Health: Mental Fitness

To avoid being ourselves a part of the general social problem of mental health, we each must follow a personal mental fitness programme just as we follow our physical health programme. In this way we can anticipate a comfortable future for ourselves and contribute to a healthier society in general.

Many people have to learn to adjust to physical disabilities and physical disease and often can still lead relatively comfortable lives but mental diseases are even more difficult. They have a powerful negative effect upon our total well-being as well as upon everybody around us and frequently one patient will require several helpers. Without mental health life can become unbearable.

We know that there are certain habits and practices which will give us good physical health but how do we know what to do to keep ourselves mentally healthy? Where can we learn to follow a mental health programme?

Mental Health Rules

If the rules and requirements for physical health and fitness are well known to be associated with hygiene, posture, nutrition, pure water, exercise, relaxation, sleep and rest, sunshine, fresh air and the need for a clean, natural environment, it seems reasonable that we can follow the same principles regarding our minds. And if we apply these rules with the same enthusiasm we give to physical fitness, we can surely expect good results to follow.

So to maintain mental health we need a clear, uncluttered mind, positive attitudes, nourishing or enriching thoughts and ideas, ample exercise to keep our minds strong and flexible, sufficient rest and sleep for restoration of our mental energies and a wholesome mental environment.

Our mental environment is as important for our minds as the physical environment is for our bodies. Our minds can only thrive in surroundings which are congenial and free of disturbing and negative thoughts and influences.

Basically then, the rules when defined, are seen to be simple, requiring only a degree of self discipline in order to put them into effect. The key to success is in the application of the principles. Then we can expect to retain our intelligent grasp on life, keep our full mental faculties unimpaired and retain a joy in living to the end of our days.

We may see others exercising for physical health and admire what they are doing but we will never know the benefits they feel until we follow suit and do the same. We each must make our own effort and this is just the same regarding mental fitness. Those who are getting good results are already following the mental health rules.

Concept Of Mental Health

To motivate us we have to have a concept to inspire us. So, just as we know how we feel when our body is in a healthy state, we need to consider what constitutes an ideal healthy mental state. These signs of good mental function and expression are recognized in a person who has balance and stability, mental strength, rationality, self-confidence, will power, vitality, mental creativity, compassion, developed talents, generosity, fearlessness, love and kindness. We refer to the ideal when we are assessing our own qualities.

Our general concept also anticipates that such a person would be cheerful rather than morose, calm instead of confused, ethical and law abiding, truthful, fair minded and self controlled. Perhaps, we would also naturally anticipate that such an individual would have a good sense of humour as well as a capacity for logical thought and common sense. They would also possess a degree of self confidence which would allow them to feel secure and therefore kindly disposed towards others rather than expressing defensive behaviour and negative traits of personality.

Any healthy minded person is intelligent and creative with a keen intellect, capable of generating new thoughts and expressing a wholesome enthusiasm for life. This latter quality is perhaps of most importance. But we need to build up a clear picture of our own as to what we are aiming for in our efforts to achieve and maintain mental health.

Above all, we wish to live untroubled and at peace within the inner world of our own mind.

Thoughts And Feelings Are Entwined

The human psyche however, is a blend of both thinking and feeling. Our nature comprises a partnership or co-operation between emotions and thought. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish the difference between thought and feeling when they are blended, or even confused. But they are certainly aspects of our nature which function on different planes. Sometimes thought and feeling run parallel, sometimes not. For instance we can have happy thoughts and entertain similar joyful feelings or can have pleasant thoughts yet can experience a feeling of foreboding. Our happiest moments however, come from a positive and harmonious blending of both aspects of our psyche. So we must be sure that our thoughts and our feelings work together.

We require discipline and self-control to establish physical health and we require application of the same when we are ensuring the health of our emotional state. As our emotions have a strong influence upon our thinking we must remain positive to ensure that negative emotions have no chance to endanger the plans our mind sets for our life goals. Rather, we depend upon our strong and happy emotions to give impetus to those goals.

