We talk a lot here at Dumbbell Fit about physical health and wellbeing, but perhaps not so much about mental health.
Mental and physical health go hand-in-hand and can directly impact each other. We can reap the rewards of being physically active in terms of improving out mental health, but, at the same time, if we’re already active but going through a tough time emotionally, and suffering mentally, this can have a negative impact on out physical health, and any progress we’re trying to make in the gym.
So let’s focus on mental health and wellbeing, and what steps you can take to feel more positive and get the most out of life and, by default, your training.
Understanding Mental Health And Wellbeing
Typically considered to be a positive concept, mental health relates to out social and emotional wellbeing. Having good mental health is more about a state of overall wellbeing than just the absence of illness. Although influenced by culture, mental health generally relates to:
- The enjoyment of life;
- Being able to set and achieve goals;
- Being capable of building and maintaining relationships with others;
- Being able to cope with and overcome stress and sadness.
What Can Affect Our Mental Health And Wellbeing?
Our mental health is influenced by several factors – biological, environmental, social and psychological – which interact with each other in different ways. These can include:
- Structural – safe living environments, being in employment, receiving a good education, not being exposed to discrimination or violence, and being able to access economic resources;
- Community – having a good sense of belonging, being connected to your community, being able to embrace diversity, accessing social support, and participating in society;
- Individual – managing thoughts and coping with stress, and having the communication and social skills to support being connected with others.
Five Steps To Mental Wellbeing
Evidence suggests there are five steps we can take to improve out mental health and wellbeing which could help us to feel more positive and get the most out of life.
1. Connect with other people
Having good relationships with others is important for out wellbeing as they can help us to build a sense of belonging and worth, share positive experiences with others and provide emotional support.
There are lots of things we can do to build stronger and closer relationships, including:
- If possible, take time every day to be with your family, such as arranging a fixed meal time;
- Have lunch with a colleague;
- Visit a friend or member of your family who needs support or could do with the company;
- Arrange a day out with friends you haven’t seen in a while;
- Volunteer for a charity, community group or at a school;
- Try switching off the TV and instead playing a game or making time to talk with your family or friends;
- Make the most of technology to keep in touch with those you love, especially if you live far apart. But try not to rely on technology or social media alone to build or maintain relationships. It’s too easy to become over-reliant on texts, messages and emails and not physically interact with people.
2. Keep physically active
Physical activity is not just great for out physical health and fitness, it can also help to improve out mental wellbeing in the following ways:
- Increasing out confidence and raising out self-esteem;
- Helping us to set goals and challenges and then to achieve them;
- Causing chemical changes in out brains which help to boost out mood.
If you’re not already physically active and you’re lacking in the confidence to get up and get moving more, try the following:
- Find free activities to help you get fit such as walking more, cycling instead of taking the car on shorter journeys, taking the stairs instead of the lift/elevator or looking up beginner exercises or workouts you can do in the comfort and privacy of your own home;
- Start running. Try the ‘Couch to 5k’ challenge if you’re just starting out to work up your fitness and stamina gradually.
- Take up swimming, cycling or dancing;
- Don’t feel like you have to spend hours in the gym. Find activities you enjoy doing and stick with those – you’ll reap more rewards that way by keeping your motivation up!
3. Learn something new
Over time, research has shown that learning new skills can help boost out mental health by:
- Boosting self-confidence and self-esteem
- Building a sense of purpose and achievement
- Connecting us with other people
There are lots of ways to bring learning into out lives, even if we feel like we don’t need, or want, to learn something new, or don’t have the time. Some of the things you could try include:
- Working on a DIY project. There are loads of free tutorials online nowadays on how to do it yourself;
- Taking on a new responsibility at work, such as mentoring a junior staff member or improving your skills in a particular area;
- Trying new hobbies that challenge you such as writing, learning to draw or paint, or taking up a new sport;
- Signing up for a course at college such as learning a new language or learning a new practical skill such as plumbing or becoming an electrician.
4. Be mindful
Paying attention to the present moment (mindfulness) can improve out mental wellbeing. This includes out thoughts, feelings, out body and the world around us. Being mindful can help us to enjoy life more and understand ourselves better, as well as providing positive changes to the way we feel and how we approach challenges.
Some things we can do to be more mindful include:
Noticing the everyday – It’s easy to go about out every day lives and not take notice of and appreciate the things around us. Even the smallest things, such as noticing the sensation of how things feel, the scent of flowers, the sound of birdsong, the food we eat and even the air moving past out body, have great impact to bring us out of ‘autopilot’ and give us a new perspective on things.
Trying new things – Again, it sounds almost trivial, but just trying new things such going somewhere different for lunch or sitting in a different seat at work or in meetings can help us to notice the world differently.
Freeing ourselves from the past – We can often obsess over the past and become trapped in reliving past experiences or problems, or even worrying about the future and pre-living out worries. It can be especially helpful to take a mindful approach in these circumstances and focus on the here and now, rather than living in out past or worrying about things that haven’t even happened yet. There’s more on this below.
Watching out thoughts – Many of us can find it very difficult to practice mindfulness and as soon as we stop what we’re doing and free ourselves from distractions, lots of thoughts and worries can begin to crowd in.
The key here is to understand that mindfulness isn’t about making these thoughts disappear, but rather acknowledging they exist and ‘letting them go’.
There are several methods you can take to try and do this. One could be imagining yourself standing at a bus stop and seeing ‘thought buses’ coming and going without having to get on one of them and be taken away. This may be a difficult practice at first, but with time and gentle persistence it is possible.
Of course some people find coping with busy minds much easier by adopting mindfulness practices, such as yoga. Tai chi, or meditation. There are loads of resources and apps available now, many of them free, that can help improve your mindfulness. Try them out.
5. Give to others
Acts of giving and being kind can help to improve your mental health and wellbeing in a number of ways, including:
- Helping us connect with other people
- Creating positivity and a sense of reward/satisfaction
- Giving us a feeling or self-worth and purpose
And it could be big or small acts of kindness towards individuals or whole communities. A few things you could try could include:
- Spending time with friends or family who need company or support
- Offering to help someone with a project or with home DIY
- Saying thank you to someone if they’ve done something for you
- Asking people you know how they are and listening to their answer
- Volunteering in your community
It can be so easy to take out mental health for granted but, the truth is, to be out best selves, we need to take time out for ourselves.
We all know that in order to keep a car running we have to fill it up with petrol top up the water and oil levels regularly and put more air in the tyres. We very rarely take the time to reflect on what we, as human beings, need to give ourselves to flourish and live well. It’s all too easy to prioritise other people and other things, or to ‘put it off’ until next week.
Sometimes taking the first step to better mental health can seem too big or overwhelming, but it’s not. These are things that every one of us can do. So if you’re struggling and need to reset, rebalance and get better at looking after yourself, then give some of these tips a try. I really hope they work for you.
Please feel free to reach out to me in the comments below. And remember, if you’re struggling there is always support available, either through family, friends, your workplace, or through a whole host of resources online. To start, try typing in ‘mental health’ into the search bar of Google to find out what resources and support is available in your area.