Mental health is long-overdue for a moment in the spotlight. When most people talk fitness, they are focusing on moving more and eating better. Very rarely is mental health factored into that equation, and when it is, it typically is mentioned as a quick aside rather than the main focus. What if the reason we’re constantly struggling to be healthier and improve our fitness is due to a lack of mental health? What if mental health is actually the key to everything else falling into place? Even if that is believed, it can be tough to know where to start. With that in mind, here are three ways to improve your mental health.
First, what is mental health?
At Summit, I’m fond of saying we are a mindset-focused gym. I’ll use mental health and mindset interchangeably in this article. The reason I’m so big on mindset is simple: the biggest benefit of our style of fitness is the change you get between the ears. There’s something incredibly fulfilling about stepping outside of your comfort zone, learning something new, and seeing your hard work pay off. At Summit, we’re really here to build better people and that starts with a strong mindset, not a strong six pack.
To define mental health, I use a simple measure: how do you respond to challenges in your life?
I opened this gym to help people build the strength necessary to overcome life’s challenges, and I define a successful member at our gym as someone who is able to treat the people who matter well regardless of what life put on their plate that day. Fitness is just a small, small picture of life. If you can get used to doing hard things in here, you can overcome hard things out there. That’s mental health. That’s a strong mindset.
How to improve mental health: Do something hard every day
Doing something hard means stepping outside of your comfort zone every day. For some people reading this, I bet that means actually lowering intensity during a workout in order to let your body recover. For many others, it means taking the leap of faith that the gym you’ve been eyeing for a long time can actually help you. It means showing up, and saying, “I’m new, and I don’t know what I’m doing.” The truth is that is hard. I wrote about this in a post on exercise anxiety, and it is always going to be true.
Another area I see this in is with careers or family life. You shy away from the presentation or the project because it is uncomfortable. Giving a presentation in front of your peers – especially when those peers decide your salary and promotion schedule – is tough. It’s also how you grow. In your family life, it’s harder to have the tough conversation with your spouse about how you’ve been struggling lately. Or to connect with your teenage kid who just doesn’t seem to want anything to do with you. That is hard! But it is worth it. Make today the day you start tackling something hard every day.
How to improve mental health: spend time with your thoughts
Some people call this meditation; I just call it “me time.” It is simply time set aside each day to be away from outside stimulus – and the truth is I struggle immensely with this. I am a classic extrovert. I love talking to people, I love learning new things, and I love consuming information. In general, when you see me I’m in a conversation, reading a book, or listening to a podcast.
And you know what? That habit is actually hurting my mental health.
If I don’t take the time to sit with my thoughts, process how I’m feeling, and understand why I’m feeling that way, I am robbing myself of a major relationship – the one with who I truly am. So, it’s a thing I’m working on implementing in my life. You can do the same thing to improve your mindset. Set aside 1, 3, 5, 10, 15, 20 or even 60 minutes to sit without external inputs. Be with your thoughts. Just unpack how you’re feeling and work to understand where the feelings are coming from.
How to improve mental health: export your thoughts and feelings
I prefer to do this with a journal. When I’m really on top of my mental health, I’m writing in my journal every day. Some days it is a really quick thought, others it is longer and a more complete picture of my current state.
On my best days, when I’m spending time with myself and my thoughts, I’m exporting those feelings and discoveries into my journal. It feels incredible to actually export that to paper for me. However, if you prefer doing it verbally, consider hiring a therapist who can help you work through this, or simply record yourself on your phone. It is amazing what happens when you start having to put into words what you’re feeling and saying internally.
Would you like the you that’s in your head?
I love this line, but I’m not sure where I first heard it. We all carry around a little voice in our heads that informs how we perceive ourselves and our world around us. How is yours? Is it building you up, or is it breaking you down – making you less than you are? This, more than any workout or nutrition program is going to make the quality of your life way better, or way worse. Don’t you think it’s worth improving?