As we enter a new year, a lot of us think about our physical fitness. We set goals for exercising more, eating better and losing weight.
But mental fitness is just as important to our overall health and happiness as physical fitness. In fact, multiple studies show that taking care of your mind can help you live a longer and more fulfilling life.
Good mental health may help you have:
- Better physical health
- Stronger, more satisfying relationships
- Improved productivity at work
- An easier time coping with stress
- A longer, happier life
In short, mental fitness means keeping your brain and emotional health in good shape so you can be your best self. Here are some ways you can do that.
As we get older, it’s easy to get stuck in a routine. But by challenging ourselves to try new things, we help to keep our brains sharp. Picking up a new hobby, reading up on a new topic or tackling a complex project at work can all help to boost your brain health.
One of the best things you can do for improved mental health is to start meditating. Meditation can help to decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety, increase positive emotions, reduce stress and more. There are lots of free online tools that can help you get started.
Stay physically active
More and more research shows that exercise is key for good mental health. By exercising regularly, you increase the volume of certain parts of the brain. This happens in part through increased blood supply to the brain, which improves the delivery of oxygen and nutrients.
Vigorous exercise several times a week is ideal. But really, the best form of exercise is the one that you’ll stick with over time. If you’re just starting an exercise routine, check with your primary care physician first. Then start slowly and continue to work on consistency and strength over time.
Get plenty of good sleep
Sleep affects mental health, and vice versa. According to research, poor sleep has an impact on stress hormones and neurotransmitters. This, in turn, can wreak havoc in your brain by compromising your thinking and emotional regulation.
Try these tips from the Harvard Mental Health Letter to improve the quality of your sleep:
- Make some lifestyle changes. Reduce (or avoid altogether) alcohol, caffeine and nicotine.
- Get regular exercise. Another benefit of regular exercise is better sleep. Exercise can help you fall asleep faster, spend more time in deep sleep and wake up less often.
- Practice good sleep hygiene. Keep a regular sleeping schedule, and make sure your bedroom is dark and free of distractions. Avoid watching TV or using your phone in bed.
- Try relaxation techniques. This is another time when meditation can be helpful. Even just practicing deep breathing can help you relax and ease into sleep.
- Consider cognitive behavioral therapy. Certain therapy techniques can help you learn to overcome insomnia and other sleep issues.
Make social connections
Humans are social beings. And in today’s world of cell phones, video games and social media, it’s more important than ever that we focus on building and maintaining connections with other people.
People who feel connected with others have less anxiety and depression, higher self-esteem, and more empathy. That all helps to generate a positive feedback loop of social and emotional well-being.
If you don’t have a lot of friends—or if your friends are at a very busy stage of life—that’s OK. There are other ways to feel more connected. Helping others is one option. By giving your time and energy to help someone else, you’ll gain a stronger sense of connection and purpose.
Use therapy as needed
Talking with a therapist can help you deal with issues that are getting in the way of your happiness and growth. Over time, therapy can help you:
- Feel more confident about facing challenges
- Take a fresh look at your behavior
- Confront (and change) negative thoughts and behaviors that are holding you back
- Heal pain from the past
- Improve your relationship skills
- Define your goals
Make mental fitness a priority
It’s easy to put our own health behind jobs, family, friends and other responsibilities. But by taking care of your mental health, you’ll be better equipped to be your best—for yourself and everyone else in your life.
To set up an appointment with one of us at Psychiatric Associates, use our Request an Appointment form or call us at (319) 356-6352.
Tina Issa, LMHC, CRC
Tina works with children and adults, providing therapy for a wide range of issues and challenges.