Where physical fitness is about the body’s ability to function, mental fitness is about the mind’s ability to function.
We all know and understand the importance of physical fitness to keep us strong, healthy, and resilient so that we can live our lives to the full.
Mental fitness is just as important, we need to keep our brain and emotional health in tip top condition so that we have the energy, positivity, and strength to deal with and enjoy our lives.
We are all aware of the options available to us to keep physically fit, the fitness industry is worth £100 billion and new ways to exercise or eat healthily are being marketed to us every day.
But how can we keep mentally fit and why should we bother?
Let’s start with understanding what mentally ‘unfit’ looks like.
Not being able to think clearly, struggling to make decisions, being distracted, losing focus, overly emotional, these are just some of the signs that your mental fitness and wellbeing is not at a sustainable level.
Reacting rather than responding to things is another sign, like when you say something you later regret to your partner or a colleague, because in the moment, you couldn’t stop yourself for long enough to think about if, and how, you wanted to respond.
Perhaps you overact to something that on another day you would take in your stride.
It might show up as anger, shouting at the car in front of you or at your kids for no real reason.
It might show up as distraction and procrastination, not being able to get started or make progress on a task or project.
It might show up as negativity, worry and anxiety…
It might show up as overthinking, over doing, over giving or overworking…
And it might show up as all of the above and lead to exhaustion, stress or burnout.
Do you recognise some or all of these thoughts and behaviours?
All of us experience thoughts, feelings and behaviours like this from time to time. We are busy, we are tired, we are trying our best. But sometimes a negative thought or reaction can trigger overthinking and overwhelm and before we know it things have escalated in our mind.
It is ok to have an off day here and there, but when we frequently experience thoughts, feelings and behaviours like this it means we aren’t maintaining a state of mental fitness and wellbeing.
The good news is we can all develop our mental fitness just like we can our physical fitness.
What does mentally fit look like?
Mental fitness can be defined as having and maintaining a state of wellbeing.
Mental fitness enables you to think clearly and take the time to make logical decisions about how you will respond and behave.
It enables you to proactively plan and juggle the unexpected as it arrives.
It enables you to focus on what is most important making you effective, efficient, and productive.
It enables you to have a positive outlook, more confidence in what you do, and more energy.
Mentally fit people have the time and energy to cope with all that life throughs at them. Not only are they more present, more productive and calmer but they know how to consistently look after their mental fitness to keep them this way.
How can you develop your mental fitness?
We all know ways to develop our physical fitness.
We NEED to move, which we might do by going for a walk, buying a peloton, or investing in a PT to name a few of the thousands of options available to us.
We NEED nutrition from healthy food and drinking plenty of water and if we need help and support there are countless ideas and companies with different types eating plans and ways to track your water consumption available to us.
We NEED sleep, for the lucky ones it is as simple as ensuring you get the amount of sleep you need each night, and for the not so lucky there are a range of options from apps to treatments to help you get more sleep.
So what do we NEED for mental fitness?
The good news is that the first 3 NEEDS for mental fitness are the same as physical fitness.
We NEED to move, we NEED nutrition, and we NEED sleep.
What is good for the body is good for the mind and vice versa.
In addition, there are 2 more NEEDS to develop and maintain mental fitness:
Connection – The brain is a social organ and spending time building and maintaining meaningful relationships nourishes our brain and increases our mental energy and overall mental fitness.
Chatting on the phone with a parent, a date with your partner, coffee with your friend, a class to meet and make new friends, there are many options for connecting and it is important to invest the time on a regular basis.
Relaxation – Learning to turn off the stress responses in our brain and act from a more centred, relaxed state has a tremendous impact on our mental fitness. Relaxation is about recharging, replenishing and at times recovering.
It might be as simple as a 15-minute break to change your surroundings, it might be meditation or mindfulness, it might be quiet time on your own, or it might be escaping into a book or numbing out on Netflix for an evening. Chose what it is that relaxes you the most and give that your full attention, guilt and worry free, not only do you deserve it, but your mind needs it.
Increasing your mental fitness is about what works best for you, it is your mind and it is your body. If you don’t enjoy the gym don’t go, find another way to move your body, if you struggle to meditate try quiet reading instead, if you hate vegetables there are lots of other healthy nourishing food you can have instead.
You can also find ways to get more than one of your NEEDS met at once. Like going for a walk with a friend, doing yoga, or eating with your family.
The key is balance, when you include all 5 NEEDS into your life on a consistent and regular basis, you will develop and maintain your mental fitness and wellbeing to a level that enables you to live a healthier and happier life.
Is it that simple?
On the face of it yes, but in reality no, at least not in the beginning.
Despite the fact we know the importance and how, to keep physically fit, how many of us exercise daily, nourish ourselves every day with enough healthy food and drink the recommended amount of water and go to bed early enough each evening to ensure we have enough sleep?
