As we're exploring what is means to be mentally fit here at Ārepa HQ, we had Sam our Neuroscientist start looking into it in collaboration with the team at REMiND mindfulness.
Physical fitness creates healthier human beings - that much we can agree on. We’re all familiar with the concept of exercise, and whether it’s boxing, running, hiking, HIT class or a vigorous boogie, most of us have one or many ways of keeping ourselves fit. We know working out is good for us, and thus, it’s ingrained in our society.
It hasn’t always been this way, though.Back in the 40’s, if you told a friend you were going for a run, they’d look at you like you were nuts. Who were you running from? And what on earth would you wear? It wasn’t until scientists started showing that running and other forms of physical exercise were good for our health that attitudes started to change.
Word spread fast: working out would strengthen our muscles and support our lung and heart health. Everyone jumped on the bandwagon, and it’s now well established that this practice gives us increased energy and endurance to function at a higher level in our everyday lives.
But what about working out for the brain?
We can actually build our mental fitness in a very similar way. Yep, bicep curls for the mind - it’s a thing. And just like physical exercise, mind training has been shown to improve our brain health, mood, energy and the way we function on the daily. It can fight disease, help us to experience more joy, and even improve our sex lives. Curious yet?
What is mental fitness?
Being mentally fit basically means we’ve strengthened our ability to stay in the here and now: to be present. Being present means we’re more aware of what’s going on with our thoughts, feelings and emotions, and this awareness is powerful. Life can be intense and hard sometimes, and increased awareness gives us more choice about how we react or respond to life’s inevitable stresses.
Through training of the brain, we are able to see more clearly how we engage with ‘stimulus’ - in other words, how we relate to the things that happen in our lives. It’s a concept that author and holocaust survivorViktor Franklwrote about. He says it best, so we’ll let him:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
So basically, training the mind lets us assess a situation before acting impulsively or automatically. Take an argument with someone dear to you: your anger might escalate to the point where you can’t think of anything else. You might be yelling without any sense of control. Or, your ever-growing to-do list might overwhelm you to the point that you can’t even start on the first thing. At this point, self-criticism and procrastination might halt all progress.
This happens when we are on autopilot, a state some of you might be familiar with. Thanks to evolution, this autopilot is on when we are not present and has us constantly scanning for threats. A message left on ‘seen’ might escalate into an elaborate mental story about how a friend no longer likes us. An urgent email might send our heart racing. This was once useful when living as cave people, however whether it’s replaying a conversation or fretting about not having enough money for the future, these modern-day threats tend trigger emotions like fear, worry, guilt and stress the same way our body would respond to a tiger. These emotions were once needed to keep us alive however, we now live in a very different world, and freaking out about emails and conversations and money keeps us far more stressed than we need to be. Mental fitness helps us to deactivate this auto-pilot, which, let’s be honest, is pretty uptight and not that much fun.
Mental fitness gives us the ability to pause. It gives us the choice to respond more effectively, to consider the argument we are currently in with some of the wisdom which might otherwise have only dawned on us an hour later. The fitter we are, the better we can maintain mental clarity when we’re consumed by emotion, and the less reactive we’ll be. It also gives us the mental capability to know when we need to respond for survival, and what threats actually pose physical danger to us. In other words, we’ll start to avoid unnecessary suffering.
Read the rest of the article here: https://www.remind.nz/blogs/blog/let-s-talk-about-mental-fitness