Fusion Blog

We are all familiar with the concept of building physical fitness. In fact, as we age and our parts become more “worn,” most of us discover that physical activity seems to be the one thing that reliably keeps the joints lubricated.

In my own case, I was never into physical exercise in my younger years. In fact, would pretty much go out of my way to avoid it. In my 50s, it’s essential. As soon as I stop, my body starts seizing up.

So it was with some interest that I noted the concept of building mental fitness being promoted by mental health professionals. But it make sense. Building physical fitness gives us a cushion of physiological support to fall back on when illness or injury occurs.

  • less likely to become ill and recover more quickly when we do
  • less likely to suffer injuries from falls or other trauma
  • injuries are less severe and heal faster when we are injured

Similarly, a high level of mental fitness cushions the blow of stressful situations and events that might otherwise overwhelm us. We are better equipped to:

  • cope
  • think clearly
  • develop creative problem-solving strategies
  • stay positive

How do we build mental fitness?

Stay Connected

  • to people that make us feel good about ourselves
  • to activities that make us feel happy, useful, and accomplished

Exercise our Bodies

Many researchers believe that regular exercise is the single most important thing we can do to improve our mental fitness. Exercise:

  • stimulates the production of endorphin, a chemical which provides stress relief and makes us feel good
  • helps us sleep better
  • increases our energy levels
  • keeps our digestive and elimination systems moving (think: walk the dog)
  • puts us in contact with other people
  • enhances our self esteem as we see progress
  • improves our physical health - when we feel better physically our mood naturally improves

Eat for Health

As we get older, and particularly if we live alone, it is very easy to slip into some very bad eating habits. Over time, poor nutrition robs our bodies of the fuel it needs to stay healthy and strong. Some strategies:

  • develop a list of healthy and quick-to-prepare meals
  • make too much and freeze left-overs in one-meal sizes
  • make healthy choices in restaurants and fast food outlets
  • eat lots of small meals instead of just a couple big ones

Establish Routines

Having a routine to follow for the everyday stuff of life leaves our brains free to work on the more challenging issues. Our bodies respond well to routine and sleep is one thing that comes more easily when our bodies know what to expect:

  • go to bed and get up at the same time every day
  • get your mind and body ready for sleep in the evening - have a warm bath, do a relaxation exercise, read a book before turning out the light
  • avoid things that are stimulating, upsetting, or thought-provoking just before bed (e.g. vigorous exercise, watching the news)

Interrupt Negative Thinking

Negative thinking is that little voice in your head that puts a negative spin on everything. For example, when a friend cancels lunch, negative thinking says:

She probably got a better offer.
She never liked me much anyway.
I’m such boring company why would anyone want to have lunch with me anyway?

This kind of thinking becomes a bad habit. It makes us feel badly about ourselves. But it can be broken. Interrupt and challenge the facts with questions like:

Is that really true?
What hard evidence do I have?
What other possibilities might there be?
What advice would I give someone else who was feeling bad because their friend cancelled lunch?

Then re-write the statement, making it realistic. The goal is not to give incidents a positive “spin” that is not true, but to make sure that the version we keep in our heads is realistic.

Plan Ahead for Stress

Some stressful situations and events jump out of nowhere. These are hard to plan for, but being in good mental and physical condition gives us the ability to bounce back when we are ambushed

But many stressful situations are not surprises. They can be planned for. Christmas, for example, has come on the same date every year since I can remember. Family holidays, birthday celebrations, new jobs, out-of-town visitors ...all generally come with advance notice.

Planning for these stressful events can make all the difference:

What genuinely must be done and what can be eliminated?
What can be delegated to someone else to do?
What can be purchased or contracted for?
What can I do in advance?
What can I say NO to?

Challenge Yourself

Involve yourself in activities that make you exercise that brain muscle by solving problems, coordinating body parts, being creative, etc. Some ideas: learn a new language, play poker, build furniture, do crosswords or play a musical instrument.

Build some muscle, climb a mountain, join a walking club, start swimming lengths. Keep track of your progress and celebrate improvement.

Reach out to other people. Start with a smile. Move on to an introduction. Talk to the people around you. Make a new friend.

Dream and Set Goals

Dare to dream...

Where would you like to be in five years?
How would someone get there?
What steps would they break the journey down into?
Where would YOU start?

Setting goals, working on them, accomplishing one step at a time. That’s what keeps us motivated and engaged in life.

Carolyn Usher