Welcome to a weekly feature on my blog – Ben’s Zone. Written by husband… Ben. A foodie, coffee obsessed, ex-smoking, ex-drinking and Ridgeback loving Dad. Who is also seriously into his fitness. You can find him on the blog (mostly) on Sundays. Enjoy!
My Mental Health Fitness Regime
Mental health is not something you really think about too much in your younger years. For some people, maybe, it’s not something they ever really have to think about, but I’m not one of those people. In fact, over the years I’ve learned to be quite careful about my mental health and doing what I can to keep it in good trim.
I don’t mean to imply that everything in the mental health landscape can be addressed by wellness, that would be incorrect and very dangerous as it stigmatizes people who need more help. What I have found though, is that there are things I can do on a daily basis that help me stay in good condition mentally. I have high blood pressure and asthma, by maintaining good health and fitness I improve my chances of the medications I take being effective. Likewise, with mental health, I do what I can to keep my mental health in check, but if I need a doctor, I go and see one.
What I find about my mental fitness regime is that it works daily, just like my physical fitness regime. That also allows me to do things in bite-size chunks that fit well into my day.
First, and most importantly, I meditate daily. I only do this for about 20 minutes in the mornings and I’m not even sure how it works, but it does. Despite the fact that over the sounds of the app I use I can usually hear my son doing guitar practice and my daughter doing piano practice (yes, at the same time), somehow I find it makes me feel more relaxed throughout the day. When I meditate I feel better throughout the day, it even helps me sleep better.
I could wax lyrical about how I meditate but I won’t because the only important thing about meditation is trying to do it, not whether or not you’re any good at it or how you do it.
The second key aspect of my mental health fitness regime is making sure I do a mixture of cardio and strength-based exercise every day. I do this for two reasons. Reason 1 is simply that my body is the vehicle that carries my mind about. If my body feels uncomfortable then it makes me feel low, if I feel low for any length of time then my mental health will dip. Reason 2 is that exercise is a secondary form of meditation for me. I’m not looking for big endorphin rushes, I’m looking for activities that I can carry out in a mindful way that gives my head time to pause.
It’s important for my head to pause as it’s not something that happens a lot, so I have to create those opportunities. I work pretty long hours (my choice, I love what I do) and you’d think finding those time spots would be difficult, but it’s not. I accept that maintaining good mental health is something I need to engage with.
A Balanced Diet
Just as maintaining the vehicle my mind drives is important, so is fuel. Most days I try and eat healthy food in reasonable quantities. This does not mean counting calories, or macros, or anything else, just not loads of reasonably good food. I cook from scratch most of the time because I’ve been practicing for years and I find it easier to cook food I enjoy than it is to buy it. I like to enjoy my meals, I have treats and I don’t restrict my eating, though I do keep a log of what I eat (as I find it helps with my sweet tooth). I do also enjoy takeaways, because who doesn’t, but if I have to have them for any sustained period of time it starts to make my body feel grotty, and pretty soon my head will feel grotty too.
The last thing I do that I think is really important to keep my mental balance in check is to exercise creativity. For me, this is playing guitar. I don’t play particularly well, but that’s not the point. For the most part, children are happy people, if you look at what children do, they stay fit by running around the whole time and they’re endlessly creative. As adults, a lot of us leave that creativity behind as we get busier with work and adult stuff. That’s a mistake.
By spending a little time each day exercise whichever part of my brain engages when I play guitar I find that I feel better and my outlook upon the world improves. For that reason, it’s something that’s pretty worthwhile to do. I don’t play for long, but, as with all of my disciplines, I do it every day.
Sleep is good, a regular sleep pattern is definitely helpful to maintain good mental balance but it’s a tricky subject. For me, I just don’t sleep very much, during work or holiday times and I have given up worrying about it. Yes, it’s probably better to sleep more than I do, but it’s worse beating myself up about something that’s essentially outside of my control. I go to bed in good times and avoid video games etc just before retiring but other than that, if I wake up at 5 am, so be it.
So, that’s all I do really. I try and do little things on a regular basis to keep my mental health good. It is usually pretty effective. I’m not super concerned with why I have to be so much more focused on mental health, it’s just my reality, but by keeping in my routines I’ve been happy for a long time and when I’m not, it’s easier to get back out of that.
None of this is intended as a panacea or even a recommendation, it’s just what I do to make life easier.