When I was a personal trainer, back when the mountains were cooling, I stressed four core areas of fitness: physical (obviously), social, emotional, and spiritual.
Mental fitness is no different. Whether we live with a mood disorder/mental illness or not, there are steps we can take to better our days and lives. Medicine, in whatever form, is preventative as well as curative.
The first component of a healthy exercise program for your mind is to pay attention to the link between the physical and psychological aspects of your whole self.
It is no secret that moderate exercise can do wonders. A simple daily walking routine can reduce stress and anxiety – two mental states we can do without. In addition to the obvious physical benefits, an exercise routine builds discipline. Trusting ourselves to follow through on promises we make to ourselves is a huge positive.
Exercise can have a social component as well. Many folks who experience depression, or who are sensitive to the stigma attached to mood disorders, fall into the habit of isolation. This is understandable, but it is a habit that must be broken. Walking or gym groups are a great way to accomplish that.
I might add that, while is can seem like we are alone on our bad days, we are not. Everybody feels low or anxious from time to time – not so much as to warrant professional intervention, but enough to defeat our happiness. The understanding and empathy of friends – peer support – can be a source of great comfort.
Our emotional space can be a complicated and confusing place; feelings and thoughts come often unbidden and refuse to leave us alone. This is where a mindful meditative practice can help us.
Briefly, mindfulness allows troubling thoughts and emotions to present themselves and be accepted; they are real. But as surely as they arrive, they can be allowed to leave. By calmly recognizing these feelings and not wrestling with them, they cease to have power. They, as all things, will pass. There are some gifted teachers in the practice of mindfulness here on the Coast. I would urge all readers of this column to discover this hugely positive personal journey.
To further build emotional fitness, it is important to treat ourselves well. You might look at this as a process of self-validation – a Golden Rule of self. It is also fun.
Like chocolate? Buy lots. Enjoy cheap spy thrillers? Read them. Love dancing but don’t have a partner? Cook your favourite meal and boogie alone in the kitchen. Only you will know. What is important is not to judge these things wrongly; they are self-indulgent, and that is precisely the point.
Spiritual fitness is the final element in my Quartet For Mental Fitness, and is one that is most elusive and personal.
Spirituality is different for everybody. Some of us seek solace in a religious idea, a sense of pre-destiny perhaps. Many folks look for a practice that can lead to a feeling of transcendence. And still others find comfort in the wisdom of Nature – in Gaia.
It is impossible to remark or give advice on the many sources of spiritual peace folks observe. But it is safe to say that a spiritual home is there; it’s just a matter of finding the address.