#MentalHealthMatters Part 3: Get Mentally & Emotionally Fit
In Part 1 and Part 2 we discuss that mental health requires as much care and perhaps more conscious work to keep in good health because signs of mental illness are not as overt as physical illness. This brings us to the concept of emotional fitness, or more often, "emotional flabbiness." Emotional flabbiness can take hold when we neglect a proper "emotional diet", maintaining negative beliefs and environments we know are not good for us. Bottling our feelings and neglecting to self-reflect or engage in healthy self care practices can leave us in poor working condition.
Let's look at how increased emotional health can help your life overall. Emotional health is strongly tied to physical health. This is why psychosomatic illnesses are common. Our ability to handle the stresses in life directly affects the way we take care of our physical health, from obesity to chronic pain. Our quality of life should improve if we are able to address the issues that affect us in life. Additionally, most people would agree that their relationships with the people in their life do affect their quality of life. Taking care of our emotional health improves our interpersonal relationships, and by extension our entire lives. The benefits are clear. The biggest obstacle to taking care of our emotional health is that many of us don't know how. We often feel overwhelmed and scared of dealing with those deeply held emotions. However, by being willing to face these issues head-on we can enjoy an improved quality of life as a result.
Mental Health Regimen
We always talk about the benefits of diet & exercise for your physical health, but what is the equivalent of diet and exercise for your mental and emotional health, as well as for your relationships? The key question here is "how should we think about emotional fitness, and how should we care for ourselves so that we improve our emotional well-being?" Also, we might ask, "What does an emotionally well person look like?"
We propose thinking about mental and emotional health in the same way we think of physical health. A healthy regimen for mental health mirrors that of physical health:
1. Yearly examination to ensure we are in fact in good health.
2. Should we find that we have a particular ailment, we receive further consultation with our healthcare practitioner for resolution. Often with physical pain this would be a prescription for a prescribed amount of physical therapy sessions to see if symptoms improve. Here, we commit to doing the same for our mental, emotional, and relationship symptoms.
3. Often, there are recommended daily exercises with your therapist to address the underlying issue and strengthen the core of the problem. Here, we can commit to regular healthy practices of self-care, self-reflection, and relationship maintenance to achieve the same mentally, emotionally, and relationally.
4. After you have had the prescribed number of sessions, it's best to continue working to strengthen yourself and ultimately get to a point of proper health. You can choose to do this on your own or with the help of a trainer. This fits for both physical and mental health. A therapist will help you through symptoms and traumas, but if you do not feel a pressing presenting problems, regular maintenance is still highly beneficial.
How to Get Emotionally Fit
A "thought diet" means trying to keeping a mental diet of healthy thinking. We try our best to stay away from emotionally "fatty" thoughts and habits. Of course, this is not a simple task; you will have to allow for a few "cheat days", but it's important to get past each hump with a renewed resolve to make our thought patterns healthier. This means recognizing the ingredients of our thoughts, avoiding negative thought distortions, and avoiding late night snacking on bad emotional habits.
Now, once you deprive yourself of these negative thought patterns, you then need to start snacking on healthy thoughts. Thankfully, this is more enjoyable than trying the latest fad detox. Here, we begin to make space for self discovery, learning about how to identify our thoughts and feelings, and how to be true to yourself. You begin to build your self worth and give the positive perspective a fair shake. You begin to catch yourself when you might be brooding on negative thoughts and emphasizing the negative of life.
The mental health equivalent of going to the gym is doing the hard work of consistently going to therapy; not just showing up, but being willing to be honest and to push yourself past your point of comfort. I always say about therapy, both as a therapist and as a client, that you get out what you put in. Therapy helps us to stretch through traumas that stop us from being able to achieve healthy intimacy, and to slowly break down our built up walls, or build up insufficient boundaries.
Therapy, and the daily practices of self-awareness in between, increase your endurance to exercise self-care and self-acceptance. In regular practice, we develop the stamina of self-acceptance and gratitude. These are keys of an increasingly satisfying life; letting go of baggage, realizing the ways that our past pains affect us, and choosing to let go of past pain.
When we set and enforce healthy boundaries, we develop the strength to have toned and muscular relationships, which are healthy and strong. Push through the pain of creating healthy boundaries. Build up the skills of emotional responsibility and developing a health community for yourself. Doing these will pay huge dividends in the quality of your life.
Positive Thought Patterns
Here are some positive ways of looking at things that can lead to increased satisfaction and emotional fitness:
Gray area thinking - Seeing things in balanced ways rather than black and white, understanding your imperfections and redeeming qualities can coexist and that's what makes you, you.
No evidence, no label - Challenging yourself when you make sweeping statements about yourself or others using one instance. as evidence Stop and think of the evidence for and against - Subject the thought to "cognitive court," and even if it turns out to be true, ask yourself, "is this thought or label helpful to me right now?"
Jump back from conclusions - Notice when you might jump to conclusions and give yourself an extra moment to question the situation and yourself. This doesn't mean not trusting your gut, but let it function on hard evidence rather than assumptions.
Evidence, not emotions - Use evidence to reason through situations, not emotions.
You are you - Label yourself as you - Call yourself by your name. We sometimes have a tendency to label ourselves based on our failures. Let's try to acknowledge and embrace our successes as much a part of us as our failures or shortcomings.
Take on only what's yours - Sometimes we have a tendency to self-blame for things that we were not truly a part of. Let others have their responsibility. Keep in mind that in almost every situation, there are two partially wrong parties. Own yours and let them own theirs.
These healthy thought patterns and healthy relationship habits can bring you to great emotional fitness. All the best on your journey to stronger emotional health!
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