Let’s face it: getting fit can give you fits. Relentless exercising and dieting, saying “no” to chocolate and “yes” to more broccoli is enough to question what God was thinking when He made it easy to gain weight and tough to lose it. Now that swimsuit season is officially upon us, it’s even more frustrating. So, what’s a person to do? Remember three things:
- When you change your brain, you change your life
- Compassion for yourself helps reduce your suffering
This goes for fine-tuning your body and fine-tuning your mental health. See, humans are the only beings on this earth who worry about the future, regret past mistakes and blame ourselves for the present. To achieve mental health fitness, we have to connect to ourselves, which in turn, will allow us to create meaningful and fulfilling lives. How? According to Dr. Molly Allen it involves fine-tuning the way we think. “Confronting one’s own ‘thinking errors’ has to do with stepping back, taking a very rational look at the way that, as an individual, I have a skewed view on the world, and correcting this thinking error with a more realistic take on the challenge at hand,” says Dr. Allen. She continues, “For example, if I tell myself that ‘I must look like the models in the catalogue’ in order to put on a bathing suit and go to the pool, then my thinking error is that I am using a highly self-critical stance that is bound to create unhappiness for myself, because I am holding myself to an impossibly high standard. A more rational way of looking at this situation for myself would be, ‘I would like to go swimming and I would love to have a different body than I have – but this is the one I have today. I don’t want to deprive myself of going to the pool or lake, so I will accept that I don’t look perfect, go anyway, and have some fun.’”
It’s actually sort of a metaphysical process, which entails:
- Noticing your feelings. Let’s say you’re rushing to get to work. Take a moment or two and observe where in your body you’re holding your stress. Is it your neck, stomach, jaw, backside? Once you figure that out, focus on breathing in to it and give it up to the Universe; let it go and encourage yourself to feel more relaxed.
- Naming your feelings. Another method of connecting to yourself is by naming how you’re feeling at any given moment. This can be as simple as saying one word to yourself that describes how you’re feeling: anxious, happy, upset, furious, elated, peaceful. Acknowledging all of these feelings can help your mental fitness.
- Accept your thoughts and emotions. A big part of achieving mental health fitness is connecting to ourselves unconditionally, and without judgment. You will feel more alive and more awake spiritually, too, if you lose the guilt and criticism you feel for yourself. If you accept all of your thoughts, emotions and feelings you’ll feel more grounded and less stressed. So, instead of judging yourself, concentrate on observing your feelings and noticing the sensations that arise in your body.
- Engage in enjoyable solo activities. Connecting to ourselves also involves being alone with our thoughts, feelings and emotions. You can do this by taking a walk, creating art, listening to music, meditation, yoga, swimming, cooking, reading, knitting—whatever is enjoyable to you. When the tough times in life rear their heads, focus on these feelings of serenity to help you cope.
- Practice self-compassion. Many people think that self-compassion is equal to self-indulgence or complacency. Not true. Research shows that self-compassion actually correlates to better results whether it is performing in a race, in a courtroom or even feeling comfortable in our own selves.
Remember, connecting to yourself and working on your mental health fitness is a daily process. As is life…it’s a journey, not a destination.
Sources: Molly Allen, PhD., Psych Central, American Psychological Association, Psychology Today