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May 2, 2022

Strength Training for Thriving: How to Build our Mental Health Muscles

As mental health awareness grows, Pamela King reflects on the tools we need to live coherent, purposeful lives.

Photo by: Dan Meyer on Unsplash

I have been reflecting on the hidden issues that ongoing global events have unmasked over the last several years. May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and concerns about mental health have grown to crisis proportion with teenagers experiencing a variety of mental health concerns, and suicide becoming the fourth largest cause of death among 15-29 year olds. What was once a fringe issue is now a main-stream issue. More and more people are coming into the light with their struggles.  

Recognizing the Need for Help

People often assume that thriving is only about being upbeat and vital. However, thriving is a holistic endeavor—one that demands leaning in and tending to our vulnerabilities. Addressing those vulnerabilities provides us with profound opportunities to experience the fullness of our humanity, encounter love, and eventually grow through challenges. Being honest and unmasking our deepest selves is part of thriving.

We are currently facing an alarming number of people with depression. When depressed, we are less energetic and motivated to pursue spiritual practices and meaningful connections with others. We need those to thrive. Consequently, those who suffer from depression need support. Record numbers are now looking for mental health services and support. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 11.3% of adults regularly experience feelings of worry, nervousness, or anxiety and about 350 million people in the world suffer from depression. Peer-to-peer support has been shown to be very effective for people experiencing acute emotional pain. These types of programs are becoming increasingly available today as other mental health providers continue to struggle to meet the demand for care.

Identifying the Tools We Need

Two of my biggest takeaways from recent events are that (1) things change and will continue to change, and (2) life is transient and requires us to be resilient. Thriving requires agility. For many of us, the major disruptions of the last two years have challenged our abilities to re-frame, adapt to changes, and positively move forward. The suffering has been real. The loss has been profound. How do we move forward? For some, the help of licensed professionals will continue to be necessary. For others, seeking the support of family, friends, or those with shared experiences will greatly help. For many of us, taking small steps, engaging in intentional practices, and making active decisions will move us into the open. I am struck by how necessary it is for all people to identify and add tools to their toolkits in order to support their own mental, emotional, and spiritual health. A thriving mindset is not only an invitation, but imperative. Just like taking care of the body helps fight off disease, so does developing and maintaining the “muscles” that contribute to managing emotions and understanding ourselves and others.

Fuller Psychological and Family Services (FPFS)

FPFS is Fuller Seminary’s on-site community clinic, offering high-quality mental health counseling and therapy. For more information or to book an appointment, please visit their website or contact them at 626-584-5555.

Strengthening Our Thriving “Muscles”

In spite of circumstances, it is possible to thrive. Our research has found that religion and spirituality provide many resources for our wellbeing and thriving (e.g., values, meaning, and social connections), and are linked to better life outcomes (e.g., higher rates of graduation, happiness, and purposeful living[1]). Spiritual and religious practices foster positive emotions, such as hope, peace, gratitude, joy, awe, and love. Deliberate practices can also cultivate empathy, compassion, and the motivation to seek meaningful connections. When we cultivate feelings of joy, hope, and love within ourselves and through our relationships with God and others, we develop the “muscles” that help us thrive.

Our “5 B’s” framework at the Thrive Center highlights the modes in which we can actively develop our thriving “muscles” through the body, beliefs, belonging, beauty, and beyond the self. Spiritual practices are especially well-suited to connect us to our bodies, help us clarify our beliefs, provide us with a sense of belonging, help us cultivate a deeper awareness of beauty, and offer us something beyond ourselves.

Living Coherent, Purposeful Lives

In this constantly changing world world, unmasking mental health opens us to the possibility of sharing our experiences and helping others. Having daily spiritual practices can help us grow and connect with others. The telos (or ultimate goal) of thriving is to live coherent, purposeful lives that are aligned to and fully engaged in God’s ongoing work in the world. This month, we invite you to reflect on mental health and practice one of the “5 B’s” to strengthen your thriving “muscles.” Take the opportunity to see yourself and others more clearly–in the full complexity of who you are and who they are. Take small steps through daily practices, and build habits that root you in love, joy, and hope–for these yield the type of thriving that contributes to a flourishing world.


[1] To learn more about the nature and function of religion and spirituality on human development, please see our “Spiritual Exemplars” research study.

Pamela Ebstyne King Executive Director, Peter L. Benson Professor of Applied Developmental Science


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