As life settles down post-pandemic, psychotherapist Noel McDermott is looking at ways for the nation to stay on top of their mental fitness. Anxiety about the world opening up may make some people shy away from resilience building activities, but it’s crucial we challenge that fear in ourselves. We need to socialise in groups to remain mentally healthy and we must look at ways in which to boost our wellbeing.
Mental Fitness Tips – Quick Wins!
- Do a lifestyle audit — how much of your time is going into mental fitness?
- Ensure you are doing at last three things per day that will improve your mental fitness, for example walking in the park, socialising or in other ways connecting with a friend or loved one, having a period of rest or relaxation
- Start a course of mindfulness meditation…probably the single most useful contribution you will make to your mental fitness ever
Psychotherapist Noel McDermott comments:
“The pandemic will have affected our mental fitness in several ways, physically we have been more housebound and less able to naturally add exercise to our days such as walking/cycling to work, using stairs rather than lifts etc. These goals help both our physical fitness and our mental fitness. Early on the pandemic also removed many of our ‘natural’ ways of getting the socialisation we need for mental fitness, such as attending group events (work, weddings, pub etc)”.
Signs your mental fitness has been affected by Covid
- Are you drinking more alcohol or becoming reliant on alcohol?
Alcohol consumption has grown exponentially alongside drug misuse as many consumers switched to ordering online.
- Feelings of increased anxiety/depression?
The pandemic has increased anxiety and depression because it has produced uncertainty about safety and about the future.
- Disordered eating, weight loss/increase
With changes in our everyday routines, unhealthy eating habits have been adopted by many, resulting in mood fluctuations and poor outlook on life.
So, what is mental fitness and why is it so important?
Mental fitness describes a set of attitudes and lifestyle choices that increase our resilience in the face of life events that produce psychological distress. As the term suggests, it takes its lead from the idea that physical fitness comes through choices such as healthy food and an active lifestyle, that we do these things as a matter of habit and are regular. We all understand that if we wish to be fit, we must be active, or go to the gym regularly and eat well. Similarly, we can improve our psychological fitness through regular healthy psychological habits and choices.
Psychotherapist Noel McDermott comments:
“Mental fitness comes from firstly ensuring we understand our bodies’ needs. Are we hungry, are we tired, are we thirsty, do we have an injury or an infection? Currently asking ourselves if we have post-viral/covid symptoms. Working with the physical and connecting it to the psychological because they are the same thing”.
The core of a mental fitness regime is the core of evidence-based treatment for common mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. When receiving therapy for those conditions the evidence shows a small number of things will in most cases alleviate the distressing symptoms quickly and if continued will reduce the risk of relapse and contribute to overall mental wellbeing.
The pillars of this approach are:
- Psychological education: understand emotions, early warning signs of distress, and unhealthy coping mechanisms indicating distress and learn to act on those early warning signs. Some of these signs are disturbed sleeping patterns, mood swings, changes in appetite and eating, increased anger, using alcohol or drugs or food to manage, hyper-vigilance to threats, sudden weight gain or loss, feelings of impending doom, losing interest in things you usually like, feeling hopeless, thoughts of harming yourself
- Behaviour changes and behaviour activation: exercise regularly especially outdoors, if possible, have a good routine around social activity and social connections, have good sleep hygiene regular meals that are healthy, reduce alcohol, drink plenty of water
- Manage unhelpful thinking: recognise thoughts that are unhelpful (I am a failure) and replace with more balanced thinking (I feel like a failure, but I managed to achieve X today, or I have a loving family etc). Ruminating on these unhelpful thinking styles will reduce motivation for taking action to change and create a vicious cycle. Try to ditch unhelpful thinking styles that are more common, such as ‘all or nothing’ sometimes referred to as black and white thinking which leads to a sense of disastrous failure or manic achievement. Thoughts affect feelings which affect actions which confirm or challenge the original thought
- Exposure and emotional challenge: as we tend to avoid feeling uncomfortable, we can get into a situation where we avoid things that might be helpful for us. Particularly now many people may be worried about going into groups, work, shows etc, but these things are very closely linked to our wellbeing as social animals. So, we must challenge the fear which may make us want to avoid and expose ourselves to the thing we see as a threat. Avoidance and procrastination are classic signs of anxiety and should be looked at with a view to exposure work
Mental fitness is just as important as physical fitness and in a post-pandemic world we must take the time to work on our mental health and undo some of the psychological distress caused by Covid-19.
Noel McDermott is a Psychotherapist with over 25 years’ experience in health, social care, and education. He is the founder and CEO of three organisations, Psychotherapy and Consultancy Ltd, Sober Help Ltd and Mental Health Works Ltd. Noel’s company offer at-home mental health care and will source, identify and co-ordinate personalised care teams for the individual. They have recently launched a range of online therapy resources to help clients access help without leaving home www.noelmcdermott.net