What is your mental fitness routine?
What is your mental fitness routine?
The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. This means we have to proactively enhance our subjective well-being.
We tend to prioritize physical health (going to the gym, eating right, getting enough sleep), but mental health is just as – if not more – important.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so if you don’t have a mental fitness routine, here are a few tools to get you started:
1. Find joy and cultivate positive emotions.
When you experience joy (social connection, laughter, self-care, gratitude, etc.) you send a signal to your brain that you are safe. If you’re getting chased by a tiger or feel the need to defend yourself in a meeting, your brain is in a state of protection. This creates a chemical chain reaction that weakens your immune system and makes it more difficult to regulate emotion. Choosing joy has the unintended side effect of reducing stress, but it also sends a signal to your nervous system that it can come out of protection mode. As an added bonus, when we attune our attention to the good things, we find more of them.
2. Let yourself experience every emotion you feel, even the crappy ones.
Most of us don’t like to feel anxious, sad, or bored (this is why alcohol sales have increased tenfold since the beginning of the pandemic). But here’s the thing about emotions, they are nothing more than information. We are the ones who assign judgment, so while it might be tempting to numb the feeling, sit in it instead. Not dealing with the emotion only serves to increase the intensity and duration with which you feel it. Take a few deep breaths, observe what you are feeling, allow yourself to experience it, and then move on.
3. Adjust your expectations.
Much of our unhappiness comes because our expectations and reality are out of alignment. You are not supposed to be happy all of the time. If you didn’t have difficult, uncomfortable moments, you wouldn’t appreciate the delicious ones. When you experience a great moment, savor it. This embeds the experience into your neural mind map and literally changes your brain! On the flip side, it is okay not to feel okay. Expect that you will have difficult moments but recognize that they will pass.
If you’ve made consistent efforts to improve your mental and emotional health and are still having trouble functioning optimally at home, work, or in your relationships, it may be time to seek professional help. I first got involved with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in 2007. My son Evan, now 18, was just four years old at the time and already on his first antipsychotic medication (I share our story in my TEDxTalk). I was a single mother, and I had no idea what to do or where to go, so I enrolled in a free class. The education, advocacy, and support I received changed the trajectory of my life and my purpose.
There is NO shame in admitting you or a loved one is struggling. Please don’t wait until you or someone you love is in crisis before you ask for or offer help and support. No one can do this alone.
Don’t forget to put your mental health on your priority list. Just like any other routine, these small shifts will become habits the more often you practice them.
Stay brave and resilient,
Anne Grady is a Speaker, Author, and #TruthBomb Dropper.
Anne shares practical strategies that can be applied both personally and professionally to improve relationships, navigate change, and triumph over adversity. And she’ll make you laugh while she does it. Anne is a two time TEDx speaker, and her work has been featured in numerous media outlets, including Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Fast Company and Inc. magazines, CNN, ESPN, and FOX Business. She is the best selling author of 52 Strategies for Life, Love & Work and Strong Enough: Choosing Courage, Resilience and Triumph.