Unless you are a monk or hermit living a secluded life, you are probably surrounded by a growing number of messages around mental health, resilience, stress, burnout, self-care and alike. Lately, the concept of mental fitness has been hitting the headlines, just to add to the lengthy list of wellbeing themes. This is not surprising, given the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world we are living in – a world that is putting our coping strategies to a real test almost every day. It might feel overwhelming to create a plan to look after your mental & emotional state in addition to your existing chores and responsibilities, when even regularly going to the gym feels out of reach. So what is mental fitness and why should you care about it?
What is mental fitness?
Mental fitness goes beyond mental health: it means that you have the skills and practices to sustain and improve your wellbeing, build resilience, feel empowered to respond to challenges and external stressors, and enjoy life. As you build mental fitness, you become fit to handle the demands of day-to-day life and your ability to perform at your best increases.
Imagine a work scenario in which you are being tasked to lead a new team to deliver a priority project that is expected to transform the way the company engages its customers. If you are mentally fit, you will be enthusiastic and consider the task as an opportunity to grow your skillset, develop yourself as a leader and advance your career. You will energize the team, think clearly, encourage novel ideas & approaches, explore multiple ways-in, build good relationships and be confident in your ability to succeed. On the contrary, if you are lacking mental fitness, the task may feel like an insurmountable and unwelcome challenge, you will feel stressed out, be stuck in standard practices and old ideas, have a hard time motivating and inspiring the team, struggle with concentration and making decisions, and doubt your ability to succeed in the assignment.
The benefits of being mentally fit
When you are mentally fit, you tend to feel:
- Energised, focused and mentally sharp
- Confident in your ability to tackle challenges and overcome obstacles
- Inventive in your approach to solving problems and eager to engage in creative activities
- Connected to your feelings and capable of regulating emotions in a positive manner
- Curious to try and learn new things
- Optimistic with a positive life outlook
With mental fitness, you can stay calm under pressure and recognize that you have a choice around how to respond to every situation instead of falling victim to impulsive reactions only to regret them later. Thanks to the expanding emotional awareness and intelligence, your relationships improve and you are more present and connected to people around you. You experience higher self-confidence and self-efficacy, trusting your innate ability to accomplish your goals. All these benefits paired with an improved cognitive functioning result in higher productivity and engagement at work – and if you are a leader, it even expands your impact and influence. Mentally fit people know also that respecting the body’s limits pays off: with regular rest and recharge, they accomplish more than if they just kept pushing.
Experts agree that all the above-mentioned skills are essential in today’s world if you want not only to survive but to thrive and be well prepared for future challenges. And one thing all of us are learning these days is that change and uncertainty are here to stay, and our mindset will determine how successfully we can tackle changes and uncertain situations.
What happens when mental fitness is in short supply?
Negativity is overshadowing the way you look at the world and you tend to feel:
- Stressed, frustrated, stuck, irritable and reactive, opting for unhelpful default behaviours
- Exhausted, lacking energy and motivation
- Easily spiralling into negative thoughts and mood swings
- Less creative and not confident in your ability to deal with adversity and withstand stress
- Less adaptable to changes and less able to tolerate uncertainty
- Burdened by brain fog, thus having difficulty in concentrating, reasoning and making decisions
When the level of mental fitness and overall wellbeing is on the lower end of the spectrum, it is hard to find the energy and drive to break out of your comfort zone and old habit patterns, work towards your goals or embrace change. You tend to be harsh and judgemental with yourself, feelings of unworthiness take over and your mind is either ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. This state hinders innovation, resourcefulness and agility, further exacerbating the feeling of stuckness.
Exercise your brain at any age
We are all aware of the importance and benefits of physical fitness and know several ways to improve it, such as running, swimming, training at the gym or hiking. It helps you function and feel better, have higher endurance, or experience a sense of achievement. Just like exercising your body to strengthen your physical fitness, you can and should exercise your brain to keep your mind in top shape. Thanks to neuroplasticity, skills and practices that enhance mental fitness can be learned at any age. Through these practices, you are breaking old patterns and creating new neural pathways that better serve you and elicit more positive emotions.
If you want to lead a healthy, joyful life and thrive in the modern world, investing in your mental fitness is indispensable.