Advice — New year, new healthy habits: Here are 7 ways to maintain your mental ‘fitness’
It’s the time of year when we typically set resolutions to get into shape – but let’s not forget to apply that to our mental health, too! As the UK’s third national lockdown sets in, we could all do with some reminders on how to maintain motivation, mood and meaning from home. Here we’re sharing tips from an expert on the topic of emotional wellbeing, Nick Bennett, founder of mental fitness platform, Fika.
If we were to think about our mental health the way we think about our physical fitness, how different would we feel, day to day? After all, you wouldn’t expect to build muscles without putting in the work, so why should we expect the same of our mood?
The seven skills of mental fitness
This is the approach Fika takes, and in response, the team have worked alongside expert psychologists to identify the seven key skills to build, in order to have the greatest impact on our mental ‘fitness’:
Fika believes that the best way to improve mental wellbeing is to check in on and develop these elements of ourselves. Read on to unpack these seven skills, with ideas for how we can ‘exercise’ and improve them for ourselves...
1. Connection (improving communication)
As inherently social animals, the quality of relationships and communication we experience has a huge effect on the way we feel about ourselves.
If you find yourself feeling disconnected when talking to people, here are some thoughts on making it a more rewarding experience:
Be inquisitive, listen and ask questions
Research shows that people spend 60% of the average conversation talking about themselves. This is because it activates the same parts of the brain that light up when eating something tasty or having sex.
But people tend to like us more when we really listen and ask questions about what they’re saying. Scientists have found that just nodding your head to let others know you’re listening makes people warm to you much more (up to 40% more) than if you don’t.
So if you have a virtual coffee, interview or portfolio review lined up, think about how you might practice being a better listener (or nodder) in those scenarios, and what kinds of questions you might want to ask.
2. Stress (give yourself a break)
Checking in on where you can reduce your own stress levels is vital to finding a sense of balance. It’s also important to know that stress management isn’t always about yoga, meditation or hitting the gym.
Take on less
Lots of our stress actually comes from trying to focus on too many things at once, so simplifying our situation is a great place to start. If we take on less, and prioritise the most important tasks, we feel calmer and more focused.
Make a don’t-do list
Instead of contributing to an infinite to-do list, at the start of each day, try making a note of all the things you think you need to do. Then go back over your list and cross out those that really don’t need to be done that day.
3. Purpose (live by your values)
Our values act like a life compass, helping us to navigate tricky waters, and influencing how we respond to our surroundings. They might include: telling the truth, being kind or helping others.
Identify what’s important to you
Being clear about what your values are, and living by them on a daily basis, plays a big part in your wellbeing. This is because you feel better about your place in the world when your actions match them.
The pandemic has left many in uncertain situations, and you might have had to rethink your own values along the way: should you work for free, for example, or take on work you don’t fundamentally agree with?
See where you can be truer to your values
Making these types of decisions can be tough, but try to identify three of your biggest values, and consider what changes (big or small) you can make to live by these more fully.
3. Positivity (find ways to boost it!)
Another key part of mental balance is feeling positive about the world around you. Did you know that spending just 120 minutes in nature each week has a huge impact on our positivity levels?
Take breaks to get outside when you can
We’ve all fallen into the trap of spending too much time in front our screens and feeling terrible for it. So it makes sense that getting outdoors can help rectify this.
Scientists have found that humans feel safer, happier and calmer when we see things like trees, water and plants; and they think this is because all are associated with our primal need for food and shelter.
We know that lockdowns have made this tricky, but where possible, commit to getting outside – and even better if it’s in nature.
5. Focus (know when to zone in)
With many of us continuing to work from home for the foreseeable future, it’s a good idea to understand how to optimise your focus levels, which might mean being a bit more flexible with your schedule.
Are you a morning person, or a night owl?
This is why it’s worth tuning into your internal body clock, or your ‘chronotype’. It explains why some of us are morning people and some are better in the evening.
So which are you: a bear, a wolf, a lion or a dolphin? Lions are morning people and wolves are nighttime animals. Bears follow a normal wake-sleep pattern but really need their sleep, and dolphins sleep very lightly and wake up a lot.
Once you know your chronotype, you can use it to get your most focused work done when you’re most awake and alert.
6. Skills (identify your strengths)
Whether you consider yourself a good listener or problem-solver, people who use their strengths every day in the workplace are three times more likely to feel productive and happy in their work.
Let your strengths define your path
When we use four or more strengths in a job, we’re more likely to feel like we’re doing something really meaningful.
So if you’ve decided that 2021 is the year to make that big career move, or are simply unsure where to start on your path, identifying your strengths can help you decide what you want.
Think about the projects or work you’ve most enjoyed – the chances are, you’ll have been using a range of your personal strengths. Note these down and use them to inform what kind of industry, discipline or role would allow you to use those regularly.
7. Confidence (face your fears)
Did you know that 85–91% of the things we worry about tend to turn out better than we expect? Despite this, our worries about all the things that might happen can stop us from pushing past our comfort zone – and this isn’t good for our confidence.
Do more things that scare you!
There will always be important things that we don’t feel confident about. But the quickest way to get over this is to simply do the thing that’s making you nervous. When we prove to ourselves that we can cope with things we worry about, our confidence grows.
Confront what’s stopping you and make a plan
This year, try identifying a fear that’s holding you back. Whether that’s sending an email to a creative you admire, finally starting that side project or sharing more of your work. Commit to giving it a go! Write down steps to how you might overcome that fear over the next 12 months.