There is no point in spending mental energy for a cause only to have its success undermined wayward emotions. And equally it is not satisfactory to have strong positive emotions seeking expression but that are denied by our own fear or negative thinking.

Mind Must Master The Emotions

Following the natural fluctuations and difficulties between thoughts and emotions experienced in adolescence, it is fundamental to our character and well being that in maturity, our thoughts assume the responsibility of leadership over our emotions. So when conflicts arise, as can often occur, the mind can be responsible for employing the emotions in such a way as to result in happy, positive outcomes.

The mind must assume the powerful role of benign Director of our lives, encouraging our best emotions and subduing the negative. This is the starting point for mental fitness. Good teamwork between a positive mind and balanced emotions results in an ideal state to undertake mental fitness disciplines, just as a physical fitness exercise programme is a pleasant experience when the body is willing. Conflict between mind and emotions generally results in indecision, depression or in emotional storms which temporarily damage any determined intent of the mind.

Most psychological tensions are based on this disparity between what our mind aims for and what our emotions desire. They must become co-operatively harnessed to a single purpose or at least oriented in the same direction.

Get to know your emotional moods and energy and learn to be happy and to expand your capacity to experience positive emotions, the greatest of which is love. But let your emotional nature be directed under the leadership of your thought.

Just Follow The Rules

Once we know the role of the mind and its natural duty is to direct our emotions, we can accept the responsibility and feel confident that we can cope with any of our own rebellious moods and emotions. We are then free to follow the mental health rules: We need to keep a clear, uncluttered mind; maintain positive optimistic attitudes; entertain enriching thoughts and ideas; give exercise to our minds to keep them both strong and flexible; ensure we have sufficient rest and sleep for restoration of our mental energies; and provide ourselves with a wholesome mental environment.

Become Free Of Stress

Stress is said to be the most common symptom of mental disease. It is difficult to avoid exaggerated responses and to remain un-phased by extremes in others and remain calm and rational at all times. A person who can do so earns our admiration and we should try to follow instead of reacting quickly according to our old habits.

Negative moods and conditions of stress and tension in others cause us to react quickly as stress is infectious unless we keep a hold on our responses just as we have to learn to handle our own stress to avoid affecting others in a negative way.

We all experience minor symptoms of mental disturbance or anxiety on occasion and it is best that we learn to deal with stressful situations as they arise.

There are many ways to deal with stress – from learning the art of relaxation and meditation, yoga, tai-chi , taking up a hobby or a sport, deep breathing, herbal tonics and supplements, therapeutic massage and so on. But remember to be kind to yourself and be sure that you are caring for yourself as you should, enjoying a natural lifestyle of your choice, developing your inherent talents and creating a life which is according to your own plan. Then you will be so happy that there is no room for inner stress.

If you should suffer anxiety which is not due to obvious factors, it may be advisable to seek the counsel of a professional psychologist who can help you to regain perspective or advise you appropriately.

Stress is just another way of saying something is wrong in our lives, whether it is within ourselves, our circumstances or in regard to wrong decisions and choices. Each of us inwardly holds the key to what is causing our unhappiness. Each of us has the capacity to correct what is wrong if we are honest with ourselves and are prepared to make changes.

The simplest way of relieving nervous tension is by practising relaxation and meditation, But there are many simple and natural ways of relieving stress through self-help methods.

Seven Steps to Good Mental Health

Psychological well-being is something that we all have a right to. However, for a variety of reasons to do with upbringing, life experiences, physiology, environment and so on… we often find ourselves with a mind-state other than what we desire. Depression, anxiety, and stress seem to be the major obstacles to just feeling good – judging by the number of visits to doctors for help with these problems.

It doesn’t really matter what the label is for your particular problem, if you follow the seven steps diligently, there will be an improvement in your general feeling of well being.

