May is Mental Health Awareness month.
You’re invited to check out my thoughts with The BossMann Magazine and their May 2019 issue (page 22) on how to achieve Mental Fitness, just in time for summer.
*With expressed consent from BossMann magazine, the following manuscript is directly abstracted from the BossMann magazine print publication, May edition.
Tracking Your Mental Fitness
By John A. Nelson, PsyD, MDiv
Summertime is upon us! Chances are you or someone you know have already begun preparing for the ideal “summer body.” This preparation usually entails a self-evaluation of one’s diet, physical fitness regiment, as well as a commitment to goal-setting and modifying certain routines and behaviors. The more committed a person is to their “summer body” goals, the more likely they are to see gains and showcase their results with confidence. Just as people are motivated to improve their physical shape and stamina, it is equally important to not overlook the benefit of monitoring mental fitness and improving overall mental stability as well.
Mental fitness refers to an individual’s emotional and psychological well-being. The more mentally fit an individual is, the more likely they are to meet life’s challenges, demands and stress without feeling as if they are falling apart. The less mentally fit an individual is, the more likely they are to succumb to burnout, exhaustion, mental fog, as well as experience physical symptoms associated with short-term and long-term illnesses, including weakened immune system, hypertension, headaches, migraines, and muscle tension, just to name a few.
If you were asked to track your physical fitness, including identifying how much you weight, whether your diet was balanced, as well identifying how much you exercise, chances are you would be able to answer these questions without much thought. Alternatively, if you were asked to track your mental fitness, would you be able to answer this question just as easily? What would your assessment of your mental fitness be? Ways to measure mental fitness might include categories such as “poor,” “fair,” “good,” or “excellent.” You might even prefer a scale-based assessment of mental well-being, including rating your mental fitness on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the poorest of mental fitness and 10 being the best mental fitness possible. Whatever your preference, take a brief moment to pause, reflect on your own emotional well-being and rate yourself. Ready, set, go! Did you rate your overall mental fitness as “poor,” “fair,” “good,” “excellent,” or closer to a score of 1 or 10 on a rating scale? Based on the score you identified, this provides a sense of how much work you should invest in achieving the mental fitness you desire.
Whether your desire is to improve or maintain your current mental fitness, the following is a list of domains and stress management tips to help sustain balanced mood, decrease stress, and minimize the likelihood of common problems associated with anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and problematic substance use concerns.
SOCIAL: Social outlets provide great opportunities to create balance between the ever increasing demands of life. Spending time alone can be a great way to decompress from the outside world; however, too much time alone can lead to isolation and avoidance. Spending time with others while engaging in fun, life-giving activities is a great way to decompress from stress, as well as develop and maintain fulfilling personal relationships. Examples of social outlets vary from participating in activities with someone you know to participating in an activity with complete strangers. This includes having coffee, lunch or dinner with a friend, date-night with a significant other, going on a vacation, joining a book club, visiting the theater, attending a concert, or even playing a sport. When is the last time you engaged in a fun and purposeful social activity?
SPIRITUAL: Religion and spiritual involvement is linked to personal resiliency. Religious and spiritual coping allows individuals to engage in routine practices where they can look to someone or something outside of themselves for strength and inspiration. This may be achieved through prayer or reading religious writings, for example. If you do not subscribe to a particular faith tradition or do not consider yourself to be religious at all, there are still ways to have a spiritual experience. One way non-religious individuals experience spirituality is to identify and connect to some belief, principle, value, ethics or moral ground. For example, if when confronted with challenging circumstances your typical response is to channel thoughts such as “what doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger” or “there is light at the end of the tunnel,” then this is indeed an example of relying on a belief or principle to get you through a circumstance. This is a form of spiritual involvement and spiritual coping. When is the last time you attempted to rely on someone or something outside of yourself to achieve strength or inspiration?
PHYSICAL: Maintaining healthy exercise, diet and sleep habits are essential to achieving good physical shape. It is important to balance all three of these activities, ideally at the same time. When healthy exercise habits are achieved, but diet and sleep habits are out of whack, optimal exercise outcomes will be limited. Additionally, when healthy diet habits are achieved, but exercise and sleep habits are out of whack, optimal diet outcomes will not be so great. This is why it is so important to balance exercise, diet and sleep simultaneously, in order to maximize optimal functioning. At the end of the day, adequate exercise, diet, and sleep routines lend to balanced mental fitness. Consulting your primary care physician will help you gain insight on recommended levels of exercise, diet, and sleep based on your age, weight, and medical history. When is the last time someone gave you feedback on your exercise, diet and sleep?
MENTAL: Mental well-being refers to your psychological and emotional functioning. As described above, there are many factors that impact an individual’s mental fitness and well-being. In many cases, when individuals recognize they are off-kilter mentally or psychological, and they are not their usual selves, there are ways to intervene and reestablish balance, including practicing appropriate self-care, along with engaging in stress management or relaxation activities. There are some times, however, when an individual does not possess or have the skills necessary to intervene appropriately on their own. During times like these, it is very helpful to reach out to others and seek help. Seeking help for emotional and psychological concerns come in many different forms. Some individuals choose to initially reach out to close family or friends. Others choose to address concerns with professionals, including a primary care or mental healthcare provider. When is the last time you reached out to others to process your thoughts, feelings and concerns, instead of keeping it all to yourself?
Just like balancing diet and exercise results in desirable physical fitness, balancing social, physical, spiritual, and mental aspects of your life can lead to overall healthy mental fitness, too. While summertime is upon us and many are working towards their summer body goals, you are challenged to use this season as an opportunity to focus on your mental fitness as well. Physical and mental health do not have to be mutually exclusive—an intentional focus on both can create a stronger you for years to come.