We all know that staying physically fit is important for our health. Many of us flock to gyms at the start of every January with the best of intentions to be physically active. How many of us, however, take care to stay mentally fit as well? Mental fitness is an umbrella term used to encompass a huge range of factors such as emotional wellbeing, ability to cope with difficult situations, mental agility and adeptness at solving problems. There are many things that we can do to improve our mental fitness but there is no quick fix.
Just like becoming physically fit it takes time, practice and an individualised plan to find what works for any one person. The first step for nearly everyone, however, is to recognise what may need improvement and to focus on the next small step to achieve that.
One of the biggest problems in the modern world is stress and for many people reducing stress will be the major focus to improve their mental fitness. But did you know that stress can be both good and bad? Too much stress is detrimental for health, emotional wellbeing and mental agility . But too little stress can be equally damaging . Read more
We all need a certain level of challenge to hit the ‘sweet spot’ of stress. Psychologists call this an inverted U-curve whereby too or too much little stress leaves us mentally unfit but the right amount allows us to sharpen our mental abilities and focus. See example below.
A good way to find this ‘sweet spot’ is to be aware of our emotions and our stress levels. Some people advocate keeping a stress diary for a few days. This is a journal in which you jot down times during the day when you felt stressed, what caused it and what you did, if anything, that made you feel better (e.g. ). Another way to become aware of your emotions and stress is to use biofeedback using devices such as the PIP. Biofeedback allows you to see ‘signals’ in your body and respond to them. The Pip allows you to see changes in your skin that happen when you are stressed.
When you use the Pip regularly you will start to notice days or specific times when you are more or less stressed and this will allow you to find out what works for you to stay in the ‘sweet spot’. You might find that on the days you were physically active before or afterwards you were better able to cope with stressful events. Or it may be that when you planned to spend time with friends or family this helped you to feel challenged rather than threatened when faced with a stressful situation. Read more
Everyone is different but becoming aware of the triggers that affect your mental health and the ways to counteract them will start you on a path to improving your mental, and maybe even physical, fitness.
- Miller, G.E., E. Chen, and E.S. Zhou, If it goes up, must it come down? Chronic stress and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis in humans. Psychological bulletin, 2007. 133(1): p. 25.
- Schilling, T.M., et al., For whom the bell (curve) tolls: Cortisol rapidly affects memory retrieval by an inverted U-shaped dose–response relationship. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2013. 38(9): p. 1565-1572.
- Clarkson, G.P. and G.P. Hodgkinson, What can occupational stress diaries achieve that questionnaires can’t? Personnel Review, 2007. 36(5): p. 684-700.