Most people know the importance of regular physical exercise for good health but some may not know that psychological fitness is just as important for optimum well-being. Just as cardio, strength training, stretching, proper nutrition, and adequate sleep are essential to physical fitness; exercising our psychological muscles is key to mental fitness and overall health.
Mental fitness depends on three basic psychological needs being met: autonomy, relatedness, and competence. Autonomy is the need to have a voice, the personal freedom to make choices or decisions, and the support of our family and friends in the choices we make. Empowering self-talk, “I can” and “I choose to …” helps you feel autonomous. Relatedness is the need for connection to and closeness with family, peers, and other significant people in our lives – a feeling that you belong to a family, a group, a community. A sense of being connected to important relationships that support and encourage you and you support and encourage them. And competence is the need to recognize and use our personal gifts and strengths to achieve our goals – a feeling of accomplishment and worthiness.
Current research indicates that satisfaction of these needs is related to emotional well-being or resilience. The following are simple, effective ways to practice mental fitness:
- Be in the present – take the time to notice what’s going on in the present moment, how you are feeling, what you are thinking. Avoid multi-tasking and break the worry habit.Focus on the positive – make a point to remember the good times, replace negative thoughts with affirmations. Affirmations are nothing more than positive self-talk. They activate the ‘left brain’ and stimulate specific neural pathways that promote self-esteem and well-being. An example is, “I am enough, I do enough, I have enough.”
- Expect the best – hope plays a powerful role in life – believe you can have what you want and that you have the internal resources to accomplish personal goals and influence the course of your life. Having hope means believing in a better future. Visualization activates the ‘right brain’ exercising brain structures that further enhance optimism, confidence, and self-effectiveness. Example, picture yourself having achieved your goal (20 pounds lighter, with cap and gown, or speaking confidently to a group) or imagine yourself relaxing on a warm beach.
- Engage in hobbies and fun activities – they strengthen your mind and improve your memory. Play with brain teasers, puzzles, board games, learning new crafts or games, and reading books you normally would not read.
- Treat yourself well – practice healthy habits such as exercising regularly, eating nutritious meals (especially breakfast), and focus on the self-care and relaxation that nurtures your body and your soul. Regular physical activity can reduce depression and anxiety. Eating breakfast can improve short-term memory and attention while high calorie breakfasts can slow you down and make it hard to concentrate. Relaxation techniques vary greatly from the progressive relaxation of tensing and releasing each muscle group in the body, to meditation, yoga, and biofeedback.
- Be assertive – speak your mind. Becoming more assertive can be a journey of self-discovery.
- Continue learning – the correlation between education and health is well-established in research. Whether formal or informal, learning is a great health promotion tool.
- Volunteer – a win-win activity! Helping others helps you feel good about yourself, widens your social network, provides you with learning opportunities, and can bring balance to your life.
If you are concerned about your level of mental fitness, it is important to seek help. There are many individuals and agencies in our community that can provide you with the professional and confidential service you need. You can come and speak to someone about the community resources that exist to help you address any issue you may be facing. There is no obligation and no follow-up.