As life settles down post-pandemic, psychotherapist Noel McDermott looks at ways for us to stay on top of our mental fitness.
Anxiety about the world opening-up may make some people shy away from resilience building activities, but it’s crucial we challenge that fear in ourselves. We need to socialise in groups to remain mentally healthy and we must look at ways in which to boost our wellbeing.
Do a lifestyle audit – how much of your time is going into mental fitness?
A lifestyle audit is based on the fact that change happens because people integrate it into their everyday lifestyle. Pre-pandemic there was a lot of information for example on how to be healthier by integrating activity into your everyday routine – walk between tube stops, use a mixture of transport modes such as cycle to a train station for your commute, use the stairs rather than the lift, have step goals and stair climb goals etc. These relatively small changes make someone’s lifestyle healthier, it’s the regularity that works.
We have all been encouraged to do this to make us more active. Similarly with our diets we have been encouraged to add healthier choices into our daily food intake. By thinking about the regular daily changes we can make to how we live our lives with activity and food we can make significant improvements in our health. The evidence suggests that small changes that have a disproportionately large impact are sustainable long term, and the long-term sustainable changes have most impact overall.
With any challenge we are more likely to succeed if we break it down into smaller parts and then master them one at a time. Adding in new tasks once the first has become habit.
Similarly, we take the same approach to mental fitness. Audit your daily and weekly routine to see where you can add mental fitness. It’s not possible to do all of this in one go, but it can be built up over time and with an audit of your lifestyle you can set realistic goals. Start with the easy ones and move on to the more difficult ones. The evidence is clear that this approach creates a virtuous circle of increased health and well-being rather than the more familiar vicious cycle of ill health.
Ensure you are doing at last three things each day that will improve your mental fitness
Make sure you take time out every day, such as two minutes mindful breathing, or a chance to sit and relax, share a worry with a friend, engage in a selfless act of kindness, get hugs from a loved one, engage in nature, take time to notice your thoughts and feelings, reach out to a friend to see how they are, reduce multi-tasking and add sequential tacking into your productivity, engage in a self-care activity, hold healthy boundaries at work and the list goes on.
Research shows taking a walk in the local park can help reduce biophilic stress, which is a psychological term to explain how we need nature to feel more connected, less solipsistic, and improve our mood. Evidence is emerging that combining a walk in your local park with mindfulness appreciation improves this wellbeing and sense of connection. Walks in the park, particularly in pandemic times became probably the single most important well-being activity for us.
Learn to Meditate
Start a course of mindfulness meditation… probably the single most useful contribution you will make to your mental fitness ever. Not only is this a workout for the brain, but it creates immediate benefits to our mental health, as well as long term benefits to our brain and physical health.
Psychotherapist Noel McDermott explained to Channel Eye: “The pandemic will have affected our mental fitness in several ways, physically we have been more housebound and less able to naturally add exercise to our days such as walking/cycling to work, using stairs rather than lifts etc. These goals help both our physical fitness and our mental fitness. Early on the pandemic also removed many of our ‘natural’ ways of getting the socialisation we need for mental fitness, such as attending group events (work, weddings, pub etc)”.
In the second part of this article, we look further into mental fitness and why it is so important for us all.
Advice from Noel McDermott, a Psychotherapist with over 25 years’ experience in health, social care, and education. Noel is the founder and CEO of three organisations, Psychotherapy and Consultancy Ltd, Sober Help Ltd and Mental Health Works Ltd. Noel’s company offer at-home mental health care and will source, identify and co-ordinate personalised care teams for the individual. They have recently launched a range of online therapy resources to help clients access help without leaving home.
This article is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice of physicians. The reader should regularly consult a physician in matters relating to his/her health and particularly with respect to any symptoms that may require diagnosis or medical attention.