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  • Writer's pictureAmy Holder

The Difference Between Mental Strength and Mental Health

“Mental strength is not just hoping that nothing ever goes wrong. It is believing that we have the capacity to handle it if it does.” - Brianna Wiest

Mental strength and mental health are sometimes used interchangeably but they're not the same thing. The easiest way to compare mental health and mental strength is by comparing the differences between physical health and physical strength:

Physical strength may indeed be improved with building bigger muscles, but bigger muscles don’t always mean that you’ll never have to deal with a physical health issue, such as high cholesterol. A physical health issue may make it more difficult to workout at the gym, however, you can still choose ways of exercising that help build physical strength, even if you have a physical health issue.

There are exercises you can do to build your mental strength which can, in turn, improve your mental health. And better mental health makes it easier to grow your mental strength.

Mental Health Definition

Mental Health refers to the presence or absence of mental health issues. It includes our emotional, social, and psychological well-being and it affects our cognition (thoughts) and behavior. When our mental health becomes imbalanced, the way we think and behave can change significantly, and it can also affect our environment.

The main factors that impact our mental health are biology (neurological, endocrine, and genetic processes), experiences in life, and family history. Our lifestyle and how well we take care of ourselves are also important factors as well.

Mental Strength Definition

There are several characteristics of mental strength, but it mostly refers to one's resilience. It can be defined as determination (to finish something), persistence (even when things are not going well), focus (even under pressure), or refusal to be intimidated. Some also refer to this as mental toughness.

Besides these cognitive aspects, mental strength also involves the dimension of emotional and social intelligence, the ability to recognize and manage one’s emotions, as well as proper assessment of one’s environment: knowing when to react and when to step back, when to engage in an emotional process and when to let go, and so on.

According to the author Amy Morin, there are three important elements of mental strength. Let's briefly review them.

Three Elements to Mental Strength

These three elements are involved with building mental strength.


This refers to the ability to think realistically. Our fantasies and daydreams are often pleasant, but in order to put them in to action, we need to be rational. Being rational simply means doing the right thing in a given context. It means differentiating between the realistic and unrealistic and making a decision. It’s also about speaking to yourself with kindness. So when you’re tempted to be overly critical of yourself, mental strength allows you to respond with self-compassion.


Mental strength does not involve suppressing your emotions or denying pain. Instead, it’s about acknowledging how you feel. Mentally strong people accept that life encompasses both joyful and painful emotions/experiences. Although people who suppress their emotions may seem strong, that is only a facade. Mental strength supports processing feelings and awareness over hiding and escapism.


Mental strength is about taking productive action. Deciding to skip out on your routine when there’s no real reason for it, or being overly indecisive in certain situations, are signs of lacking mental strength. Mental toughness means daring to take meaningful action, but also practicing self-care and knowing what’s good for you.

How to Build Mental Strength

Absolutely anybody has the capability of building mental strength. Increasing your mental muscles takes exercise, in the same way as increasing your physical muscles does. Increasing mental strength can, in turn, improve your mental health. There are lots of exercises that will help to build your mental strength; below are some of the more basic ones to help you get started.

Cognitive Exercises

Cognitive exercises are those strategies that help you think differently. This could include any exercise that helps you think more positively, reframe negative thoughts, or develop a more realistic mindset. Here are some examples of healthy cognitive exercises:

  • Write in a gratitude journal: When thinking shifts from negative to positive, there is a surge of feel-good chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. These all contribute to the feelings of closeness, connection and happiness that come with gratitude.

  • Be your own best friend: People are often harder on themselves than they are on their friends. So try to talk to yourself with the same compassion and empathy that you would give to your friends.

  • Argue the opposite: When you are thinking and convincing yourself that everything will go wrong, try to think the opposite, that everything could go right. Uncertainty goes both ways - surprises can be positive and negative. The important thing is keeping a balanced perspective.

Emotional Exercises

These exercises are methods that will enhance your self-awareness of your emotional state. Emotional exercises could help you to notice when your emotions are helpful or not. They could support you in noticing ideas that can help to reduce the intensity of your feelings. Or, they could help you to comprehend uneasy feelings. Some examples of emotional exercises are:

  • Label your feelings: Numerous studies have shown that labeling your emotions often reduces the intensity of the emotion. This can help you think more logically and get a better perspective on the problems or emotions you're dealing with.

  • Practice healthy coping skills: Instead of only focusing on negative emotions, you can take a walk, give yourself a pep talk, or read a book you enjoy. This isn't an attempt to avoid or ignore your feelings, but it can help to alleviate some of your painful emotions.

  • Take deep breaths: Deep breathing exercises can help reduce anxiety and alleviate tension from your body and mind. There are many helpful breathing techniques including 4-7-8 breathing, box breathing, alternate nostril breathing and belly breathing to name a few.

Behavioral Exercises

Growing mental strength is also about gaining better control over your behavior. This means knowing why, when, and what you are doing. Behavioral exercises are all about gearing your behavior towards things that benefit you and moving away from things that are wasting your time and energy.

  • Schedule positive activities: Positive activities boost our self-esteem, confidence, and bring us a positive outlook on life. Allocating time for positivity can mean engaging in a new project such as volunteering at the local community kitchen, but it can also mean smaller things such as enjoying a good book after dinner, meeting up with a friend, or simply preparing and enjoying your favorite meal.

  • Engage in hobbies: Our hobbies are important to living healthy, meaningful lives. These may simply be for pleasure, or they may connect more deeply to our values. Whether it's taking pictures or baking, hobbies can bring a sense of accomplishment that can help you feel good about yourself.

  • Make time for yourself: Mentally strong people don’t fear being alone. They are able to allocate and enjoy their solitude. Learning how to be alone and okay, you are enhancing your mental strength as well as learning who you really are as a person.

Take Away Message

Mental strength doesn’t mean that you never cry, complain, or express doubt. Being mentally strong, or mentally tough simply means being able to resist both internal and external influences that weaken your self-confidence and well-being. Your mental strength or resiliency can affect everything from motivation and relationships to performance, decision-making and productivity.

It's important to remember that mental strength doesn’t require you to be:

  • Indifferent (“tough” people often are afraid of their emotions, while mentally strong people embrace them)

  • Self-reliant (mentally strong people are often aware of the essential people in their lives)

  • Always happy (this can lead to toxic positivity!)

It's never too late to learn strategies to help you build mental strength. Working with a therapist may be a great way to get started - just like you might work with a personal trainer to help you build physical strength. An experienced therapist will consider your specific needs and apply proven approaches to help you. Growth usually doesn’t occur in a simple, straight path but unfolds through a process of trial and error over time. Therapy can help you pace and track this process.

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