Recently I noticed an old pair of pants were a little tighter than I remembered them being. It was easy for me to jump to the conclusion that I either needed to accept my new form and buy new pants or I needed to adopt a better diet and focus on my exercise. It’s easier to eat junk food and skip the gym, it’s tough to make lifestyle changes, but for me that was what I had to choose to do.
Our mental health is the same. We all need to think about our mental diet and exercise just as much as our physical diet and exercise.
Think about your mental diet as everything you put into your mind. Things like mindlessly scrolling through a social media feed, watching sitcoms and youtube videos, checking in on the latest political battle, or reviewing the latests memes are the mental equivalent of junk food. Consuming those things do you feel inspired, refreshed, expanded, or drained, envious, and anxious? If your feed is like mine it’s the latter.
Take care with what you put into your mind. It makes a difference. Your mental diet should leave you feeling excited to take on a new challenge, it should give you ideas that you’ve never had before, or help you solve new problems to improve your life and health.
Mental exercise is how you practice using your mind. Shifting from articles, to summaries, to tweets, to headlines trains your mind to expect something new every minute and hinders your ability to focus. Letting yourself get caught up in emotional reactions is similar, catch yourself before you react with a negative emotion like anger, frustration, stress, or anxiety. Look for the source of those things, reflect on why the event made you feel that way and react in a more measured and thoughtful way.
Focus on the things you want to develop. Are you having a difficult time with focus? Turn off your devices and notifications and try reading a book for a full hour. Try writing a story from start to finish without distractions. Meditation can also be very good to help train your mind to focus and reflect on not only what you think about but how you think.
Like exercise it can be helpful to get some guidance on your path to mental health. Like you might follow a trainer at the gym or download a fitness app you can follow a practitioner or download a meditation app. If you do want to take on meditation, I recommend starting out with short guided sessions using an app such as Headspace or Waking Up. I’ve used both and found them to be very useful.
We expect it to be difficult to get in shape. We understand the detriments that pastries, fast foods, and a lack of exercise can bring, but we don’t always bring that same awareness to mental health. I think we could all do a bit better by focusing on our mental health as much as we do our physical health.
Photo Credit: Cyril Saulnier on Unsplash