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Check your well-being bandwidth using the PERMA model

Silhouettes of two people at sunrise sitting on chairs outside near a tree.

How strong is your cellphone connection? Is your internet working okay? We can usually instantly tell if either our cell service or the internet is not working well, and will try to fix the issue immediately. But are you doing the same for your mental health and well-being? Mental health and well-being are essentially our internal bandwidth and it is important to check that signal too.

Gallup reported in December 2021 that Americans are rating their mental health as “excellent” at a much lower rate. Their survey showed an all-time low of only 34% of individuals rating their mental health as “excellent” in 2020. It continues at that low in their November 2021 survey. The survey also showed that mental health ratings were lower among women and low-income earners. There is also increasing awareness of the impact of unspoken mental health challenges on working-class men.

What we are seeing in new research is not a complete surprise. Consider the challenges we have been dealing with — a worldwide pandemic, social and racial unrest, a growing war between Russia and Ukraine, loss of loved ones, loss of businesses, impacts of volatile weather patterns, and increased levels of burnout. As this has all come together, some individuals are dealing with grief that has been shoved aside. I think we need to check our bandwidth.

The PERMA model

Martin Seligman introduced the PERMA model for mental well-being in 1998 when he became president of the American Psychological Association. It creates a way for us to think about well-being through:

  • Positive Emotions
  • Engagement
  • Positive Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Accomplishments

Today we are going to use this model to do a bandwidth check on our own mental well-being.

The PERMA model for well-being, where P is positive emotions, E is engagement, R is positive relationships, M is meaning and A is accomplishment.

Positive Emotions

Recognizing our positive emotions does not mean being happy all the time. It actually brings attention to the fact that there are a wide variety of emotions that we can feel. Whether it is comfort, joy, curiosity, or peace, experiencing positive emotions can boost our well-being. For some, it is difficult to think about naming an emotion beyond happy or sad.

There are, however, many different emotions to choose. According to the 2017 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, we have 27 categories of emotions that we experience in different combinations and levels of intensity. To build your emotional literacy use Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions. Or share it with your children to help them become more comfortable with their feelings and the act of naming them.

  • What emotions have you experienced this week?
  • How are you feeling now?

Engagement

Engagement in this model does not mean how many groups you are involved with or the number of dinner invitations you have this week. Rather, it encourages us to consider the tasks, activities, and work where we find flow. Finding these points of engagement means that you are using your strengths which boosts your overall performance and well-being.

  • How often do you find yourself in tasks where you feel challenged, and at the same time feel that you have the correct level of skill?
  • How often do you engage with work or tasks and time disappears because you become so immersed in it?

Positive Relationships

We are social creatures. Even those of us who are self-proclaimed introverts have discovered that the pandemic provided a little too much alone time. Our need for positive social connections with others is as important to our health and longevity as not smoking and eating a healthy diet. According to Matthew Lieberman, our need for social connection is more important than our need for food.

  • How long has it been since you met up with a friend for a visit?
  • Do you have a work “best friend” that can help you to navigate the stress of the day?

Meaning

Finding a purpose in your work and activities provides meaning to our daily lives. We have all gone into a chosen field or engaged in volunteer work for a reason. Connecting to that meaning and finding ways to remind yourself of it boosts your well-being.

  • What gives your life meaning today?
  • Have you spent time focusing on that activity or relationship in the last week? The last month?

Accomplishment

One of the ways that we are able to care for our well-being is by pausing to celebrate accomplishments, big or small. Why should we do this? Our brains and bodies need to complete a stress cycle. Engaging in something that brings laughter, physical activity, and affection among other things allows us to recognize that the immediate stress has passed and we can move out of our fight, flight, or freeze response.

Pausing for celebration allows for the building of social bonds and increases the social capital that our teams and communities depend upon during difficult times but are often strained the most.

  • What accomplishments have you celebrated lately?

Your well-being bandwidth assessment

How did you do? Is your signal strong? You may have discovered that you need to “reboot” your system. As hard as it might be to find time to take care of yourself, it is a necessity. Our "systems" don’t work if they are not maintained and cared for on a regular basis.

Resources for mental health and well-being

It is okay to not be okay. It is important to know when to seek out the help of family, friends, colleagues, and trained professionals. If you need help there are a variety of resources available:

Minnesota Farm and Rural Helpline is free, confidential and available 24/7. This call center is located in Minnesota. Calls are answered by trained staff and volunteers. If you or someone you know is struggling with stress, anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts — call. Sometimes it's easier to talk to someone you don't know. 1-833-600-2670 x 1

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