‘The only impossible journey is the one you never begin.’
Being fit, getting fit, feeling fit; there is a lot of talk about it at this time of year… with new year’s resolutions abounding and RTE’s Operation Transformation on many people’s TV screens. And there is no doubt about it, fitness is fantastic and has a multitude of health benefits. But think for a moment just about the word fit…. think what it would be like to then focus on the term ‘mental fitness’ in your mind, instead of always associating it with the physical. Physical fitness has almost become one word but what if we were to broaden the word out…
What would you imagine this country would be like if RTE dedicated an entire series of Operation Transformation to our mental fitness? Yes, physical fitness matters a great deal and it is important to pay attention to our diet, our level of physical activity and our BMI. But is it more important than our level of mental fitness? Does our daily diet of thoughts not impact on us just as much, colouring our experience of living this life, influencing how we each feel?
We indeed have a crisis in this country. As a nation we are physically less active than we ever have been before so attention to physical fitness, particularly for children, matters an awful lot. But mental fitness matters too as the levels of depression and anxiety being experienced are at a very high level, for our young people growing up as well as for many adults. It’s just not as obvious as how a person is doing mentally is not immediately obvious when we look at them, whereas a person’s physical appearance which can hint towards a level of physical fitness, unlike a person’s mind, is readily available for us to see.
The phrase ‘mental fitness’ is one I tweeted about this morning. I stated that a person’s mental fitness level mattered as much as a person’s physical fitness level and I got an immediate positive response from Operation Transformation. So maybe the idea is catching on. Maybe a new journey could be beginning where people in the future will spend 30 minutes every day doing a ‘mental fitness workout’.
What do you believe would happen if people in this country took their mental fitness as seriously as they take their physical fitness? What would happen if as much effort was going into selecting thoughts for the day as is going into the planning of healthy meals? Would the mental health of the nation start to rise? I believe it certainly would. Do you?
‘They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.’
Whether you agree with the perspective above or not, it certainly is a perspective or view that is worthy of reflection. It is a perspective that gives people a lot more power than we sometimes believe we have.
In relation to stress, it often can be the case that it is circumstances outside of our control that seems to cause the stressful feeling to arise. But, if this is the case, does that mean that a particular method cannot be employed by a person in order to lift the weight of the stress off? Surely getting soaked in the rain doesn’t mean a person has to stay wet until enough time passes for them to eventually become dry again. We change our clothes and dry our hair and in those simple actions, we change things. So how about some action to combat stress? How about finding a way to let go of stress when circumstances land it on our plate? Stress, like so many other feelings that can overwhelm us, can be processed so that it doesn’t have a grip on us. Here is one possible route towards taking control of stress and it involves a Cognitive-Behavioural approach.
Research supports the assertion that cognitive-behavioural therapy works effectively when dealing with feelings such as fear, anxiety or stress. This model of therapy highlights the link between how we think, how we feel and how we behave. How we think influences how we feel and how we feel influences how we behave. With overwhelming stress therefore, the resulting behaviour may be lying awake at night tossing and turning instead of being able to rest and sleep. In order to have different behaviour, the feeling needs to change and in order for the feeling to change, some focus needs to go to what thoughts are in the mind, as the thoughts, according to Cognitive Behavioural Theory are influencing the feeling. Trying to change your thoughts is not that simple though, particularly thoughts that seem almost automatic. Ways of thinking can become well ingrained.
Therefore, the first step but not the only step is to begin to monitor your thoughts. Paying close attention to how closely linked our thoughts and feelings are requires effort. Then working to figure out why the thoughts are there is the next essential step in combating the stressful feeling as this process of working out what is influencing your thinking gives insight into what beliefs you hold. Beliefs influence how a person thinks, and yet sometimes beliefs that people hold are not that obvious even to person themselves. Uncovering them at least gives you a choice about whether you wish to hold on to that belief or not. Not knowing it is there means you have no choice to keep it or let it go. Sometimes when stress hits, it can feel as if there is nothing you can do to combat it but we really do quite often have more power than we realise. Taking control of your mind by managing your thoughts is a skill that takes practice and it can be done. The ultimate power is the power of mindset…that is what I believe.
‘ You may think you stand alone because you chose to be true to you. But, by doing so, you actually attract people to you who will truly respect who you are.’
I don’t know how many people find it hard to be true to who they are. It can be a difficult thing to do because when you stand for something and it differs from what another person may think or believe, it can become apparent that your differing stand point can create a distance between you that might not otherwise be there. So what do you do? What if what you fundamentally believe to be right is not what someone else believes? What if what the other believes is a view you just cannot hold… what if what you believe to be true is part of what is your essence and the other just doesn’t seem to appreciate or respect that. And what if you feel you want to blow the whistle on something..something you know is wrong and something that goes against what you believe to be right? Do you go forward and take a step to intervene or do you hold back? Often, by taking a stand a loss of some sort can be felt but is that enough reason not to stand by your convictions?
Often in life, people have different views. You don’t have to listen too long to the news to know that deeply held views and beliefs can lead to conflict, war and intense pain and anguish. And even regarding war and peace, differing views exist. Some see the merit of war, some the futility and brutality of it. Some dedicate their entire life’s work to making peace, some see peace as an impossible dream. In all of our lives, moments arise when we need to ask ourselves some fundamental questions. Large questions like what it is we stand for and smaller ones such as what to do in relation to a matter that may come to your attention and that you believe to be wrong. I know that for some, a passionate belief in something can become lost inside and never given a voice because to say out loud what you really feel about what might be happening or what someone might be doing can cause alienation or even threats and intimidation. Sometimes too, the idea of intervening or taking a stand can seem daunting, especially if the person or thing you wish to take a stand against is a bully or has power to wield in some way. It takes courage to stand up for what you believe is right and it can at times cause you losses but in the end, it is my belief that being true to yourself is the best way forward. People will always hold different views but if you believe something is wrong or someone is acting in an unjust or unethical way, then it is ok to say it. Be true to yourself. Even if it means you in some sense may lose…. at least you know that you had the courage of your convictions and that you stayed true to beliefs you hold dear. There is only one unique you…. and not everyone is going to see things your way but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a stand and say what it is you wish to say. One voice can be all it takes sometimes to point out what’s not ok. One person can change things…..maybe it will be you…….