e all know about the perks of physical exercise, but have you ever thought about the benefits of mental exercise? Probably not, but it’s as important to train your mind as it is to work out in the gym. Just as regular sweat sessions will help to boost overall fitness, exercising your brain in ways that help to maintain and improve it will help to supercharge grey matter.
The fitness connection As with physical fitness, challenging yourself a little every day is a big part of fine-tuning your emotional fitness, believes Mark Freeman, renowned mental health coach and author ofthe Mind Workout (£13.99, littlebrown. co.uk). ‘If you struggle to swim, we don’t tell you to avoid swimming and label you with a drowning disorder. You get swimming lessons. You challenge yourself, learn new skills, and consistently push into your limits,’ he says.
To build better emotional fitness you have to develop your ability to handle emotions by feeling more, not by avoiding or controlling the way you feel. ‘For years, when I struggled with mental illness, I was always trying to avoid difficult thoughts and feelings. That became my entire life. But that was like avoiding the water and hoping I’d get better at swimming. Learning how to accept the stuff in my head has been a far more enjoyable and effective journey. Themind Workout gives you the tools to take that journey in your own life,’ he continues. Solve problems not symptoms There are so many parallels between exercise and mental health. If you’ve never run before, you’re not going to start by running the 26.2 miles that make up a marathon. ‘You’d get a structured workout plan from somebody that runs marathons. It would start small and help you build up the strength, endurance, and flexibility to reach your goal. The same applies with exercising your mind,’ he says.
Mark maintains that firstly you need to find and accept the root cause of problems. Through learning basic mental health skills and unlearning the ways of thinking and acting that are the catalyst for mental health struggles such as anxiety or compulsive behaviours, you can free yourself from many mental health struggles.
‘For example, let’s say you’ve always struggled with anxiety about rejection so you’re constantly ending relationships, switching careers, and never setting boundaries because you’re afraid people won’t like you. For you, committing to something like a relationship with a person you really care about is going to be like running a marathon. But that won’t be mentally possible at first. So, you break it down into smaller workouts,’ he continues.
First you might invite a group of friends over for dinner and risk nobody showing up, and the week after you could start an Instagram account with your cooking photos because you love cooking but you were always afraid people might leave nasty comments. ‘Those are all uncertainties you can