Prioritize mental fitness this year

Often, when people make New Year’s Resolutions, they are referring to their physical fitness. It is equally important to consider our mental and emotional fitness.

The idea of mental fitness refers to our ability to think, behave and feel in ways that allow us to meet our needs and work toward our goals. Just like physical fitness, mental fitness is impacted by our efforts and can be continuously adjusted and improved. Fitness requires work, which isn’t always fun, but, to get the results that we desire, we practice, we go to the gym and schedule time to work on ourselves.

The same kind of practice and commitment is required for mental fitness, which requires endurance, flexibility and strength. Mental endurance allows us to stay mindful and be in the present moment regardless of what else may be going on. Flexibility helps us understand what it is to walk in someone else’s shoes, learn from our mistakes and think outside of the box. Mental strength gives us confidence to pursue our goals, take on challenges and helps us problem solve.

Consider what you might do differently this year to support or strengthen your mental fitness is a positive way to take care of yourself. Give yourself some time to recover and rejuvenate as you enter the new year. Downtime and not-so-healthy choices over the holiday season can affect motivation and, once your level of motivation is decreased, it takes more energy to build it back up. By focusing on mental fitness, you can get back to your motivated self sooner.

The winter season involves environmental changes that affect us both physically and emotionally given decreasing periods of sunlight and generally spending less time outdoors. Visits with family and friends may help combat winter blues.

Some people develop seasonal affective disorder in response to the decreasing availability of sunlight, which can affect our sleep cycles or circadian rhythms. Exposure to regular sunlight can impact our brains production of neurotransmitters that help us feel emotionally balanced. It also helps our bodies produce vitamin D, which can impact how we feel. In combination, when there is less light and are less positive neurotransmitters, we have less melatonin, which can mean we don’t sleep as much or as well. Light therapy can be used to help our bodies better regulate themselves and we can make decisions to try to help boost our energy levels.

To help support both our physical and mental health, Dr. Degges-White in Psychology Today recommends:

  • Limiting our consumption of simple carbohydrates and processed foods. By eating complex carbohydrates and choosing fresh foods, we will likely feel more energetic and optimistic.
  • Drinking plenty of water to help stay hydrated and avoiding too much alcohol or too much caffeine. Both alcohol and caffeine affect how we sleep and, when we sleep, we help restore and repair our bodies.
  • Making a conscious effort to engage in some physical activity can also help boost our body’s production of endorphins and serotonin, which both impact our moods. Sometimes using yoga or meditation can help reduce stress and worry and better connect your mind and body.

By taking care of our minds and bodies, we can help combat some of the challenges that winter brings. We can help stay connected to the hopefulness of the coming year and more effectively work to identify and accomplish our resolutions. Our bodies are filled with complex, connected networks that influence each other. If we are able to make an effort to eat well, stay active and work to balance our moods, we can help our bodies better regulate themselves and, as a result, can feel better.

For Help:  

If you or someone you know might be struggling, utilize EAP benefits to seek services from highly qualified, licensed professionals.

If someone you know is experiencing difficulty, let them know they are not alone and you are willing to assist them with finding the help they need.  Sometimes just knowing you’re not alone is powerful in helping others seek the help they need.

If you or someone you know needs immediate mental health assistance, you can access a local crisis program, such as Carilion’s CONNECT (540-981-8181), go to the nearest emergency room or call 911. Remember, it’s better to get help for yourself or someone else if needed. Getting help is better than the alternative.

Family Service of Roanoke Valley and Psychological Health Roanoke have qualified and experienced clinicians available to help you and your family. Psychological Health Roanoke provides EAP benefit services to Family Service employees, including a monthly newsletter with timely tips like this.