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Happiness & Satisfaction

What is mental fitness?

October 14, 2022

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Bettina Koster
9 minutes read
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A person's mental fitness indicates their ability to think clearly and to make decisions efficiently and effectively. A comparison can be drawn with physical fitness, which relates to the body's ability to function.

It can also be defined as a state of well-being and having a positive sense of how we think, feel and act. In essence, it means keeping our brains and emotional health in good shape. 
What it doesn’t mean is practising memory games or thinking puzzles or acing IQ tests and mental tasks, but rather exercises that keep you mentally well and build up your resilience to stress.

Let’s face it, life has its ebbs and flows. We are constantly having stressful situations thrown our way and sometimes have extremely tough decisions to make which would affect our future a lot. We can become over-emotional and often feel very overwhelmed. Learning to have the mental capacity to cope with such situations and their triggers, help us get to a better more focused mind space quicker. 
 
Mental fitness is therefore not about experiencing something bad or negative it's about becoming resilient due to self-awareness to get out of these experiences quickly with new insights and learning about yourself and the world around you.

Let's look at a variety of different aspects:

1. Why is mental fitness important?
2. What is mental fitness?
3. What's the difference between mental fitness and physical fitness?
4. What are the four components of mental fitness?
5. How does mental fitness help?
6. How does mental fitness work?
7. What tips can I use to help my mental fitness?

 

Why is mental fitness important?

The concept of mental fitness has only emerged in the past few years and is meant to help people understand that like physical fitness, mental fitness is just as important and should not be neglected. Mental fitness and well-being help people understand that just as we can improve our physical health through exercise and the right diet, we improve our mental health by strengthening our minds and emotions. Mental fitness means keeping your brain and emotional health in tip-top shape.

Just as it’s easier to choose Netflix and the couch over a sweat session at the gym, it’s also easy to feed negative thoughts and behaviour patterns that aren’t good for you and evoke feelings of loneliness, worry, anxiety and sadness.

We’re more likely to fall Ill when we don’t nourish our bodies with proper nutrition and exercise. In the same way, when we choose not to practice healthy cognitive adoption, the more likely it is for our mental fitness to decline.

 

What is mental fitness?

As mentioned before, mental fitness is defined as a state of well-being and having a positive sense of how we feel, think, and act, like how physical fitness refers to the ability of your body systems to work together efficiently to allow you to be healthy and perform activities of daily living.

 

What's the difference between mental fitness and physical fitness?

With physical health, every one of us is prone to certain conditions given our family history and environment. Or we have certain goals we want to achieve when it comes to being physically fit. As an example, if your family has a history of heart disease, your goals may include keeping cholesterol and sugar levels low, maintaining a healthy diet, quitting smoking and having a regular exercise regime. 

The same way of thinking can be applied to mental health. We are all prone to certain conditions depending on our family history and environment, however many of us may not think to set goals to ensure we stay mentally fit. For example, if your family has a history of high levels of anxiety or even depression your goals may include journaling, meditation, regular sleep and indulging in relaxing activities that you enjoy to keep stress and anxiety levels low. 

 

What are the four components of mental fitness?

There are four main components to physical fitness; strength, flexibility, cardiovascular endurance and healthy weight. Mental health also adapts to four components. 
These include:

1. Emotional:
Self-acceptance, self-esteem, resilience, and the ability to manage triggers to overcome immense emotions.
2. Social:
Family, friends and support networks as they bring inclusion, acceptance companionship and enrichment to our lives. 
3. Financial:
Low levels of stress due to the ability to manage money wisely, the ability to feel in control of your finances, being able to bounce back from financial setbacks, and the ability to stay on track to achieve your financial goals.
4. Physical:
Regular exercise coupled with a healthy diet and enough sleep to reduce your stress levels and the risk of developing chronic illnesses.

Unfortunately, the studies on mental fitness and well-being have enormous literacy gaps compared to physical health and fitness. 
Let us compare the two. 


Physical Health 

  1. Often people have basic knowledge of what it means and what the body needs in order to stay strong and healthy.
  2. People are aware and can identify changes in their bodies and know when to seek the advice of a doctor
  3. People understand how to navigate the diagnosis and can seek physical treatments.


Mental Health

  1. People have a general understanding but may not know what the brain needs in order to stay strong and healthy.
  2. People often can’t identify when their mental health declines and when they need to seek help until it becomes overwhelming
  3. People often may not understand their healthcare system for mental health support.

