Mental health is so much more than merely the absence of mental illness. Broadly, it describes your general state of emotional wellbeing, which lies at the foundation of all the decisions you take, the relationships you build and the life you lead. Anyone can suffer from mental or emotional health problems, and chances are that most of us will do so at some point.

So, what can you do to ensure that you become (and remain) mentally strong and resilient to cope with the stresses of life, as well as be able to consistently make good decisions for yourself? Let’s take a look at the 5 key steps to building good mental health.

1. Social connections

Strong personal relationships are the bedrock of your mental wellbeing. Whether in the family, among friends or at work, your social network should imbue you with a sense of belonging and self-worth, where you can share positive experiences and rely on emotional support when you need it. Make sure you prioritise spending time with those closest to you. From daily evening meals with the family to regular nights out with your mates, it’s all part of leading a healthy, enjoyable life. Go further and perhaps arrange an occasional spa day for the girls — here’s a good example — or volunteer for a local conservation project — here are some good ideas — and reap the benefits of your network of social connections.

2. Physical activity

Exercise makes you feel better, both physically and mentally — this is not news. It’s the endorphins released through physical activity that trigger a positive feeling in the body. Regular exercise can help you stay physically fit and healthy, lowering the risk of a whole range of potential diseases including heart problems, diabetes and cancer. More than that, leading an active lifestyle can help you with goal setting and achieving, which in turn can help raise your self-esteem. Whether you go for daily runs, cycle to work, practise pilates or go to the gym, it’s all about finding something you enjoy doing and making it part of your life.

3. Self-development

Learning new skills can improve your mental health by boosting self-confidence and self-esteem. They can also help you build a sense of purpose. Whether you acquire academic qualifications or practical skills, pursue a new hobby, start a business or learn a language, there are many ways to bring new learning into your life. Try finding out about healthy eating and cooking something new, or take on more responsibilities at work, upcycle some furniture or write a blog. It doesn’t have to be a huge thing or take up too much time. The point is to expand your horizon and find something you can be passionate about. Then just do more of what you love.

4. Being present

Paying more attention to the present moment is a powerful way to stay connected to your thoughts and feelings, your body and the world around you. There are many ‘mindfulness’ exercises you can do to help you practise becoming more aware of being in the moment including guided meditations, breathing exercises or walking meditations. If you’re new to the concept, an easy introduction is the raisin exercise — here’s how to do it. See how much you notice when you really put your mind to it. Mindfulness can help you feel more in control of your emotions and enable you to understand yourself better. With practice, you can positively change the way you feel about life and how you approach challenges.

5. Giving to others

Research has shown that being kind to others and the act of ‘giving back’ has a powerful effect on your mental wellbeing. In addition to boosting social connectivity, it also provides a sense of purpose and self-worth and creates positive feelings of gratitude, reward and recognition. Giving, in all its forms, instils feelings of improved wellbeing. On an interpersonal level, you could offer your skills to help someone you know or give your time to friends or relatives who may be in need of support or company. In the wider community, you could join a political party, interest group or other organisation and make your contribution towards a better future.