Let alone make time for connecting with friends and family and to relax in our own space or with others.
We are all juggling a lot in our lives, work, family, home, life admin and that is before you through in life events that happen along the way. It is easy to become overwhelmed with all that we have, and want, to do which leads to exhaustion and stress.
When we feel like this it can trigger our unhelpful thoughts, feelings and behaviours like overreacting and overthinking, overeating or over-drinking, overworking, binge watching tv, scrolling on our phones and many more, we all have unhelpful habits.
But at the time of feeling overwhelmed and stressed we feel these habits are helping us to cope but, they are just making us even more exhausted, adding to our stress and overwhelm and making it harder to make healthy choices and get our mental and physical NEEDS met.
Regardless of how busy you are, how much you have on your to do list, you need to put yourself on your to do list every day and focus on getting your NEEDS met. In fact, the busier you are, the more you tell yourself you don’t have time for your NEEDS, the more you need them!
Investing the time in yourself everyday will:
- increase your mental fitness which will
- reduce your stress and overwhelm which will help you
- break your unhelpful and unhealthy habits and
- create habits that make you healthier, happier, and more productive.
How can I fit it all in?
You don’t need to try and do it all, all at once, and all the time.
Start small, which one of the 5 NEEDS do you need more of in your life? Which one will make the biggest difference to you right now?
Pick one and plan how you will implement it to ensure it happens not just today but regularly, after all, a goal without a plan is just a wish.
Small and manageable steps will enable you to build a habit so that it becomes something you just do.
Once you have got that in place you can pick the next one to work on and continue until you are consistently getting all of your NEEDS met on a regular basis.
If you would like to learn more about habits and how they can help or hinder you, visit the BeCoaching Blog which has several articles on the subject including a process to break and create any habit.
How can you maintain your mental fitness?
Life has its ups and downs and so does our mental fitness.
Our needs change, we might have a lot going on at work and need more sleep than usual for a while to recover. Perhaps we are going through a tricky patch with our partner and need more connection with them to refresh things and get back to a good place. Sometimes we feel a bit down or overwhelmed but don’t know why and it might be that we need a bit more of one or all of our NEEDS for a while.
If we tune in to what our mind and body is telling us and start to notice within ourselves that our mental fitness is not as good as it could be on a particular day or over a period of time, we can take action. We might only need a 10-minute break, that can be enough to recharge us for the afternoon, and if not, it is long enough to work out what else we might need.
When you meet your NEEDS notice how it makes you feel, notice how calm you are. Notice how it affects your ability to concentrate, be present, be decisive, and productive.
The more you build your self-awareness and give yourself what you need, the stronger and more sustainable your mental fitness will become.
What if it’s more than just an off day? We all have thoughts, feelings and behaviours that send us off track and often it is the same patterns and triggers that reoccur.
We all have triggers that make us stressed which then drive our thoughts, feeling and behaviours often without us really knowing it or understanding why.
This can then start a cycle of reacting instead of responding, struggling to focus and make decisions. We start to turn to our unhealthily habits again to try and cope and our healthy habits and our NEEDS, start to go out of the window. We can end up in a vicious cycle with declining mental fitness and increasing levels of stress and overwhelm which can be heard to break free from.
Building your self-awareness about where these thoughts, feelings and behaviours are coming from can help you to break the cycle and step free from ways of thinking and being that have probably been getting in your way for years.
There are different ways you can build your self-awareness from journaling, to reading, to talking with a supportive friend or a coach to name a few. Sometimes simply slowing down enough to notice your thoughts, feelings and behaviours can be the best way to learn about yourself and what you really need.
The final step for maintaining mental fitness is boundaries. Everything I have talked about above can only happen by having boundaries in place.
It is all to easy to say I will exercise 3 times a week. But if we don’t schedule the time and commit to it by saying no to everything else, the likelihood is, we will end up doing something else that we feel we should be doing, instead of taking time to do something we need to do for ourselves.
Boundaries enable you to give yourself permission to create the space you need, to nurture and love yourself with self-care, to meet all of your NEEDS and live your life your way.
To summarise, my tips for developing and maintaining mental fitness are:
- Get your 5 NEEDS met – Move, Nutrition, Sleep, Connect, Relax
- Consistently balance all 5 NEEDS by creating healthy habits
- Be self-aware – what is getting in your way and what do you NEED
- Create and stick to your boundaries so you always have time for what you NEED
Developing and maintaining your mental fitness will keep your brain and emotional health in tip top condition so that you have the energy, positivity, and strength to live your best life, who doesn’t want more of that?!
🔸 Make the change. If you want help Developing your or your teams Mental Fitness, connect or email email@example.com or go to www.becoaching.co.uk for more details.