Taking steps to build your mental fitness enhances your ability to cope with stress allowing you to improve your productivity at work and home, enjoy better relationships, and aid in physical well-being, not to mention overall happiness.

 

How does mental fitness help?

Mental fitness is all about strengthening the neural pathways that lead to our objective and most realistic thoughts. It’s about breaking patterns so that you experience positive emotions more regularly over negative ones. 
It’s changing those little hard wires to feed more positivity into thoughts and behaviours. And the good news is, it’s totally achievable! This is due to the neuroplasticity of our brains. Many scientific research studies have proven that humans have an enormous capacity to constantly rewire our brains throughout our lives. The thoughts that evoke certain emotions cluster together via neural pathways, whether positive or negative. 

When you are mentally fit, you recognise that you have a choice around how you react to your circumstances or given situations. With mental fitness, you can pause, stay calm, and respond in the way you would like at the moment, rather than expressing feelings of frustration or anger, only to regret it later on. 

With mental fitness working at its peak you are empowered with confidence, and resilience and feel a lot more energised. Life will naturally cause you to feel sadness or worry, no one said life was easy. But strengthening your mental fitness will make it more difficult for sadness to progress to depression and worry to spiral into anxiety.

 

How does mental fitness work?

Our brains are very complex computers as just as artificial intelligence in computers can learn patterns, this is exactly what our brains have been doing from the time we were born. Brains carry thoughts along neural pathways. These pathways are like grooves that have been created and then reinforced over time. For example, you may always take the same route to work, and you may notice that sometimes you don't recall how you got from A-B. This is referred to as “autopilot.” When we repeat a certain thought pattern over and over again, that neural pathway is reinforced, and our thinking becomes automatic.

The problem with automatic thinking or functioning on autopilot is that it causes us to react in ways that are unhelpful in stressful situations. Our reactions are based on those well-worn grooves we spoke about that are pathways to past emotions or triggers. While a daily routine can be good, when it comes to our thought patterns, we need to become aware that how we react is based on the way these pathways have developed. 

You may have heard of the flight or fight reflex. Automatic thinking comes from our brain’s tendency to look out for danger to help us survive. It is constantly scanning the environment for threats and has been throughout our human evolution, which has been very helpful, especially if a tiger was a threat many moons ago. But in today’s modern world, it can raise thoughts that lead to actions that can cause us harm.

Luckily, our minds can be rewired to reverse harmful neural pathways that aren’t serving us anymore. With the same deliberateness that we strengthen certain muscles, we can create neural pathways that better serve us and benefit our lives. This is the essence of what we mean by mental fitness training.

 

What tips can I use to help my mental fitness?

Here is a summary of simple ways to improve your mental fitness:

Breathing exercises 
Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress within your body. When you breathe deeply, your brain receives the message to calm down and relax, from there the message is transmitted to your body to experience overall relaxation. Breathing exercises are an excellent good way to relax, reduce anxiety and tension, and relieve stress.

Sleep
Rest is vital for maintaining good mental and physical health and is as important to our bodies as breathing, eating and hydration. Good sleep helps us to recover from mental as well as physical exhaustion. 

Guided imagery and meditation
Guided imagery is a relaxation technique that helps create harmony between the mind and body. It is a form of focusing your imagination to create calm, peaceful images in your mind. Meditation can give you a sense of calm, peace and balance that will benefit your emotional well-being and your overall health. It is used to help relax and cope with stress by refocusing your attention on something calming. 

Expressing gratitude 
List all of the things in your life you are grateful for. This helps to recall times when you have experienced pleasure, comfort, tenderness, confidence, or other positive emotions. This small task aids the brain's pathways to positivity. 

Journaling 
Journaling helps to express the thoughts and emotions you’ve experienced throughout the day. Compartmentalising them also helps you prioritise concerns and fears. Tracking how you feel and how your moods play out can help you to recognise triggers and develop better ways to control them.

Mindful activities 
Do activities that help you take your mind off your daily stress triggers. Some like cosying up to read a book, gardening, cooking, taking a walk or even playing games, but the fundamental is the same.

Exercise
Regular physical activity promotes endorphin production which can reduce depression and anxiety as well as improve psychological well-being.

Avoid multitasking 
No one can truly multitask. Accidental multitasking is one of the major causes that lead to scrambled thinking or brain fog. For a clearer mind, focus on one thing at a time.

Enlist the help of a professional
Life coaching to help you develop and learn these skills is a great way to start your journey to mental fitness. If you want to start the ball rolling you can always reach out to someone who has developed and fully understands the benefits of mental fitness to get your mind and emotions aligned.

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