Mental Illness and Over-Diagnosis.
If you didn’t read our previous article about depression and over-diagnosis, then you may not be aware of the growing epidemic in current psychiatric fads, and the damaging effects they can have on our society. In this article, we will explore the link between mental illness and physical health, and how we can improve both by taking full responsibility for our own wellbeing. In particular, we’ll focus on how exercise and mental toughness can improve our mental health.
Mental and Physical Health are Interdependent.
We rely so heavily on our minds, that we often forget to pay attention to what our bodies need. The stress of ordinary life can distract us from some of the most basic tools we have to combat mental illness – exercise and a healthy diet. Neglecting these basic tools only increases one’s level of unhappiness, leaving us in a state of poor mental and physical health. However, when we do engage in regular exercise (even when we don’t want to) and eat properly (even though doughnuts), studies have indicated that symptoms of anxiety and depression can decrease greatly. The issue remains, that in a society filled with band-aid solutions it can sometimes be tempting to seek out an easier alternative. So, the need to recognise and accept that there is NO ALTERNATIVE for regular, sustainable exercise and a healthy diet is imperative.
Exercise Can Build Confidence and Self-Esteem.
This can have an enormous impact on our overall mental health. These two attributes shouldn’t be solely based on our perceived level of physical attractiveness, but rather on our physical and mental ability. We are all born with a predisposition for various strengths/weaknesses, but much of our mental/physical capabilities can be developed. If we are to be resilient in the fight against mental illness, then we should be building our resilience through exercise too. But what does this mean exactly? Well, exercise presents challenges both physical and mental. Overcoming the physical challenges, is largely attributed to our ability to ‘push ourselves’, which could also be defined as the mental challenges of exercise. The ability to push ourselves encourages the development of ‘mental toughness’. This gives athletes a competitive edge in the sporting arena, but also the confidence to face the challenges presented in their personal lives too. This principle is not exclusive to elite athletes, but rather for anyone willing to learn.
The road to becoming mentally tough is a long and arduous one. In fact, the thought alone will scare most people away. That’s why so many of us are stuck in a loop, looking for the shortcut that isn’t there. So once you have accepted the fact that there is no alternative for hard work, what follows? Being mentally tough is quite an abstract concept. You can be mentally tough during stressful situations, and you be mentally tough when your body is under extreme exertion. However you look at it, your mental toughness is generally in response to performing a physical action. This being the case, let’s explore how we can develop strength of mind through regular, challenging exercise, which can then be applied to situations of mental stress too.
1. Start Exercising.
Regardless of your physical capability and level of experience, you can still challenge yourself with exercise. Everyone has to start somewhere, and the only way to understand what you are truly capable of is to get into it. If you have any pre-existing medical conditions, its a good idea to chat with your doctor to understand limitations and precautions.
2. Find Your Mode of Exercise.
Mental illness presents in many forms. In the case of depression and anxiety, exercise is thought to prevent the onset, and possibly even treat symptoms. If you are new to exercise, or just getting back into it, there are an abundance of resources online to get you started. Perhaps you’re interested in functional training programs? Or yoga? Or martial arts? It’s also a great idea to engage in group training sessions, to ensure you are performing exercises correctly. Watching other people push themselves might also encourage you to do the same.
3. Find an Activity You Enjoy.
This is an important one, but it may take some time. As you become more active and aware of your capabilities, you can begin to explore some physical activities that interest you. This is a great way to motivate yourself during training, as it gives purpose to your blood, sweat and tears. When the reason for your physical exertion makes sense to you, it will be far easier to block out the voice in your head that is telling you to stop.
4. Set Yourself a Physical Goal.
This goal might relate to your new-found passion. Or perhaps reconnect you with an old one? Either way, goal setting is a great way to stay motivated. But don’t chase the horizon… Set realistic short-term goals. As you achieve these goals, you’ll begin to recognise the value of your hard work. These short-term goals will be the road to attaining your long-term goal. Keep your goals in the forefront of your mind as you continue to push yourself, both mentally and physically.
5. Positive Self-Talk.
Don’t beat yourself up! When your mind tells you that you can’t do it, shift from this negativity and fight back with positive self-talk. This should be practiced consistently, in order to remodel your self-talk strategy from negative to positive. You may lapse from time to time, but that will only highlight the effectiveness of your positivity. Next time you’re in the dirt, let it be you who picks you back up.
Reading and writing about mental toughness is easy. It will be much harder in practice, but don’t let that get you down… All good things take time, so allow yourself some! As always, thanks for reading our article. We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.