Top ten tips to become mentally fit
For World Mental Health Day, I wanted to give some straightforward advice on what we can do to make ourselves mentally fitter. Sometimes, especially when our mental health has been neglected for a long time, it can be overwhelming to get a lot of information. In turn, it makes us less likely to get started. So if you're stuck in a rut, my friend, I want to give my top ten tips, that can get you moving in the right direction.
1. Move more... slowly but surely
This must be one of the most underestimated ones. I think it's because we associate exercise with losing weight and labour. That view of it is narrow minded. When researching exercise, I am always amazed at how much it does for our health, the very least being losing weight.
Make it a habit to try and be more active throughout the day in more simpler ways, to start with. I think we all do this. We make these big plans to do more exercise and then we don't follow through because we bit off more than we can chew.
So start small: 15 minutes of walking, 10 reps of this, or 10 reps of that.
Our bodies almost crave exercise. Our ancestors pretty much were on their feet unless they were sleeping! Our bodies are still adapted that way. Now, we have the 21st Century of living. We may get discouraged because the benefits to mental health do not necessarily occur immediately... However, this is a sure fire-way to know we're moving in the right direction. Get the heart pumping!
2. Do something less passive that you also *actually* enjoy
I know what you're thinking. This may seem like a no-brainer. But really it isn't. It's very easy to get swept away by life, work and what others constitute as fun. Only some self-reflection and exploration will allow you to find things you truly enjoy. I mean things that really make you glow from the inside out.
You may be full of doubts. Are there really such things out there for everyone?
Trust me, there are activities and hobbies for everyone. The ones we do purely because they make us feel alive and happy. They are just waiting to be found. It doesn't need some grand purpose or only be related to careers. Try many things and do more stuff that makes the heart race (literally or figuratively!).
Another note: find some activities that are less passive! Something that gets our brain working, that uses our skills actively, where we create something or get our heart pumping. This active involvement will really help.
3. Catching your Zzz's
I am a recovering/reformed serial under-sleeper. I am not going to give you a sanctimonious lecture on sleep. God knows, I need this advice more than anyone. But recently, I've found becoming more informed of the complexities of sleep and what it is actually doing for you, will help you at least not make under-sleeping a regular thing.
The ever-wise Ted Talks on sleep is what enlightened me. We all know non-REM and REM (deep) sleep. We assume if we lose a couple of hours (...) of sleep we're just shaving off a bit of time. What's the big deal?
Apparently the problem is that we lose a massive chunk of our REM sleep which amongst many things is very important for our consistent fit mental health.This only occurs after a certain amount of time asleep and the later part of the cycle. So every time we lose sleep, we miss out on our daily top-up to becoming mentally fit.
4. Managing sneaky stress
I say sneaky because it just creeps up on you. This is the one I have the most problem with. Sometimes I have this idea of the things that are 'allowed' to stress me out. Otherwise I feel it's not warranted, so I continue.
Many of us notice that we're running on fumes. But we don't stop and know we may be able to go on a bit longer. Should we be waiting until its unbearable until we stop?
5. You are what you eat
Again, I'm really not here with the holier-than-thou attitude. It's just, well, it works like a charm. Of course eating junk food feels so good (see my post 'Our brain is, what it eats').
This is one of those instances we have to look past that. Some things we can only find out after consistently trying to eat healthier.
Like sleep, this is one of those single solution that is a guaranteed help. It's really annoying that our bodies are programmed to like fatty and sugary foods. But that's what makes humans unique. Unlike animals, we can rise above our base nature and instincts.
Also, don't huff and puff, and make it a pain. We need to find food that's healthy that we also find yummy. It's possible! All I'm saying is, constantly eating junk food will only aggravate our mental health. Is it worth that?
6. Broaden your perspective
Our physical world can remain exactly the same, but changing our mindset will change EVERYTHING. How we interact and experience the world is what we can control. We must learn about how to change our mindset but also how to stick to new changes. The more we learn and converse with others, the more our perspective is broadened. This is especially important if we're stuck in a rut.
7. Reframe negative thoughts
If we want to take a swing at it ourselves, then we can try reframing negative thoughts. We don't have to wait till it's dire to do this. Doing this regularly is a very good way to keep mentally fit. Journalling or noting down thoughts regularly and persistently will allow us to observe them objectively. Alongside this in the next column, question these thoughts. Are there any thinking traps that you've fallen into? (see @homegrownwisdom for more).
8. Be present
It can be so easy to spend the majority of the day in a daze, on auto-pilot. Using distractions, memories or worries to remove of us from fully being present. I know that everyone always talks about meditation and mindfulness. It may seem abstract to beginners. Think of it like this, to start with...
Even if we take away the spiritual part of it, just as a tool and what it physically does to your biology, is enough reason to try it.
The fact that this will help you in healing and spirituality as well as improving your mental health is pretty amazing. I know it's easy to bash it as it sounds so strange. But use a guide like Calm and get started! Don't just try it once and decide that's it. Try consistently and there will be a profound difference in how we live our life.
9. Help another
As a fellow human, helping others just sparks a light in us. I'm not asking for world hunger to be solved. Just finding a cause or someone we can help is enough. The little things help. Actually, I think those are precisely the things that make all the difference. It will melt us when we feel frozen. You can thank me later!
10. Ask and you shall receive
Ask for help. It doesn't have to be at crisis point or when disaster hits. Seeking out extra help, especially if we are struggling, is always a good idea. We have the power to change, by being vulnerable and strong enough to ask for help and doing small actions to change our life.
See my post, 'Recovery 101: messy, fickle and worth it' for more on how to get started.