If you’re anything like me, you always welcome time off over the summer period; a chance to wind down and relax. I’ve always looked forward to these opportunities but when it comes time to get back to work, I’m never sure whether I feel genuinely rested and ready to return or whether I have squandered the opportunity to recharge.
Over recent years, I have really embraced the concept of mental fitness, the idea that by knowing ourselves better and embedding nourishing habits of the body and mind into our daily routine, we can begin to take proactive steps to reinforce and protect our mental health. That way, we can begin to take personal responsibility for our mind just in the way we have been encouraged to do with our bodies for generations.
In years gone by, I would have taken the opportunity of a summer holiday to eat and drink too much, avoid any real exercise and go back to work in worse shape than I started. This year, I’m determined to do it differently so that I can genuinely refresh myself for the upcoming months.
Time away over the summer is the perfect opportunity to either review this process or initiate it; we have time and space away from the pressures of work and the daily grind to genuinely reflect on how we can put ourselves on the front foot in relation to our mental health. In doing this, we give ourselves the best chance of thriving on a day to day basis and being able to cope when things go wrong.
1. Reflect on how well you know yourself. We’re all very good at examining those around us but typically we can live in a degree of ignorance of ourselves. We all have existing skills and insight into ourselves but much of it lives in our subconscious, ready to ambush us at the least helpful moment. I have lived for the majority of my life without really taking the time to understand how I tick. Having dismissed it for years, I have found meditation and the associated mindfulness a really helpful way of understanding my emotions and giving me more options on how I relate to and channel them. I struggled at first, but just like physical fitness, I stuck with it during the challenging initial period and have found immense benefit from regular practice.
2. Think about who you are. Having a clear sense of our identity is a key foundation to our emotional resilience; we typically think about ourselves in relation to very fixed concepts such as our career, our role as a parent or a spouse. Whilst these are important – and being conflicted about these can cause a lot of underlying stress – they are not the whole answer. Thinking about howwe are is as important as whowe are; what principles drive our decision-making and personal interactions. Do we value being a kind person as much as being a capable person? Being able to draw on these beliefs during times of challenge means that we always have somewhere to go and somewhere in our mind to bounce back to if things go wrong.
3. Consider who we connect with and how. As human beings, we are designed to need others, but the danger comes when all that connection is based on relationships of utility; we’re dealing with others because we want or need something from them and there’s none of the grace, virtue or authenticity which contribute to meaningful interactions. Added complexity comes when we find little meaning in the relationships with those we choose to spend time; if we find little benefit in any of our interactions, we may struggle to pursue them and start to feel isolated. Having people around you who love you, but also challenge and inspire you is a great way to keep life on track. “A true friend never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down” (Arnold Glasow).
4. Contemplate how you relate to purpose in your life. Things are always easier to stick to when we are driven by a sense of purpose and genuinely understanding why we are doing them. Purpose will keep us moving forwards in life but can also derail us if that purpose disappears or no longer feels relevant. One way of avoiding the disadvantages of this paradox is to create multiple pockets of purpose in our life. Whether that’s purpose in our professional lives, as a parent, a spouse or a volunteer in our local community, spreading our bets means that our resilience in life is reinforced by the sense of having other areas of purpose to hang on to if one evaporates.
5. Examine the stressors in your life. Stress can sometimes seem like a tangled bird’s nest of emotions and challenges that we can’t get to the bottom of. The temptation can be to ignore it and hope it goes away, but this tactic rarely works and can lead to it compounding and getting worse. We have the opportunity during some downtime to consider stress in its different forms; which areas of our lives are the sources of stress and which suffer the impact. It can take courage and humility, but if we really contemplate the nature of stress, we can begin to prioritise taking action. If we do that, and reduce stress in our lives, we are far more likely to remain mentally fit and avoid follow-on challenges such as depression and anxiety.
6. Look at your habits. For better of for worse, we rarely follow our routine habits whilst on holiday. This gives us the opportunity to examine what we do on a regular basis, often subconsciously, and divide them into two groups; those habits that nourish us and those that deplete us. We can challenge ourselves by asking what purpose doing each of these serves. By looking back at the stressors we have identified, we can begin to work out which habits we can stop or start to reduce those stressors. Likewise, when we have a conscious feeling for the elements of identity, connection and purpose that we should be building into our lives, we can create or cease habits that reinforce those vital building blocks of mental fitness and resilience.
7. Be prepared to take responsibility. The pessimist in all of us sometimes decides that we can’t control what goes on in our lives and this can particularly apply to our mental health. By engaging our inner optimist and believing that we can control what goes on, we can all build our mental health literacy for our own benefit and those around us. It can be a daunting prospect and potentially scary, but I believe that, as a society, we are as comfortable with our mental health as we are with our physical health. There’s no need to wait until things go wrong and then seek clinical treatment, we can all do more to prevent our mental health deteriorating and realise when it’s happening to others.
8. Understand what will help you. Any kind of lifestyle routine can be difficult to maintain, particularly amidst the often chaotic nature of modern life but there are a number of measures that can help us stay on track and embed those elusive characteristics of commitment, patience and discipline. Whether that’s peer-to-peer mentoring, harnessing technology to keep you motivated or setting goals, it’s often particular to your personal preferences but through trial and error, you can establish what works.
9. Identify the obstacles. Expecting obstacles and being realistic about them will mean you’re more likely to succeed in maintaining a good level of mental fitness. Whether it’s distraction, fear, external pressures or self-limiting beliefs, none of us are immune to them. By being more mindful of such obstacles, we can plan to move round them and employ the aids listed above to overcome them.
10. When you get a routine sorted, keep doing it. This is where I have found the concept of mental fitness the most helpful; we all understand that if we neglect our physical fitness, our physical health may suffer. It’s the same with our minds. Being mindful of our emotions enables us to decide better how to engage with them and decide whether we want to listen to them and act on them. If your routine is working for you, acknowledge the benefits of pursuing it and keep doing it. Using the 87% app , I measure, understand and improve my mental fitness by regularly building my self-awareness and knowledge of my mind.
Wherever you find yourself over the summer, whatever you end up doing, take some time to consider how you can begin to reinvigorate your mental fitness for your own benefit and those around you.
At The Eleos Partnership we work with individuals and organisations to cultivate mental fitness. To find out more about how we do it, get in touch at email@example.com