Mental health is just as important as physical health, if not more so.
Many people do not know that the brain is like a muscle. Just like how it is important to workout the muscles in our body, it is equally important to give our brain a workout. There are some ways I have found in my life that help me improve my mental health and keep my brain strong. If we do not feel mentally healthy, it is nearly impossible to be physically healthy because we lose motivation and do not want to work towards our goals. I know for me when I struggle mentally, I have a really hard time going to the gym or feeling like cooking healthy meals etc. It’s totally normal and okay to feel sad, angry, and down at times, but if we cannot bounce back it’s so important to ask for help or tak to someone. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about and you shouldn’t feel scared to reach out. Loving yourself and being the best person you can be has so much to do with being mentally healthy.
What is mental fitness?
Mental fitness helps you increase your focus and concentration in school, work or any other tasks that involve your attention. Mental fitness enables you to deal with stressors more effectively. It helps you make stronger, healthier connections with the people around you, forgive yourself, and live your life to the fullest. I am a very firm believer in that life is not about what happens to you, but rather, how you react. Bad things happen whether we like it or not, but based on how we deal with what happens shows our true character and strength.
So what are some ways to boost your mental fitness and give your brain a workout? Here are my favorite.
1. Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, and start practicing mind muscle connection. Obviously, physical activity is great for mental wellness because it raises endorphins and can relieve stress, but the type of exercise I like to do focuses on connecting your mind to the specific muscles that are working. It’s really cool because the more you practice mind-muscle connection, the better the muscle fibers work when you need them to. Some ways to improve mind-muscle connection when lifting is to start with a warm up set so the muscles you need to be engaged are ready to go. Next, go slowly and focus on contraction and release. For example, when squatting, try to push your heels through the floor and squeeze your glutes when you come up. If it is working, you should be able to literally feel your glutes doing the work and your heart rate should increase quickly. The breathing should be very specific. Inhale as you come down, and exhale as you come up. This means you have to concentrate on what you are doing!
2. Boost levels of Vitamin B in your diet. Vitamin B is critical for brain health. Vitamin B can help slow brain shrinkage and slow alzheimer’s disease. Deficiency in B vitamins is linked to neurological dysfunction. Foods very high in Vitamin B12 include shellfish, fish, beef steak and eggs yolks. People who are vegetarian or vegan should supplement with a high quality B12. Other options that have b vitamins include dark green vegetables, lentils, nuts such as almonds, canned tuna, avocado, fortified tofu and split peas.
3. Give yourself a mental health day every now and again. I am a huge believer in “mental health days”. Days where you take time off from work and just relax and do something you love can actually help you be more productive when you do return. Some of my favorite things to do are: go to a hot yoga class, take a long steam, take a nice bubble bath, read my favorite book, or curl up in bed with my favorite show. If you don’t have time for a full day, even just a half hour or fifteen minutes of your day where you don’t check your phone, email, computer, or think about all the stuff you have to do. Just go on a walk, play your favorite music and breathe in fresh air. Doing something like this can help give you a new perspective and you’ll return to whatever you were doing with a more clear mindset.
4. Read. Often. I love reading, which is great because I’m an English major, so I have to do lots of it. My favorite kinds of books are fiction and physiological thriller books. Reading is excellent for your brain and much healthier than scrolling through Instagram or Facebook. Reading before bed helps me feel sleepy and is also good because it doesn’t emit any blue light which stops melatonin production before bed.
5. Practice a new hobby. Taking up a new hobby is an awesome idea. There are so many different avenues to explore-you could start running, drawing, cooking, hiking, collecting, photography, dance and the list goes on. Starting a new hobby gives you time to enjoy something completely different and exciting outside of your everyday life. It’s such an amazing feeling to start something and then be able to see how you improve over time.
6. Write! Journaling has been shown to be a very helpful tool, particularly when dealing with stress and anxious thoughts. Journaling can help you prioritize your problems and fears, track how to deal with them, and provide an outlet for positivity by giving you a space to write down reasons why you are grateful, or goals in the future you hope to achieve.
7. Meditate. I put this as the last one because for me it has proven to be the most challenging. Something so simple as sitting down and doing nothing for ten minutes sounds pretty easy, but it’s pretty hard and can take some time to get good at. I love using the app called Calm which guides you through meditation sessions and are perfect for the beginner (me). I’m not sponsored; I genuinly just love this app and the concept of it. It’s completely free to sign up, and all you have to do is plug in headphones, find a quiet space and relax. I really recommend getting into some type of meditation, whether you do it for five minutes in the morning or five minutes before bed; it doesn’t matter. Carving out such a short period of time during the day to focus solely on your very existence and breathing has proven to be one of the biggest investments you can make in your health and well-being.
As I said before, it’s not about trying to do all of these in one day. Improving mental fitness takes time, like physical fitness, but it is an investment for not only yourself, but the people you love. You will be able to communicate, act, think, feel, and be better.