When we think of training, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s muscular people lifting weights intensely in a gym. Perhaps it’s people running long distances with huge packs on their backs. Perhaps we think about it from a workplace perspective, of pushing ourselves to be better, more educated in our professional lives.
The first thing that comes to mind, however, probably isn’t training our mind. Our brain is one of the most important parts of our body so why don’t we make the effort to train it? Like our muscles, our brain becomes more resilient and pliable the more we work on it.
Think about when you get physically injured after not warming up. A warm up would’ve taken 10-15 minutes of your life and would’ve prevented you from hurting yourself. Without a warm up, the injury occurs and you can’t exercise or workout for a few weeks at the very least. The bottom line is that it’s easier, less time consuming and less painful to prevent an injury rather than dealing with it afterwards.
Similarly, when it comes to mental health and wellbeing, the cost of trying to help yourself after the neurological patterns of anxiety, depression and stress set in are much higher and longer lasting than it would’ve been if you’d simply practiced mental fitness as a preventative measure.
The reason behind this is rooted in neuroscience.
Our brain operates on a series of neural pathways that are built and strengthened over time by our experiences and beliefs. These neural pathways are essentially shortcuts for commonly used behaviours and information – the more we use a particular pathway, the faster that information travels until the cause and effect feels almost automatic.
For instance, we know that if we eat something that’s come straight out of the oven, chances are it’s going to be very hot and hurt us a lot. Over time and experience, our brain has strengthened and reinforced that neural pathway so that when the temptation comes to reach for food straight out of the oven, something in our brain tells us to wait a minute or blow on it to cool it down. We don’t necessarily consciously think about it – it seems like it just happens because the neural pathway is so strong and driven by a core emotion – pain.
Our brain’s primary focus after all is to keep us safe and alive. If we experience or believe that something is going to harm us in some way, our brain is going to actively try and prevent that from happening. But as our brain operates primarily on evidence, beliefs and experiences it can very quickly get skewed where anxiety, depression and stress are concerned.
As these conditions are driven primarily by emotions and neurochemical imbalances, it often makes experiences feel much more heightened and real than they actually are, especially when we’re dealing with hypothetical “what if” situations. The majority of us have thought about what might have happened if we’d reacted differently in past situations or what might happen in the future – these aren’t inherently negative things to do – but if we dwell on these thoughts and they spiral into troubling or upsetting hypotheticals, our brain struggles to separate the imagined scenario from reality.
This is where training our mental fitness can really come into its own.
Many of us can dismiss worrying or anxious thoughts as they occur by remaining present in the moment. For those of us who struggle with the symptoms of anxiety or depression this can seem like a baffling concept. It takes time and training to get to this place.
The benefit of training our mind and our mental wellbeing is far reaching. From positive reframing to see the brighter side of difficult situations, to focusing wholly on single tasks to prevent negative rumination, to exercising in nature to get a beneficial hit of neurochemicals, there are plenty of ways to improve our mental fitness so that we’re in a better headspace should a terrible situation arise.
The essence of training mental fitness is about actively making yourself more resilient. It’s been well documented that people who practise resilience are happier, less likely to feel stressed or anxious and be more content in general. As such, they benefit from higher levels of productivity, creativity and improved relationships with those around them – important not only in our personal life but in the workplace too.
Mental fitness and the workplace
Working from home, balancing office and family life, not looking after ourselves – these things weigh heavy on our minds, clouding our judgement and making it difficult to see a way ahead. Stress and anxiety have become the norm and without the guidance to balance us out, we grow tired, fearful and depressed. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Science has proven that there are ways we can make ourselves feel better.
Increasingly, businesses and organisations are searching for preventative, action based solutions when it comes to mental health and wellbeing. Often less costly and time consuming from its reactive counterparts, it can offer employees the opportunity to learn new strategies and techniques to build resilience and more positively deal with stressful situations as they arise. Solutions like new mental fitness web app, Leafyard, which motivates your team to take science-based action and helps them to understand that feeling better is well within their grasp.
This kind of action-based mental health and mental fitness training allows you to really put what we all know about how to feel better into practice. It’s all well and good knowing what works but unless you actually do the things, nothing is going to change.
On a personal level, the user takes responsibility for their mental health and discovers that they have the power to make themselves feel better. That kind of ownership and sense of personal control cannot be underestimated. At the end of the day a lot of stress and strains come from feeling helpless or out of control, so feeling like you have strategies and techniques that you can reach for in times of trouble can be a gamechanger and hugely boost our mental wellbeing.
So, what does actively practicing mental fitness look like on a daily basis?
Well realistically it’s a lot of little tasks that you can integrate into your daily routine which slowly transform and strengthen those positive neural pathways. Things like exercise, spending time away from your phone, being present with others, trying to be rational and kind with yourself. These are all things that over time accumulate to give you a resilient mindset that puts you in a much better position to approach, accept and manage the difficult situations which are inevitable in life.
The more you do these tasks the more impact it will have on your neural structure and your behavioural reactions to different scenarios. These small shifts have large, lasting effects, but the key is repetition. You can’t just do these activities once in a blue moon and hope they’ll make a difference. Neural pathways are strengthened by repeated action and experiences so building positive habits is crucial to making these behaviours stick and creating lasting, meaningful change.