Handymen know the importance of using the right tools for any given job. Need to saw and sand a shelf? Grab a saw and a sander! A level ensures that the shelf is level, some screws and a screwdriver secure it to the wall, and a badass tool belt…okay, a tool belt just looks cool.
Sometimes, however, life calls for a different set of tools. As one of the registered counsellors providing private video appointments at TELUS Health MyCare™, I often hear from guys who are struggling with the strains and stresses of daily life. That’s when I help them assemble a mental fitness toolkit of their own.
What is mental fitness?
Just as physical fitness helps your body stay strong, mental fitness provides the coping skills and resources you need to deal with life’s challenges in positive ways. It’s about building your toolbox of skills and resources that help you respond constructively to whatever life throws at you.
You’re always going to have to face challenges and adversity in your life. You will never be immune to stress. Mental fitness helps you to handle stress and anxiety better.
It also supports your enjoyment of life and the people in it, helps prevent brain disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and enables you to be creative, learn, try new things, and take risks. On that note…
Ways to build your mental fitness
A lot of the guys I work with are amazed by the ease and effectiveness of meditation (and are thankful that they don’t have to burn incense or twist their legs into pretzels). To meditate, all you need to do is:
- Find a quiet place to sit
- Sit comfortably and inhale and exhale slowly and deeply through your nose
- Your belly, not your chest, should rise
- Do this for three to five minutes to start
- Feel your stress and tension melt away
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When you are calm, and in the present moment, it can change the trajectory of your life for the next hour or so. It can take you to a calm place of “what should I do next?” instead of spiralling down a negative path of anxiety.
Fun and games
You can also build your mental fitness by doing puzzles and games such as crosswords, brain-teasers and Sudoku, all of which support brain flexibility and growth. There are also dozens of free smartphone apps, such as Elevate, Peak and Cognito, that are designed to achieve more or less the same thing.
I like to look at creativity as being open to expressing yourself in different ways, be it through art, music, writing, photography and so on. All of these activities grow different parts of your brain.
When I talk to clients about keeping a daily journal, I let them know right off the bat that this doesn’t have to mean sitting alone at night and writing “dear diary” before pouring out your heart. That works for some guys, but for others, it can also be about problem solving and figuring out what has worked or not worked for you that day.
Journaling can simply be about expressing gratitude in order to put a positive spin on life. Our brains don’t naturally go to positive places since historically, it has not benefited us as a species to be happy and go lucky all of the time. Expressing gratitude is one of the ways we can grow our brain.
Create goals based on your personal values
One of the things I really like to do with my clients when talking about how they want to grow and develop their brains is to ask themselves, “what kind of human being do I want to be in this world?” then set your goals based on that. It is far too easy to set goals based on what you think you “should” be doing (based on external beliefs, not your own). Oftentimes these “shoulds” don’t match with how you want to be.
If you are certain about your values and who you want to be as a person, you will be far more likely to stick to your goals through tough times because they have meaning and value to you. This can also get you through uncomfortable moments because it gives you the capacity to ride it out, knowing it will take you closer to how you want to be in life.
Connect with simple pleasures
Balancing all the hard work you do with simple activities you enjoy—fishing, cooking, spending time with family, watching movies, listening to podcasts, whatever floats your boat—can help you to decompress and prepare for the next curveball life throws at you.
What are the (other) benefits of mental fitness?
As if everything I just listed isn’t awesome enough, mental fitness also makes it easier to stay healthy overall. When you are living on autopilot, people tend to repeat unhealthy habits and patterns, such as smoking, binge eating and drinking too much, as ways to cope with stress. Many of the guys I council explain these unhealthy behaviours by saying, “it’s just the way I am.”
It doesn’t have to be that way! Mental fitness gives you a toolbox of skills to break unhealthy habits and patterns, even those that may have dogged you for as long as you can remember. Your brain is capable of growing and learning new things. This includes learning how to handle life and difficult situations better. So when you build this toolbox of skills, you can pick out which ones to use in any thorny situation.
Just knowing that you have the tools to handle difficult or stressful situations successfully—drinking less at a holiday gathering, for example, or going to a job interview—can build your confidence and self-esteem.
This creates a positive feedback loop with improved confidence and self-esteem strengthening your mental fitness even more. Goodbye hopelessness and helplessness, hello confidence and kick-assery! As a big-time bonus, a healthier lifestyle drastically lowers the risk of many diseases, helps you live longer, and lets you enjoy the time you have all the more.
Look at it this way: Fishermen wear life jackets not because they plan on falling out of the boat, but to be prepared should the vessel spring a leak. It’s the same thing with mental fitness: You can’t always predict when stress will strike, but you can prepare for it by having your mental fitness toolbox at the ready.
Speaking of decompressing, the free MindFit Toolkit includes relaxing ambient sounds you won’t hear at a spa: The hum of a distant lawnmower, the popping of pickle jars, the swoosh of a perfect golf swing…sounds good, right? Check it out right now!
What are some of the ways you like to keep your brain active? Share in the comments below!
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