Strengthening Your Mental Fitness
Have you ever driven the same route to work or home and upon arrival felt like you got there almost on autopilot? The route is so familiar that you don’t even think about it. That is similar to how thoughts and actions travel along neural pathways in our brains. When we repeat a certain thought or action many times, that neural pathway is reinforced, and the thinking can become automatic. When it comes to thought or action patterns that are causing us trouble (anger, aggression, sadness, hopelessness), we need to be aware of what our routines are and what pathways we're inadvertently reinforcing. Too often, we are acting, speaking, and thinking automatically when troubling decisions or stressful events come our way. However, with work and intention we can actually reroute these pathways, finding routes that better serve us and our mental health.
Try a new mental fitness routine.
Make time for your physical well-being
Being physically active releases those feel-good endorphins, dopamine, and promotes the expression of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) that can enhance your sense of well-being and reduce stress. Consider making time for your physical well-being by changing daily activities, sticking to a healthy sleep schedule, picking nutritious meals, or taking part in stress management techniques such as meditation or yoga.
Find and nurture a support network
Humans are social creatures who are made for community and human interaction. Find a resilient role model that you feel is mentally strong and spend time with them. Being able to imitate and learn from their responses is a great way of learning. In addition, it is important to avoid isolation or finding yourself in a situation where you are heading down a road of self-doubt. Speak with others about the problem you are facing.
Strengthen your growth skillset
Learning through adversity or failure is key to training your brain for the next situation in your life. If you can recognize, accept, and aspire to grow you’re inadvertently helping yourself for future situations. This is called your strengthening your growth skillset. You can also set goals within these situations. For example, purposely identifying something that you could fail at – like trying a new recipe or skill –and testing your ability to be agile in the process. Practicing failure will allow you to be mentally nimble and regulate your brain’s flight or fight response when challenges come your way.
Focus on realistic optimism
Having a realistic optimism means you confront, rather than avoid, the situation you may be in. Even if you are experiencing a challenging situation, you are able to recognize that things can get better. You can think of this as the converse of learned helplessness which is a state in which a person feels powerless to change a stressful situation on their own. This requires reframing your outlook and could be aided by stress management techniques such as meditation or functional or adaptive mental health techniques.
Join in or create your own purposeful activity
Help to remind yourself of the meaning of your life and the lives of others through the neural model of human morality and altruism. By actively pursuing a purposefully activity you can inadvertently help reset your thinking and could help others at the same time. Take part in activities that are active, not passive. For example, participate in a community event that has a common purpose or goal. Don’t aimlessly scroll on social media or a newsfeed alone to get information and try to soothe your emotions passively.
Keeping up with your mental fitness routine takes time and discipline. If you don't feel you're making progress — or you feel like the weight of trauma is getting heavier and lasting more than a month — consider learning about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and talking to a mental health professional.