The importance of keeping mentally fit

Gosia Bowling, National Lead for Emotional Wellbeing, explains how creating a mental fitness regime can improve your wellbeing, and provides five tips to help you get started.

Conversations about mental health are now more common than ever before, with more people willing to discuss their psyches as well their physiques. This isn't surprising given the impact the pandemic had on emotional wellbeing.

There will always be external factors that are outside of your control, but if you create coping strategies, and improve existing ones, you can ease stress and build resilience against potential stressors.

“The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.”

Mental health is far more than simply the absence of mental illness. It's your ability to reach your full potential, be true to yourself, lead a life of meaning and value, all while withstanding the challenges you face along the way.

As the quote above by John F Kennedy suggests, now is the perfect time to invest in your mental health, by developing resources so you can cope when things get tough.

How to improve your mental fitness

Many people start building a physical training regime when they want to improve their physical fitness, so why not plan a mental fitness regime too?

A good starting point is to identify your healthy coping techniques. These can include hobbies such as yoga and cooking, and habits such as reading before bed and practising self-care.

When you’re faced with an increase in stressors, it's important to make sure you also increase these healthy coping resources, so that you can stay emotionally balanced.

Here are 5 more tips to improve your mental fitness:

1. Think about your thinking 

It isn’t always events or situations that upset us or lead us to feel difficult emotions. It’s often the way in which we think about those things. Our thinking in any situation can be helpful or unhelpful and this will have a big influence on how we feel. 

We often treat our thoughts as if they are facts, but just because you think something, doesn’t make it true. Just because something feels scary, it doesn’t always mean something bad will happen. 

When you notice a change in your mood, ask yourself, “What was I thinking about just before that?”. Was the thought helpful or unhelpful? Is there a different perspective I could take which is more helpful? Focus on your strengths and achievements rather than your flaws.

2. Be kind to yourself

You spend more time with yourself than anyone else. The way you relate to yourself plays a huge role in how you feel. Be kind to yourself by practising talking to yourself with understanding and compassion. 

Speak to yourself as you would to loved one to reassure them, or the way an encouraging friend would, rather than a critic. 

Research shows that being encouraging and kind is more likely to help you achieve your goals than being harsh and critical with yourself. You can read more advice in our guide to self-kindness and compassion.

3. Take time out for self-care

It can be easy to spend time looking out for and supporting others. But it’s also important that you take enough time out to support yourself. 

You don't need to spend several uninterrupted hours a day on yourself to make time for self-care. Finding moments throughout the day can also work.

It’s important to think of self-care as a key priority – the same way you need to put your own oxygen mask on first on an aeroplane before your help others, you’ll be much better able to support those around you if you take care of yourself first. 

Self-care can also help you to stay in the moment. We often experience emotional distress when our minds are in the past (ruminating over previous events), or in the future (worrying about things that might happen). Staying in the present moment can help us feel grounded. 

4. Get active and build other healthy habits 

Being active can improve your physical wellbeing, but it can also help you maintain a healthy mind.  People who exercise regularly have better mental health and emotional wellbeing, and lower rates of mental ill health.

Exercise can help relieve feelings of stress by releasing anxiety-reducing chemicals and giving you a mood-lifting dopamine spike.

Remember: the greatest gains are often seen in those who go from doing nothing to doing something. You don’t have to be an athlete, everything you do counts. Even a short burst of 5–10 minutes of brisk walking can increase your mental alertness and lift your mood. Start small, but remember to stick to it. Why not try our free 5-minute exercises on Nuffield Health 24/7?

Getting the basics in place like keeping active, sleeping well and eating healthily can make a huge difference to your mental health. 

5. Stay connected

Relationships are so important for our mental health. Think about ways to make sure you keep in touch with friends and family, especially if you’re feeling low or unmotivated. You should especially reach out to those who make you feel positive and energised.

Think about joining community groups around shared interests. Network, share resources and look out for each other. Knowing you have each other’s backs can be a huge comfort.

If you're going through something, reach out and talk to someone you trust. Speaking to people who help you rationalise the situation, or have a calming influence, can help you work through any worries or difficult emotions.

How you feel tomorrow starts today

We also recommend our Mental Health and Workplace Wellbeing hubs, which offer a wealth of advice and resources to help you develop your mental fitness. 

Sometimes there is only so much we can do on our own, so if you need support, reach out to friends and family. And if you need a bit of extra help, we also offer a range of mental health support.

Last updated Thursday 11 August 2022

First published on Friday 30 October 2020