get more enjoyment from the activities you do. In short, being mentally healthy helps us to show up consistently.

Mental health is a vast and complex topic so it can be tricky to know where to start when it comes to understanding your own mental health. Let’s begin by defining what it means to be mentally healthy. The charity MIND describes good mental health as being generally able to think, feel, and react in ways that you need and want to live your life.

Mental health can be thought of as being on a continuum, with good mental health - or thriving - at one end, and poor mental health at the other. What influences where we are on this continuum and what can we do to improve it? There are 3 areas that we can explore:

Biological factors

Firstly, there are the biological foundations needed to function well mentally as a human. These include sleep, nutrition, light exposure, and movement. If these are not tended to regularly, good mental health is harder to achieve. It is important to rule out with a medical professional any physical issues that may present as mental issues - for example, thyroid issues can result in anxiety.

Movement and natural light are essential for maintaining mental health. Photography by: baranq

Exposure to natural light as soon as possible after waking helps set our circadian rhythm, improving sleep and mood. A ten-minute walk or drinking your morning coffee outside will help with this one! Moving at regular intervals during the day if we have a sedentary job is also important in improving mood. Getting these foundations right will help you have the energy and enthusiasm to be active regularly.

Psychological factors

Secondly, there are psychological factors that influence our mental health. This covers aspects such as our personality, emotional development, coping strategies, patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving, and our identity and purpose.

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We all see and interact with the world in our unique way. Sometimes our personality and patterns help us to navigate the world and sometimes they become unhelpful. For example, wanting things to be perfect can help drive improvements but often perfectionism as a trait is linked to mental health difficulties and burnout. Perfectionism refers to someone who refuses to accept anything short of perfection, which is often an unrealistic or undefined standard. Perceived failure to reach this standard can cause distress. Cultivating new ways to assess performance and asking ‘Did I do the best I could under the circumstances and what can I learn from this experience’ can help tackle perfectionist thoughts. Learning to manage these types of thoughts can help you enjoy your sport more and often performances improve when we stop beating ourselves up.

The charity MIND describes good mental health as being generally able to think, feel, and react in ways that you need and want to live your life.

Keeping a journal where you write down your thoughts and feelings can help you notice patterns and identify what might be influencing your mood. Awareness is the first step in making a change.

Social factors

Finally, there are social and environmental factors that influence our mental health. Humans are social beings with a need to feel love and acceptance. The people we spend time with at home and work play a huge role in our mental state, with healthy relationships and interactions bolstering our mental health. When we are struggling with our mental health, we can end up avoiding people and isolating ourselves when this is the opposite of what we need.

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Consider how much time you spend with loved ones and people who give you a mental boost. How much time and effort do you put into your relationships? When you find things difficult in life do you spend time with other people or retreat? Training or competing with others can give us joy and help us improve our performances so being aware of changes in our levels of social interaction is a key sign to look out for.

Photography by: Haas/

Our mental health on any given day will be a result of a combination of factors. Taking time to assess the biological, psychological, and social factors is a great place to start to help you understand and improve your mental health. In turn this will help you to be consistently active and enjoy your sport.

We can all have days when we are finding things hard mentally but if you are experiencing thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that are causing distress and suffering for long periods and your normal ways of coping are not working it is important to ask for help.

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