The Seven Steps are:

1. Acceptance

2. Releasing guilt

3. Expressing Appreciation

4. Physical exercise

5. Creative activity

6. Right livelihood

7. Meditation

They need to be taken in sequence. Total mastery is not required, but the time to move on is when you feel, or get a sense, that some movement has taken place within your mind. Psychological shifts are felt with a lightness, better sleep, smiling, singing, noticing beauty around you, wanting to do something different, spring cleaning…

Acceptance:

Acceptance is the single most important step to take. Acceptance is giving up being a victim. Acceptance is giving up giving up. Acceptance is a declaration of intent to move forward with life rather than continue to stagnate and blame circumstances or individuals for how things are.

Acceptance is the shift towards accepting that whatever is going on in your life is your responsibility. It is recognising that you are where you are because of the choices you have made in life. And if this means that you have to accept the crazy idea that you made a choice to suffer from a physical illness, then you do just that – accept it. Acceptance is no longer fighting. Once you no longer fight, you no longer resist. Once you no longer resist you can move with the flow.

Every single thing, big or small, good or bad, you simply say to yourself “I accept that this is going on for me right now”. You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to keep it forever. You just have to accept it in the present moment if it’s there.

The truth is that it’s there whether or not you accept it. So by accepting you are not making things worse, because you’ve already got it. You are just changing your position in relation to it.

Accept also that the thinking that got you where you are is unlikely to get you out – otherwise it would have already done so. You need to think differently. Acceptance is thinking differently. Acceptance is approaching the problem with wisdom. If you are so frightened you can’t go outside without a companion, and even then you are terrified, then just accept that that’s the way you are right now. You don’t have to understand why you are like that, you just need to acknowledge it. “I am too frightened to go out right now, so I’ll stay in”; “I’m really worried about my new boss right now, but that’s okay, worry is a natural event in the face of difficult circumstances”; “I feel really depressed, but that’s okay, it’s just my mind’s way of preparing me for change”. You can always find something to say to yourself that is accepting.

Releasing Guilt:

Guilt is something we are taught to experience. It is unnatural. Guilt can be experienced in the form: I did something I shouldn’t have done and now I feel bad; or I didn’t do something I should have done and now I feel bad; either way this is a self-created guilt. Or it can be induced “you should feel bad because…” when you behaved in a way that someone disapproved of; or in the form “well I was planning on going out tonight and I almost never go out with my mates and you go out all the time, but if you really want to go out, then I’ll stay in… don’t think there’s much on telly…”.

Whatever you did or didn’t do is done or not done. Feeling bad about it can’t undo it. This style of guilt is a belief in a Time Machine. It is engaging in fantasy. What is in the past is in the past. Either own up and take the consequences, or don’t. Choose which it is to be and then consign the experience to the past where it belongs and shift your attention to the present moment.

Emotional blackmail is the other way guilt is commonly experienced. Just stop playing that game. If you accept responsibility for your own feelings, then you must allow others to do the same. Do what you want to do and as long as you are not physically or psychologically harming others then that’s ok. Someone sulking because you are having more fun than them won’t do them any harm. When you give in to emotional blackmail you are effectively walking round with a big sign on your back saying – Abuse me, I don’t mind.

Expressing Appreciation:

This is one of the most difficult steps to master, so remember mastery is not the goal. The real problem with expressing appreciation is that many people feel uncomfortable when appreciation is expressed for something they have done “it was nothing”, “don’t mention it”, “anyone would have done it”.

Let’s say you decide to buy a gift for someone you love (not a sexual partner, a friend) just so they know how important they are in your life. You spend a lot of time choosing the gift. You wrap it beautifully and present it to them. They take one look and hand it back. How would you feel? Most people would feel at least a little hurt.

Appreciation is a gift.

Appreciation is a gift of love.

