As a psychotherapist and the author of books on mental strength, I often hear people confuse mental strength with mental health.

And it's no wonder why. We live in a culture that values the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality. For decades, anyone who felt depressed or struggled with anxiety was thought to be "weak."

And anyone who appeared emotionally stable (or one who didn't show any emotions at all) were thought to be the strong ones.

Fortunately, our understanding of mental illness has increased. And we now understand that the factors that influence mental health aren't 100 percent within our control. Genetics, past life experiences, and biology play a major role in how likely you are to develop a mental health problem. And those factors have nothing to do with how strong you are.

While building mental strength can help improve your mental health, it doesn't guarantee you won't ever develop a mental illness.

What Is Mental Strength?

Mental strength is about the way you think, feel, and behave. Here's what that means:

  • Thoughts - Being strong involves reframing unproductive or exaggeratedly negative thoughts. It's not just about thinking positive--it's about training your brain to think realistically.
  • Feelings - Mental strength is about knowing how to manage your emotions. Sometimes, that means allowing yourself to embrace uncomfortable emotions, rather than escape them. At other times, it's about knowing how to proactively change your emotional state.
  • Behavior - Becoming mentally strong involves taking productive action despite your circumstances.

There are exercises you can do to increase your mental strength. Practicing gratitude, labeling your emotions, and challenging your negative thoughts are just a few examples.

Mental Strength Is Like Physical Strength

If you think about mental health the same way you think about physical health, the distinction between mental strength and mental health becomes clearer.

If you wanted to become physically strong, you'd need to lift weights. Lifting weights would build your muscles but it doesn't guarantee you won't ever get a physical health issue. You might develop high blood pressure or diabetes even though you're working out regularly.

If you developed a physical illness, no one would think you were a loser for getting sick.

Mental health and mental strength can be explained in a similar fashion. Mental strength is a choice--it involves purposely taking steps to challenge yourself and develop mental muscle.

But, no matter how strong you become, mental muscles can't always safeguard against mental illness.

Why Should You Care About Becoming Mentally Strong?

So if mental strength doesn't offer a guaranteed buffer against mental illness, why should you care about it? Well, it's the key to reaching your greatest potential.

You need mental strength to develop healthier self-talk. You also need it to manage your emotions and to perform at your peak. It helps you become the best version of yourself.

Everyone possesses mental strength to an extent. But no matter how strong you are, there's always room for improvement.