Women's Fitness (UK) - - Health -

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

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