5 important skills linked to greater physical and mental health

Boost Wellbeing

Many of us are looking for a simple answer or quick fix to improve our physical and mental wellbeing.  However, new research shows that a combination of life skills, which can be learned and built upon, may be key for reducing risk of depression and enhancing wellbeing into older age.

A study by Steptoe and Wardle (2017) examined 8000 participants over the age of 52 years old.  The findings of the study link 5 important life skills with a variety of benefits, including lower levels of depression, greater social connectedness, greater levels of subjective wellbeing, greater physical health in older adults and greater economic success.

The authors of the study outline that the combination of these five factors and can lead to greater wellbeing:

  • Concientiousness
  • Optimism
  • Emotional Stability
  • Sense of Personal Control
  • Determination

No one factor alone can account for the benefits outlined in the study, but instead an accumulation of the aforementioned life skills is important.  The authors suggest “fostering and maintaining these skills in adult life may be relevant for health and wellbeing at older ages.”

Individuals with the lowest rates of the five skills had a 23% rate of depression.  Those with the highest amounts of the skills, had a rate of just 3% who suffered from depression.

The good news is, is that if you feel you could improve in some of the skills mentioned above, these things can all be developed and built on.

Here are some simple tips I’ve put together to help you to increase these important skills:

  • Conscientiousness – if you’re not someone who is naturally conscientious, this can be a broad area to try and improve.  Focus on a small area at a time – for example, improving your punctuality by planning ahead the night before…or creating a plan or list of tasks that you’re going to complete the next day. Remember when planning, to be realistic about what you can achieve in a day so you don’t run the risk of overcommitting, then feeling you haven’t accomplished your goals.
  • Optimism – If you tend to see things from a pessimistic viewpoint, you may have a tendency to attribute good things to external successes, and bad things to internal, permanent causes….but this can be changed.  Reflect on a recent success or positive event in your life, and write down what you did that contributed to that success.  If you’re feeling doubtful or pessimistic about an event in the future, try asking others for their unique perspective, to help you to gain a more balanced view of the situation.
  • Emotional Stability – Practising mindfulness may be a simple way to improve your emotional stability.  Regular practice of mindfulness has been linked to improving mood fluctuations and having better control over mood throughout the day (see study here!!).  If you’re interested in practising some simple mindfulness mediations, try downloading a mindfulness app, such as Smiling Mind or Calm.
  • Sense of Control – If you’re feeling like life is often out of control, try setting yourself a small goal where you can measure and assess your progress.  Keeping a log of your baseline behaviours, then recording and monitoring your successes can be a great way of helping you to feel in control and to improve your self regulation.  It could be learning a new skill, or making a lifestyle change such as increasing your exercise or changing your diet.  Reflect on the hand work and effort that you put in to help make your goal a success.
  • Determination – Once you’ve set yourself a goal, aim to persevere, and avoid changing goals too soon.  Try and persevere and stick to the task you’ve set yourself.  If you set yourself a regular time to devote to your goal, you’re more likely to stick with it.

Would you try these tips?  Do you excel in any of these skill areas, or are there specific areas you feel you need improvement in?

If you’re finding that any of the skills mentioned above are holding you back, speak with your GP for a referral to a psychologist in your local area, or contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 (Australia only) for 24/7 telephone counselling support.


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