I am very passionate about the area of mental fitness. It’s a critical life skill and I think it needs to be taught in primary and secondary schools as much as reading, writing and arithmetic! The type of mental fitness I am talking about is not related to brain fitness to ward off Alzheimer’s or dementia. No, the mental fitness I am talking about is the life skills associated with our emotional lives.
Proactively putting in mental fitness steps for some will prevent the development of stress related emotional difficulties – depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, panic attacks etc. I call this area the ‘Red Zone’. Being in the ‘Red Zone’ with some mental fitness skills means that you will spend less time in there. Indeed with mental fitness you will become aware if are in the ‘Amber Zone’ and have the skills to get back into the healthy ‘Green Zone’ where you are living with passion, vigour and excited.
We all know that regular physical exercise is important so it’s time to put some mental fitness too on your agenda so that you are living with wellness and quality. If the foundations blocks to physical health are nutrition, rest, cardio and strength training you may ask what are the foundation blocks to emotional health. I propose they include the following
- How to communicate and relate to ourselves and others
- How to cope with powerful emotions
- Build resilience to manage stress
- How to accept and nourish our body and our minds
- How to be mindful and stay in the present
The Power of Relationships
Life is about relationships. Think about it, what causes you the greatest distress in life generally it’s when relationships breakdown with family, friends or work colleagues. Equally the relationship you have with yourself is critical. Do you think you are unlovable, worthless, helpless scared or flawed. Mental fitness gives you the tools to challenge your core beliefs and allows you to tackle low self-esteem so you believe you are lovable, fearless, self-reliant, worthwhile and contented. Imagine and practice your inner voice as a coach and not as a critic. What would your encouraging coach say?
How to cope with powerful emotions
We all get powerful emotions but some people struggle when they are negative. Suicide in Ireland on a daily basis acts like an earthquake in families – rupturing and ripping – such that the grief and pain is both physical and emotional. Mental fitness tools help us understand that every time we have a strong emotion its driven by an irrational thought that we can change. Try this next time you have a strong emotion. Ask yourself what am I feeling? What am I thinking? Stop, take a deep breath and ask yourself is there another way I can think about this? What would I say to a friend who had this thought? Will this really matter in 1 years’ time?
Bouncing back from adversity
Building resilience is key. Ways to do this is to develop
- An optimistic view of the world
- Volunteer and give back. See the connection and renewal associated with the Cycle against Suicide (www.cycleagainstsuicide.com) and The Darkness into Light Run (www.pieta.ie)
- Connect with something beyond the mityaterial world – be it spirituality, faith or prayer
- Find meanings and passions and fill your life with them.
- Learn to laugh at yourself.
Be Your Real Self
Be Your Real Self. Accept who you are. Put your energy into yourself not into a social mask which will only leave you unhappy. In my practice I see too many people who neglect their real self. Believe me you deserve a life of contentment, authenticity and happiness.
Mindfulness a key skill of mental fitness
Mindfulness is the practice of Being in the present. The skill of meditation is at the heart of mindfulness. This skill can be introduced into the primary school cycle and reinforced in secondary school. Taking this on board would allow for a more relaxed, emotionally intelligent contented child and teenager. If depression is about being stuck in a negative past and stress and anxiety is about being anxious about the future, mindfulness is about now. The Present it’s the best gift we can give.
Practical tips to practice mental fitness:
- Power Moments make a log of the great emotions in your life – That is those times when you were at your best, at home, at school, with friends, etc
- Exercise– Take regular exercise, it improves psychological well-being and can reduce depression and anxiety. Joining a local walking or athletics club it connects you with new people sharing a common goal.
- Take up a new hobby– Take up a new hobby every 3 years. It can bring pleasure and balance in your life.
- Set personal goals– Make them short and medium term goals e.g. read a book, learn to play bridge, call a friend instead of waiting for the phone to ring. Whatever goal you set, reaching it will build confidence and a sense of satisfaction.
- Learn to laugh at yourself – Life often gets too serious, so when you hear or see something that makes you smile or, share it with someone you know. A little humour can go a long way to keeping us mentally fit!
- Volunteer– I have heard Volunteering being called the “win-win” activity because helping others makes us feel good about ourselves.
- Learn to Treat yourself well– See yourself as important and your needs as important. Whatever you chose to do, do it just for you.
Mental fitness is a pre-emptive building block to tackling and addressing some of our nation’s oldest challenges and central to our requirements for new conversations about our emotional wellbeing and (mental) health.
If you have a query that you would like me to address please email me in strictest confidence on [email protected] Unfortunately Dr. Eddie cannot respond individually to these emails but will address them in his article.