Being pro-active about your mental health – jogging for the soul.

We are all recognise the concept of the value of routine exercise for physical fitness. Some people run, others swim, still others go to the gym and workout. Even if you are closer to your couch than you are to 5K today we are all familiar with the idea of being pro-active about our physical health.

…we are all familiar with the idea of being pro-active about our physical health.

As we entered this pandemic in the Spring of 2020 a thought came to me. I would need to be proactive about my mental health. Here in the UK we are within months of the other side of the pandemic, and am reviewing how well my approach has worked for me. Whilst considering this it came to me that whilst there are many messages about being proactive about keeping physically fit, I’ve heard little said within the mainstream media or from the NHS about being pro-active with our mental health.

I’ve heard little said…about being pro-active with our mental health.

Chances are that ignoring your physical health will shorten your life more than ignoring your mental health, but in terms of quality life years I’d suggest that the latter is at least as important. So what did I do to keep myself mentally stable during this crazy time?

  1. I acknowledged my needs and weaknesses and worked out how I could address them.

It’s hard to admit things about yourself of which you are not proud. In my case I needed to be honest about the value I get from routine. I might like to present a different face to the world but I needed to admit to myself that the requirement to be ‘at work’ at a specific time each day, and the sometimes routines tasks of work life were something that where important to me.

Also I needed to admit that I am mentally fragile, I’m not the resilient super hero that, as a man, I would like to be or paint myself as. I needed to acknowledge the need to act to preserve my mental and emotional stability.

2. I was purposeful about building the ‘connections’ which are most important to me.

I wrote in an earlier post about the excellent book “Lost Connections” by Johann Hari. In this he lists key facets of our life such as our connection to nature, connection to friends and four other key connections within our life. I know that for me that my connections to nature, God and friends are all particularly life giving.

The beauty of being purposeful in maintaining these connections is that it’s not like training for a race. It’s not painful or dull exercise which we are motivated to do simply because of the end goal. Maintaining connections is about doing things which we enjoy which have the co-benefit of a positive effect on our mental well-being. In my case I made time to phone my friends to make up for the loss in face to face contact. I made sure that I got out into the countryside regularly, even if that was just an evening stroll in the local park. Finally, I focussed more on the disciplines of my faith. The connections which are most important to you may well be different to those most critical to me.

3. I learned how to recognise and express my emotions in a healthy way.

You may or may not relate to the Christian centred teaching of Chip Dodd. Like many American Evangelicals he says in a chapter what could easily have been covered in a paragraph, but there is gold in them there hills of words! To summarise what he says: (1) Our emotions can be distilled down to a small number of underlying feelings; (2) We can express these feelings in positive or negative ways. Let’s start with the negative/s – we can internalise those feelings leading to a negative expression, or we can transfer those feelings to others which is neither good for us or nice for them. The positive approach is to express them in a helpful way. Let’s look at just one example, which Dodd calls anger (and I prefer to call passion).

Let’s say you come home to a messy kitchen. You could shout at your spouse, but we all know that this would not end well for either of you. You could calmly express that it makes you sad to see the kitchen in a mess after you’d cleaned the house at the weekend, or you could discuss how a kitchen cleaning rota might be arranged. You have a choice of how you express and resolve how you feel. You don’t have to try to make your problem someone else’s problem, instead you could be an agent for change.

A good summary is this – bottled up emotions tend to come to the surface eventually and when they do its rarely in a good way. Transferring your emotions (like anger) to someone else does not resolve the emotion, it simply moves it to someone else with some added bad feeling with it. Recognising and expressing your emotion well leads to good and healthy outcomes.

Perhaps not all the above approaches are ones you can relate to, but for a better and sustained quality of life think about what you can do to actively promote your mental health and start working on it. In my experience it leads to a whole lot of benefit at very low cost.

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