Mental health should be a major topic of concern around the world as we find ourselves more than a year into a global pandemic. Signs of things opening up are starting to inspire hope about a less restrictive future, but we are also seeing a loss of control in the release of the tension people are feeling. It is going to be very easy to diagnose poor mental health in the coming months and years, but the question is: what can we do to improve our mental health, overall?
The basics of mental health are very similar to physical health. We can be more proactive if we look at our mental and physical capacities in terms of fitness instead of health. Striving for fitness goals is an effective way of promoting and protecting good health. In order to be fit, you have to eat well and exercise regularly. The results of the work are evident in how you feel and how you are able to perform. The more extreme the training, the higher the threshold of possible achievement is, with a point of diminishing return where more work doesn’t lead to the same degree of gains.
Navy Seals train rigorously so that they will be prepared to remain functional under extreme duress. This is one extreme end of the physical fitness spectrum, but their work also includes mental training. All training helps both mind and body, but the more you include technical skills into the training the more interactive the mind and body in training become. Being able to think and communicate, to interact skillfully during physical exertion is a measure of total mind/body fitness.
The same habits that lead to physical fitness can also lead to mental fitness. Creating a training schedule designed to promote strengthening of physical and mental abilities will provide the structure needed to sustain and understand the results of this kind of work. If you are able to effectively perform both mental and physical challenges for a sustained period of time, then you can be said to be sound of mind and body and in good health. Instead of waiting to diagnose an illness, we can choose fitness as a path to well being.
If our diet and our exercise affect both our mental and physical health, what about the things we consume and produce? Is there some kind of calorie-in/ calorie-out ratio when it comes to mental consumption of cultural artifacts? If you are what you eat, what about the culture that you consume? How does what we read and see affect our physical health? How does thinking about what we consume in culture help us to assimilate or eliminate ideas and energies?
Thinking about mental health as a result of good mental fitness practices opens up all kinds of questions and points to exciting directions for research. The method of separating people in to athletes and intellectuals, jocks and nerds is becoming more and more evidently bad form. Instead, we should strive for balanced well functioning minds and bodies. Through training, we can achieve greater degrees of mind/body fitness.
As we attempt to recover physically, mentally and financially from this pandemic, focusing on best practices for physical and mental fitness will help immensely to promote good mental and physical health.