When someone does something for you that you like – let them know. Write an e-mail, send a letter, give a bigger tip, say something more than the ritual “thank you” – “thank you that was nice”, “I really enjoyed…”, “you are very thoughtful”…

Money is a wonderful way to express appreciation. Buy from those whom you appreciate. Send donations. Offer payment where none is expected.

And as you start to express appreciation more and more in your life you will find one day that when someone offers that gift of appreciation to you, you will not reject it you will accept it with “thanks, that’s really nice of you to say”.

Physical Exercise:

However much exercise you get you can always increase it. There is much truth in the old adage – A healthy mind in a healthy body.

Exercise is the expression of appreciation for your beautiful body. Your body is such a miraculous creation – so complex, so incredibly amazing – that it would be a rejection at the deepest level for you to ignore its physical well-being. It doesn’t matter how unfit you are. You can always exercise more than you are doing. Exercise releases endorphins. You feel better after exercise. The benefits are cumulative. It provides more oxygen to the brain, creates more alertness, awakens the immune system and so makes it easier to fight pathogens. But most of all it establishes a discipline and routine that is frequently lacking when mental health is poor. This change alone will improve the situation. Should you have any physical health problems then seek your doctor’s advice about exercise.

Creative Activity:

Everyone is a creative being. Stifling our creative outlet leads to poor mental health Our creativity is frequently stifled long before we realise what is happening, and then it seems too late because we believe what we have been told about ourselves. Creativity is about expressing yourself in the world. If you create a simple, badly written story with atrocious spelling and poor grammar, then you have expressed yourself creatively. Your creative works don’t have to be seen by others. Others tend to judge, and if you decide to create in an area where others have much greater expertise then your creation will not initially withstand comparison. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

Photography and gardening have been loves of mine since I was 14. I decided to combine the two interests and my photographs developed a distinctly horticultural slant. At one point I wanted to share them with the world and offered them for sale. It was a while before I made my first sale, and another while before one of my pictures adorned the cover of a magazine. One day I looked back at those first photographs I offered. I felt embarrassed at the poor quality – compared to my later work. But it was only by taking more and more pictures, looking at what was being published, and constantly improving that I achieved my dream of a picture on a magazine cover. But the important thing was that I enjoyed what I was doing. I didn’t have to show them to the world. I didn’t have to place them in the market for comparison with others who had much greater skill and experience than I. But I did need to take the pictures. It was part of who I was and how I needed to express myself. My pleasure came from the picture taking, looking at the pictures, and constantly seeking ways to become more skilled at my craft.

Express yourself in something that you love to do. Show it only if you want to, but don’t stop doing it while you love what you do.

Right Livelihood:

In a way this follows on from the previous step. It is the logical consequence of expressing yourself through what you love to do.

Now lest you are becoming concerned that I might ask you to do something you can’t do – like find another job – I never ask anyone to do what they can’t do. I might, however, ask you to ask yourself what exactly is it that is stopping you from doing it. At least that way you can move towards an acceptance of the barrier to happiness.

From time to time I ask the people I encounter “If you could be doing anything you wanted to do, would you choose your current livelihood?”. I’ve yet to meet someone who answered ‘yes’ to that question. Those people are out there. They just don’t need to come to see me.

People tend to either hate what they do, but it’s all they can get in the way of work; or their work is okay, but they are earning too much money to give it up and do something fun for a living.

Look to how you feel when you get up in the morning on a workday. Is there any excitement or sense of anticipation or looking forward to the challenges of the day ahead? This is a good sign. If there is dread, a wishing for the day to be over, tiredness, or a general lack of enthusiasm – then something needs to change, either the work or the attitude towards it.

Go back to step one and accept whatever it is you are engaged in right now. Accept that you would like to be doing something more fun but that you don’t know how to bring about the change, or you are fearful of taking the necessary steps. That’s all. As best you can find small pleasures in what you do – even if it’s just the appreciation for how the income makes life better than life would be without that income; or appreciation for the good feeling that comes from making a contribution that benefits someone, somewhere.