It seems impossible to mention mental health in relation to fit healthy people. It has become synonymous with ill health. It is fantastic that people are speaking out about mental health issues but we must not forget that it is a component of fitness which many of us pursue daily.
These days there is a great awareness of physical fitness. This is coupled with a growing interest in the role of diet in health, fitness and state of mind.
People talk with enthusiasm about their chosen fitness regimen and will expound on their dietary choices. But, although they are commonly equally interested in their mental fitness, there is a reluctance to talk freely about it.
Why is it that to refer to being physically fit and being mentally fit have very different implications.
Be yourself. Be the best version possible. Be mentally fit.
So how do you do that?
There is a whole area of our need for fitness which is not understood. We fear that we may perhaps appear a bit weird if we talked about our emotions, our core beliefs, or how we are focused on managing our biochemistry and being aware of our self-worth.
I always feel a kinship with likeminded people when I go to the gym early in the morning. I feel that I am with a particular group of people; people I would willingly employ in my business or for their trades or professions.
A morning trip to the gym is not possible for many but exercise should be part of everyone’s routine.
Exercise impacts on our biochemistry and so does our diet. What impacts on biochemistry affects the brain and the mind as well.
Neuroscientists now demonstrate that when the right biochemistry is flowing in our bodies it creates the environment for new brain cell growth. Everything in the body works in a feedback way. For good and for bad.
When you work a muscle, hormones stimulate the growth and repair. This effect is far reaching, touching the whole body.
When you work a leg muscle for example it works as part of the circulatory system. When it contracts it pumps blood back to the lungs for oxygenation. The level of oxygenation is monitored by the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve manages the rest and recuperation and repair and digestion.
The hormones which the vagus stimulates create the perfect environment for brain cell growth.
2: What you eat:
Exercise and dietary management are the obvious contributors. Intriguingly there is a very close connection between bacteria in the intestines and serotonin. What we eat affects the bugs which affects the quality of the bacterial makeup and so on. Read more here.
How else can we influence the correct hormonal environment for health?
When we start on a fitness programme or a diet we normally have a plan which we follow on a daily basis. We are creatures of habit who establish plans or routines in everything we do.
Even when we go on holiday, although it is very relaxing to break the daily routine we quickly change it for another; getting up at a certain time, having coffee and lunch and dinner all seem to naturally flow into a new relaxed routine.
Although we all have very strict routines to manage our days it could be enhanced to include essential elements for mental health.
3: The vagus nerve
In a way, understanding the vagus nerve is the key. I have written an article about it which you can read at this link. While this is part of the involuntary nervous system it can be accessed by a number of methods.
Relaxation, recovery, repair, digestion and sexual activity are all in the domain of the vagus. All are managed by chemistry; hormones and neurotransmitters.
4: Relaxation techniques all impact by stimulating vagal activity. In its feedback mechanism the vagus controls breathing, slowing it down. If we take control of breathing it sends messages through the nerve causing a relaxing flow through the body.
Every day of my working life started with a period of meditation. At least I think it is meditation, my own version. It was initially proposed by Wayne Dyer as a version of morning and night prayers.
Twenty minutes in the morning focused on what is most important in the day. This will usually be a focus on what I could do for other people. After a while this became a state to which I could put my mind at any time in the day; just for a briefest moment when life became stressful. It is a powerful help.
The evening meditation was to examine the day in detail to find every little thing which went right. It is fascinating that there are so many things to celebrate but we normally only notice the bad.
With time I found myself saving up the little things which occurred as the day went by, for my evening list. I advise you to try it. Find someone to guide you to your meditation method. There is a large number of videos about it on Youtube.
I found that my approach to a day quickly changed so that I chose not to continue the evening meditation.
In a similar way to noticing all the good things which happen, spend some time becoming more aware of your surroundings. Notice all the nice things which surround you. A flower. A tree. The wonderfully ornate trunk on a very old tree. Enjoy the little things. I love the orange colour of the traffic lights at night, for example. Weird!! There is beauty everywhere. Be aware of how it affects your emotions.
The saying says that ‘whatever you hold in your awareness will grow’. Is very true. There is a great example of the body builder who will be most effective with any muscle if they hold it in their awareness as they work it. Read more on the link.
What is equally interesting from that article is that while being aware, best results will be had by relaxing, rather than forcing the exercise, and being mindful of the task to the exclusion of all other distractions.
A period of solitude is very therapeutic. Today because of electronic communication it is hard to find solitude even when alone. A quiet corner can be found anywhere by switching off the mind.
Emotions are how you feel when a certain mix of hormones is flowing through your body. The great feeling after exercise is a great example. Great feeling is the feeling of great therapeutic chemistry. Read more here.
8: Learn more about yourself.
Be yourself. Know what you are good at. Tell yourself often. There is a free exercise in the top right corner of this page. Or you could click here and download it immediately.
9: Get out of the comfort zone.
Always push your boundaries. Success is at the other side of fear. Do not let fear of failure, or self-consciousness, or the opinion of others stop you expressing what you believe yourself to be good at. If you go to the gym or cycle or run, you will push just a little bit further every now and then. It is from this that you grow in body and mind. Push a little further in every area of life where you want to grow.
10: Being in control:
The best way to have control of life is to have routines which are adhered to. Do not allow intrusions into a day which cannot be accommodated on your ‘list’. There is only so much time. take ownership of your time and have others respect it. Saying no is a great defence.
11: Being in focus:
Focus is awareness of the present moment. It can be close to meditation. It can also be solitude. It is being in control.
12: Be careful who you associate with.
Above all else we need friends. To be successful it is important to only associate with likeminded people. That means people with whom you share values and have similar interests. It is important to be with those who motivate you by supporting you. The opposite is very true. Negativity is corrosive.
Or far better still.
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