How would you rate your ability to enjoy life and build relationships? Do you see yourself as a flexible person who copes well with change? Do you manage stress well? These are all indications of mental fitness and are as critical to your overall wellness as your physical fitness. Just as we would not expect our bodies to be physically fit without exercising, the same holds true for our mind and mental fitness. We have to work at it!
Top ten tips for mental fitness:
- Daydream - close your eyes and imagine yourself in a dream location
- "Collect" - positive moments. Recall times when you have experienced pleasure, comfort or tenderness
- Do one thing at a time - turn off your cell phone and stop making that mental "to do" list.
- Exercise - Daily physical activity improves your psychological well-being
- Enjoy hobbies - Hobbies bring balance to your life by allowing you to do something for the pure pleasure of it
- Set personal goals - Reaching goals builds confidence and a sense of satisfaction
- Keep a journal (or even talk aloud to yourself) - After a stressful day, this can help you gain perspective and release tension
- Share humour - Life often gets too serious. When you hear or see something that makes you smile or laugh, share it with someone
- Volunteer - Helping others makes us feel good about ourselves, widens our social contacts and brings balance to our lives
- Treat yourself well - Have a bubble bath, see a movie or spend time with a friend
Compliments from the Canadian Mental Health Association
Strategies to cope with stress?
There is no right or wrong way to cope with stress. Research has shown what works for one person may not work for another and what works in one situation may not work in another.
- Focus on what you can do
There is usually something you can do. Resist the urge to give up or run away from problems.
- Manage your emotions
Feelings of sadness, anger and fear are common when coping with stress. Try not to bottle your emotions up - instead, try expressing your feelings by talking or writing them down. Try not to lash out at other people - it will push people away.
- Seek our support
Seeking social support from other people is helpful - especially when we feel we can't cope on our own. Ask someone you trust for their opinion or advice on how to handle a situation. Get more information to help you make a decision. Accept help with daily tasks and responsibilities. Get emotional support from someone who understands and cares about you.
- Focus on the positives
Focus is one of the hardest things to do when coping with stress and at times can seem impossible. Dwelling on the negatives often adds to our stress and takes away our motivation to make things better. Focus on strengths rather than weaknesses - remind yourself that no one is perfect. Look for the challenges in a situation by asking "What can I learn from this?" or "How can I grow as a person?". Keep in mind how things could be worse. Try to keep a sense of humour. Remind yourself you are doing the best you can given the circumstances.
- Make a plan of action
Problem-solving the controllable aspects of a stressful situation is one of the most effective ways to lower our stress. Try breaking a stressful problem into manageable chunks. A good plan of action can involve putting other tasks on hold to concentrate on the main problem or waiting for the right time and place to act. Take the following steps:
- Identify and define the problem
- Select your goal
- Brainstorm the possible solutions
- Consider the pros and cons
- Choose the best solution - the perfect solution rarely exists
- Put your plan into action
- Evaluate your efforts and choose another strategy if need be
None of us will cope well if we do not take care of the basics. Taking good care of ourselves can be difficult during stressful times. If we do not balance work with play, most of us will experience burnout. Take the following steps:
- Eat healthy foods and drink lots of water throughout the day to maintain your energy
- Try to exercise or do something active on a regular basis
- Try to avoid using alcohol or drugs as a way of coping
- Practice meditation, yoga or other relaxation techniques
- Take regular breaks from work to maintain stamina
- Plan fun activities and hobbies so you can look forward to them
- Get a good night's sleep
- Take care of our relationships
Family, friends and co-workers can be affected by our stress and they can also be part of the problem. Keep the feelings and needs of others in mind when coping with stress, but balance them with your own.
- Be assertive about your needs rather than aggressive or passive
- Try not to confront others in a mean-spirited or antagonizing manner
- Accept responsibility, apologize or try to put things right when appropriate
- Talk to others who are involved and keep them informed about your decisions
- Religious or spiritual practice
People with religious or spiritual practice as part of their daily lives often experience lower levels of distress and other benefits such as helpful social support. Take the following steps:
- Pray or meditate
- Go to your place of worship
- Talk to your religious/spiritual leader
- Have faith in God or your higher power
- Get together with othrs of the same faith or spiritual orientation
Accepting those things we cannot change can be the most challenging aspect of coping with stress.
- Denying the problem exists will only prolong our suffering and interference with our ability to take action
- Acceptance is a process that takes time, so be patient
- Death, illness, major losses or major life changes can be particularly difficult to accept
- Try not to get caught up in wishful thinking or dwelling on what could have been
Distraction can be helpful when coping with short-term stress we can't control (e.g. reading a magazine while getting dental work done). Distraction can be harmful if it interferes with us taking action over things under our control (e.g watching television when we have school or work deadlines to meet). Distraction by using drugs, alcohol or over-eating usually leads to more stress and problems in the long term. Distraction by overworking at school or on the job can easily lead to burnout or other problems (e.g family resentment). Take the following steps to help you:
- Going for a drive or walk
- Leisure activities, exercise, hobbies
- Housework, yard work or gardening
- Watching television or movies
- Playing video games
- Spending time with friends or family
- Spending time with pets
- Surfing the internet or doing email
- Sleeping or taking a short nap
Become a good stress manager (an ongoing process):
- AWARE: Becoming aware of the signs of stress and of your feelings, thoughts and wants in any given situation
- INFORM: Gaining an understanding about your own sources of stress and how these contribute to negative stress in your life
- ASSESS: Assessing and prioritizing which source of stress to address first helps to focus your efforts
- LEARN: Strengthening the skills you already have and learning two or three new strategies will help you adapt to many stressful situations
- PLAN: Developing a plan that has a series of very specific things you can do to reach your stress management goal will help you stay on track and measure your success
- ACT: Just do it! Try out your new idea at least twice. Don't worry if at first you don't succeed. Try again! See what has changed. Experiment and be creative
Canadian Mental Health Association