If someone asked me about my mental fitness a few years ago or before I became a Dad for the first time I would wonder about the concept and perhaps fob it off as ‘one of those things’ or a fad that doesn’t really hit home with me as anything meaningful. However, I’m pleased to say I was wrong, and found myself using many of the reasons outlined by Ruby Philips in this excellent article introducing more about mental fitness.
- What is mental fitness?
- What stops us looking after our mental fitness?
- How can we improve our mental fitness?
- What results to expect from an improved mental fitness?
What is mental fitness?
There’s a lot of talk about physical fitness. We all know that regular exercise and a balanced diet will help us function and keep us healthy. But what can we do for our mental fitness?
Mental fitness can be defined as having and maintaining a state of well-being and cultivating awareness of how we think, behave and feel.
It’s no surprise that those who exercise often feel better in themselves. When you look at the mind-body connection, exercise releases endorphins and increases blood flow, elevating mood and higher oxygen levels. It’s a good example of one way to keep both mind and body in shape. But it’s not the only way to look after mental fitness…
What stops us looking after our mental fitness?
There are many things that can block us from keeping on top of mental fitness.
- You’re too busy
With work, family and responsibilities it may feel like you don’t have time in the day for yourself. However, mental fitness is a priority. You should, at least, take small chunks of your day to do things that make you feel good and relaxed.
2. You can’t clock off
A common issue is not being able to switch off from work mode. You might be doing admin at home when you’re supposed to be winding down. Or constantly thinking and stressing about work. This domination of work-related thoughts might lead to you neglecting other areas of life, like your relationships or hobbies. Mental fitness is less talked about and less understood, so it can easily be overlooked.
3. You look after the mental fitness of others before yourself
Being a dad is a big responsibility. You have others relying on you for your time, money, love and care. It is difficult to find time and energy for your own care amidst it all… However, you must create time for yourself. It is important to switch off from stress and have fun, helping you to be the best dad and find contentment in life.
4. You find it difficult to talk about your feelings
Things build up if we don’t release our thoughts and feelings. This could be to a friend, partner, therapist or in a journal. If you find it hard to vocalise things, it can be harder to acknowledge when your mental fitness is suffering. If you were taught to bury things down, talking can feel wrong. But admitting when things are hard is a strong act. It’s the best way to help yourself and find support from others.
Five ways to improve your mental fitness
1. Find hobbies
Seek out new ways to let off steam and have fun! Find things that you can practice regularly.
Check out our article The Power of Hobby for more!
2. Exercise and healthy eating
Regular exercise will help you boost your mental wellness. Balancing your diet will help to regulate your energy levels and give you the best chance at feeling stable and content.
Talk about it. What parts of your life are causing you stress and pain, and how can you manage it? Try talking therapy if you have unresolved trauma. Or simply start by talking to someone you trust. Communicating your feelings is important to find the root cause of issues. Cry when you need to and turn your emotions outward in a safe space. Find the support you need, do it for yourself. It takes work, and commitment, but it pays off.
Follow this link to Refer Yourself To NHS Talking Therapy.
4. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is the practice of being in the present moment, by focusing on your surroundings and feelings. Allowing yourself to take the world bit by bit can help your mind to destress, and your body to relax. Do one thing at a time. We all need moments to wind down and be ourselves instead of our roles as parent, partner, work etc…
Check out An Introduction to Mindfulness for Busy Working Dads for more guidance on mindfulness!
5. Explore nature
Getting out into the wild is a great escape from reality. Being around trees and changing scenery allows your body and mind to reset itself. So, take yourself and your family out into the hills, forests and beaches and spend some quality time together!
6. Pause. Play. Connect.
What to expect from paying more attention to your mental fitness…
By noticing when your moods are dipping, and your energy is low, you can regulate it. Experiment with whatever you consider to be self-care. It could be anything from going on an adventure to a new place, experimenting in the kitchen, going for more walks or simply running a bath and taking time to be quiet.
Paying attention to your mental fitness and recognising that its fully intwined with your physical fitness will give you more control. You will notice yourself handling stress better when you take this time to rest and have fun. You will become more resilient when you have the tools to ground yourself.
Scientifically, when you are experiencing high levels of mental stress your body creates a steroid hormone called cortisol. When there is too much cortisol in your body, it can start to impact your physical health. You might notice you feel less aches and pains when you find more time and moments to relax.
Practicing mindfulness helps you to rationalise what is going on around you. It can be very useful to be able to detach from your stress and allow your body to un tense.
Mental fitness is just as important as, and goes hand in hand with, physical fitness. Explore ways you can take some you time and go out and do it! You deserve to feel relaxed. Give yourself the best chance of feeling balanced, and things should become easier.