Setting values to boost mental health

Michelle Velan, Founder of Wondersource

Do you know what your core values are? Knowing your core values can help with everything from boosting mental health to lowering stress to improving problem solving. Values and goals act like an inner compass that guide your decisions and actions as you navigate the questions and challenges of everyday life. They can keep you emotionally safe, smart and steady and they help to give your efforts and activities meaning. Examples of values people hold include integrity, love, a positive attitude, open-mindedness, adventure, courage, kindness and financial security. Values play a large role in the choices we make and the things we do.  When we value courage, we make sure to take the courageous step when faced with life decisions like applying for that job that may seem out of reach, asking that person out or agreeing to speak at that event even thought it’s far out of our comfort zone. When we value health, we are more conscientious in what we choose to eat, how much we exercise, incorporating tools to help us manage stress, to get enough sleep.

Here are just a few of the ways knowing your values can help you.

1: Values can help you reduce stress

Researchers at UCLA have discovered that reflecting on personal values can actually lower your stress response and keep it low. As PT blogger Ryan Niemiec explains here: “Research studies have shown that those who think about their highest values before a stressful event actually experience less stress and show a substantial decrease in the stress hormone, cortisol, compared to control groups.” One explanation: Focusing on your values reminds you of what’s really important and puts the stressor into perspective.

2: Connecting with your values boosts decision-making and problem-solving skills

If you’ve ever found it extra hard to concentrate or make decisions when under stress, you realize what many psychology studies have shown—stress impairs problem-solving ability. But there is a helpful solution! It involves your values.

A study by researcher David Creswell found that college students experiencing high stress were better able to figure out a creative problem-solving task under time pressure if they first wrote a few sentences about their most important values. When they identified and focused on their significant values, they were able to solve as many problems as students in a low-stress group. Knowing—and writing about—significant values turned out to be a protective factor against the harmful effects of excessive stress.

3: Values can help you act more assertively

It’s easier to be assertive when you are aware of what you stand for, and you are more likely to rise to your own defence when another person has violated your boundaries. For example, if you believe in “self-respect,” you will hear a warning bell when someone puts you down, speaks harshly to you, or does the same to others. You can then decide when and how to speak up. Values strengthen your backbone.

If you haven’t already, clearly defining your values will help guide you to live a more fulfilling life. It can be helpful to limit your number of values to 3-5 per quarter or something to that affect and update them when they don’t feel right anymore. 


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