fitness

Prioritizing your mental fitness

Almost 20 years ago, I attended a workshop on self-care for front line workers. It was not long after 9/11, an event in which I spent a lot of time helping people stay calm in the face of great uncertainty.

The workshop leader gave us all a great piece of advice. She said, remember the airplane directions: always put your own mask on first before helping others.

In these days of great social change, when upheaval is the new currency, when the lack of a routine or the imposition of a new one with working from home or coping with job loss seems like a burden you cannot attempt to carry, or when the social distance required for public safety has started to unravel the threads in your personal safety net, it can be really easy to forget your own needs.

I have struggled with making physical fitness a priority in the past. I found making a schedule, committing to training, and blocking out the time as fixed were strategies that helped me make it happen.

Part of that was fear that I couldn’t keep up, that I was too unfit or incapable of actually doing the moves required. Part of it was also the expendability of women’s time when there are already so many demands from other sources: child and/or pet care, home care, elder care, work priorities, community responsibilities etc.

It came home to me a couple of days ago that the impact of keeping away from people generally and minimizing social contact when carrying out essential errands also required me to focus on maintaining mental fitness.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the news in our communities, or from places around the world where we have family, friends and colleagues also facing similar fears, concerns and challenges. Over the past week, I have talked with friends and colleagues about managing the stress created by meeting the guidelines for protecting ourselves, our loved ones and our community from COVID-19.

We are not alone in this. In case though, you find asking for help challenging, especially when it comes to building up your mental wellness and fitness, I took a look to see what is out there to help.

The WHO has prepared a comprehensive document you can use to develop your own mental fitness plan. It outlines issues and options by category, from health workers on the front line and those in isolation to caregivers of people with dementia and elders. It has a list of guidelines for the general population:

  • Acknowledge the global scope and be empathetic to those directly affected
  • Minimize watching, reading or listening to news that causes you to feel anxious or distressed (set a specific time of time day to gather information so you can avoid a constant stream of data;
  • Seek information only from trusted sources to take practical steps to prepare your plans and protect yourself and loved ones
  • Protect yourself and be supportive of others. Assisting others in their time of need can benefit the person receiving support as well as the helper.
  • Find opportunities to amplify positive and hopeful stories and positive images
  • Acknowledge the role frontline carers play to save lives and keep your loved ones safe.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has shared specific strategies to help maintain mental wellness (slightly edited here for length and repetition):

  1. Separate what is in your control from what is not. There are things you can do, and it’s helpful to focus on those.  Wash your hands.  Remind others to wash theirs. Take your vitamins. Limit your consumption of news.
  2. Do what helps you feel a sense of safety. This will be different for everyone, and it’s important not to compare yourself to others. Make sure you separate when you are isolating based on potential for sickness versus isolating because it’s part of depression.
  3. Get outside in nature–even if you are avoiding crowds. Take a walk. (My note: Or if you don’t want to go far, sitting outside your door or next to an open window so you can feel the fresh air on your face and see sky, trees etc are always helpful.) Exercise also helps both your physical and mental health.
  4. Challenge yourself to stay in the present. When you find yourself worrying about something that hasn’t happened, gently bring yourself back to the present moment.  Notice the sights, sounds, tastes and other sensory experiences in your immediate moment and name them. Engaging in mindfulness activities is one way to help stay grounded when things feel beyond your control.
  5. Stay connected and reach out if you need more support. Talk to trusted friends about what you are feeling. If you are feeling particularly anxious or if you are struggling with your mental health, it’s ok to reach out to a mental health professional for support.  You don’t have to be alone with your worry and it can be comforting to share what you are experiencing with those trained to help.

This image offers some great things you can do as a reminder.

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Image shows a poster with a number of coping strategies. Created by Carie Stephens Art, TheCounsellingTeacher.com

Some things I am doing now include:

  • jotting down key accomplishments in my diary (can be whatever it means to you — for some that could be getting washed and dressed; for others, it can be walking their dog; remember you do you)
  • checking in regularly with my circle of friends
  • setting aside a chunk of time to do something that makes you happy (I’ve been watching cute baby — human and animal — videos before bedtime)
  • creating an asset map of things I have in my life
  • normalizing my routines (some are the same and some are new, like handwashing as soon as I get in the door of my house after a grocery run and wiping down all surfaces)

This website offers a great collection of strategies: from meditations and music to journaling and mindfulness activities. How about you? What are the things that you are doing to look after your mental fitness? Be well, stay well.

— MarthaFitat55 lives in Newfoundland, getting her physical and mental fitness on in multiple ways.

5 thoughts on “Prioritizing your mental fitness

  1. Thanks so much, Martha! I really needed this– caring and clear reminders that we all need to create routines and plans for maintaining our emotional equilibrium, and also for getting it back when it is jostled. I’m going to put together some scheduling for myself– not an easy task for me– which I think will help. Take care!

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