As a society, we seem to be well-versed in the importance and benefits of becoming and remaining physically fit by actively engaging and learning new habits and skills, including better eating, exercise, sleep, relaxation, and so on.
But, what about our mental fitness? Being mentally fit helps us manage our daily life better, feeling less stressed and anxious, improving our mood, and generally enables us to enjoy each day. And, just like physical fitness, mental fitness also requires healthy habits and skills.
Here at the mental fitness corner, you will find little changes that you can make that together, and when practiced consistently, will help you get mentally fitter and stronger over time.
You probably will not be surprised to learn that our thoughts, feelings and behaviour affect each other, at times creating unhealthy patterns. We then sometimes fall into the mindset of “this is just who am I.” But, this is just an example of how our thoughts may affect our feelings and behaviour.
However, through “simple” changes that help recalibrate the way we think, feel and behave, we can achieve a more authentic life. A life in which we identify, acknowledge and tap into our personal strengths. “Simple is not always easy”, but then nothing worthwhile is ever easy.
In each post, we will focus on one point of potential change. And will Let’s start today with a bit on thoughts. Our thoughts affect how we feel as well as how we behave. Our efficient brain develops automatic thought patterns to help us do what we do without having to assess and decide on a form of action each time we encounter a similar situation. Efficient, right? But, what happens when those automatic thought patterns are flawed in some way? So, instead of being helpful to us, they lead to manifesting or exacerbating negative feelings such as unwarranted anxiety or low mood, and unhelpful behaviours such as shouting at others or belittling one’s self?
Well, let’s look at a more concrete example. Imagine if you have made plans to meet a friend for lunch and the meeting time passes by 10 minutes. Someone who has an anxious thought pattern may immediately think that something had happened to the friend to delay them, such as an accident, etc. Their behaviour may then be to call and find out if the friend is safe. A person with a depressed thought pattern might conclude that the other person just doesn’t respect or like them enough to come. Their behaviour may be to leave or to cry, etc. On the other hand, the person with a healthy thought pattern may just think the person has been delayed. They may even be pleased at the delay as they get to have a quick coffee.
So, the same event may result in different feelings and actions, depending on the person’s automatic thought pattern.
A good remedy for this is to identify the thought, challenge it, and replace it with a more realistic, helpful one. To challenge the thought, you can seek out evidence for and against the thought, e.g., does this person regularly arrive on time? Could there be traffic at this time of day? And so on.
Regularly challenging unhelpful, limiting thoughts helps you develop and replace old, unhelpful thought patterns with more helpful ones. It is not about thinking more positively. These new thought patterns have to be REALISTIC, based on solid evidence, e.g., recognising instances where this friend has been late with you or others, or that traffic is challenging at this time of day, and so on.
The replacement thoughts also have to be HELPFUL. Let’s just visit the wellknown half-full/half empty analogy. If you have a glass filled to the middle with water – Is the glass half empty or half full? Both are true. If I think it’s half empty, then I am saddened & worried that if the final half is depleted then the glass will be empty. But, if I think it’s half full, then yeah! Only another half and it will be full – more helpful, right? At this point, there is an element of choice. It’s YOUR choice.
Something to take with you: Remember that just because you think something is true doesn’t make it true. What is helpful is finding a realistic & helpful thought that is based on solid evidence that can replace the unhelpful, often catastrophic thought!
Get in touch with Shire Doctors and Dentists today
Important: If you find yourself struggling to navigate your emotions or are experiencing significant distress, consider seeking support from a mental health professional. They can provide guidance and help you develop personalised strategies to manage your emotions effectively.
Dr Rosanna Francis is a clinical psychologist who believes in the inner strength of the individual, and the value of tapping into these strengths and learning new skills to help one live a more comfortable, fulfilling life. She has over 20 years experience working across a diverse range of psychological issues, including anxiety, depression, complex trauma, relationships, stress, self-confidence, and emotion regulation; and, a special interest (research & clinical) in working with people with high intellectual ability who struggle with anxiety.