Are you Mentally Fit?

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Judith Belmont, M.S., L.P.C.
Psychotherapist/Wellness Speaker/Author

Most of us know guidelines for physical fitness, which includes a lifestyle of regular aerobic exercise, along with stretching and strength training.  The same goes for the general knowledge of the basics of healthy vs. unhealthy food choices.  For example, foods that are rich in protein, grains, and fiber, while being low in sugar and saturated fats, are certainly more nutritionally sound than a meal consisting of a Big Whopper with soda and fries, topped off with a Tastykake pack.  Despite this knowledge, saying “no” to these high fat and sugary foods can be so very hard to do!

Despite the essentials of sound nutrition and exercise being a “no-brainer,” all too often people lack an idea of what are the key elements in “emotional fitness” or mental health. To support this point, at a recent “Lunch and Learn” presentation to about 40 company employees, I asked them to tell me what are some guidelines to staying physically fit.  Not surprisingly, there was no shortage of very appropriate answers.  However, when I asked them to offer guidelines for “mental fitness” all I got were blank stares and puzzled expressions!  This latest experience mirrored my observations of countless other seminars, and it my main impetus for writing this article on “Emotional Fitness” so that if this question was posed to you, you would not be just like one more statistic from my workplace wellness workshops!  Regard this article as a snippet of “personal training” helping you improve your “mental fitness!”

To start, here is a quick quiz to get an approximate gauge of your Emotional Wellness I.Q.   

How is your Emotional Fitness? Below are 8 items that you may agree with or disagree with.  On a scale of 1 to 7, rate your level of agreement with each item, being honest and open with yourself.

7 —Strongly Agree

6—Agree

5—Slightly Agree

4—Neither Agree or Disagree

3—Slightly disagree

2—Disagree

1—Strongly disagree

_____   I feel satisfied with who I am and where I am in my life 

_____   I refuse to allow regrets and disappointments cloud “today”

_____   I feel a strong sense of connection with others and do not feel isolated

_____   I tend to think rationally and optimistically

_____   I do not hold onto grudges and can forgive others for not living up to my expectations

______ I feel a great sense of control over my emotions, thoughts and feelings

______ I have a healthy sense of humor and can laugh at life’s imperfections

______ I feel more gratitude on how my life is now rather than focus on what’s lacking                              

Total your score here:   ____________

Mental Fitness Range:

51-56 Emotional Fitness is extraordinary!

46- 50 High level of Emotional Fitness

40-46 Moderate level of Emotional Fitness

32-39     Emotional Fitness needs some boosting!

24-31 Emotional Fitness is posing problems for optimal health – needs work!

16-23      Needs improvement!  Actively work on improving your Emotional Fitness.

Below 15  Danger Zone

This quick quiz can be quite helpful to use with all types of clients, and provides a snapshot of one’s emotional resiliency and general life adjustment.  Certainly, it can provide a great springboard for discussion!  The question items distill some of the important factors that have been found by researchers that correspond to mental health and wellness.  Now that you or your client has taken this test, now what? 

Learn the Top Ten Tips for Emotional Fitness!

No matter how high or low one scores on my Emotional Fitness quiz, we can all benefit from a “crash course” on how to boost one’s Emotional Fitness I.Q!  Below are the guidelines to a more positive, flexible and growth-oriented mental outlook!

1 – Exercise mental flexibility – Get a grip!  See this exercise in the Therapeutic Toolbox Corner below

2 – Make stress your friend – Be the guitar string that has the perfect amount of tension, playing beautiful music without either droning on or popping your string!

3 – Assert yourself – Learn the difference between being Assertive, Non-Assertive and Aggressive,

and improve your relationships by using Assertive communication.

4 – Be a healthy, optimistic thinker – Turn mistakes and setbacks into valuable growth producing, learning experiences.

5 – Change yourself, not others – Dracula will never turn into Prince Charming!

6 – Have an attitude of gratitude – Give up pre-conditions to happiness.  Refuse to say, “When……….. then I’ll be happy.”

7 – Stay in the Now – Use the past as a guidepost, not a hitching post!

8 – Forgive, forgive, and forgive – Grind up those axes to grind!

9 – Lighten up – Life is too serious to be taken seriously

10 – Develop a mental fitness routine!  – Make time every day for a focus on exercising your Mental Fitness! 

Even though these Top Ten Emotional Fitness Tips sound reasonable and simple, they are not at all simple to follow!  Just as the knowledge of healthy eating habits does not always steer one away from the MacDonald’s drive-through or enable one to pass on the blue cheese dressing with a “low-calorie” salad, the knowledge of basic mental health survival tips can get lost in one’s day to day stresses, worries and pressures.  Nurturing one’s mental fitness often gets relegated to the back burner since it is so intangible and, at times, seemingly elusive.  How do you practice your “mental fitness” muscles?  One major habit that people often find effective is to read even ten minutes of self help or positive thinking type of books every morning before starting the day.  In his best selling, colorful book, “Little Gold Book of YES! Attitude , Jeffrey Gitomer encourages his reader to start the day off by reading as little as ten minutes a day about some aspect of Positive Psychology (I suppose like his books!) to serve as a constant reinforcement that sets a healthy tone for the day.  Putting time in to make a commitment to read, much like one makes a commitment to follow an exercise regimen or low carb diet, is one major key to success.  He confides in his book that for 35 years he has followed this daily regimen and plans to continue for another 35 years!

Take the Emotional Fitness Challenge: 

Take two weeks and make the commitment to read at least ten minutes in the morning to read any self help book that promotes Positive Psychology.  Some easy-to-read books that help with “attitude adjustment” besides the Gitomer book mentioned is Richard Carlson’s books “You Can be Happy Again” or “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” and/or Abraham Twerski’s “When Do the Good Things Start?”  At the end of two weeks, take the Mental Fitness quiz again, and see if you boosted your Emotional Fitness I.Q!  Where you are along the continuum matters little as long as you are going in the right direction!  We all have our starting points, and the time to start is NOW!

Judy Belmont , M.S., L.P.C., has used her counseling background to provide workshops on mental health and wellness topics in workplace and educational settings.  She is the founder of ” Worksite Insights,” dedicated to promoting “mental fitness at work.”  It is her passion to promote “mental fitness” in her clients as well as the general workplace – employing her therapeutic skills from the “inside out.”    She is the author of 2 books, one for group therapists and corporate Trainers entitled “103 Groups Activities and Tips.”

Visit her website www.worksiteinsights.com for more information on her workshops and her publications.  She is the co-author of an upcoming book, the Swiss Cheese Theory of Life, a self-help book due out later in 2011.

 

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