ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Staying Well: Exercises for Mental Wellness

Updated on March 30, 2013
You can exercise your mind for greater wellness!
You can exercise your mind for greater wellness! | Source

Most of us know some basic things about staying physically well. We know to wash our hands, wear seatbelts, drink enough water, exercise regularly, brush our teeth, and get a check-up periodically. And we (mostly) do all these things because we want to live long, healthy lives. But did you know there are some basic “exercises” you can do to stay mentally healthy? Here are a few ideas.

Be Your Own Best Friend

Exercise 1: Be your own best friend.

I’m regularly astonished at how cruel people can be to themselves. I frequently hear people call themselves stupid, ugly, disgusting, bad and a whole host of other unkind words. One thing I have learned and that I have taught to many people is to treat yourself the way you would treat your own best friend.

Here’s how to do the exercise. Think of a person you love dearly. This can be a family member or a close friend. Now imagine her in exactly the same situation you are in. Whatever you are unhappy about, whatever you are blaming yourself for, imagine she is experiencing exactly the same thing. Now, what would you tell her? Think about it for a minute. It’s probably something kind and reassuring, right? Here are some examples of things you might say to a beloved friend: Everyone makes mistakes. You’ll be able to work through this. You are talented in many ways. You are an awesome person and a good friend.

You would never tell your best friend that she was stupid, or ugly, or anything like that. You wouldn’t even think it. After all, this is your best friend! You care about her! Now, follow this rule:

If you wouldn’t say it to your best friend, you can’t say it to yourself!

Instead, say to yourself all the supportive, kind and loving things you would say to your best friend. You will find that in addition to feeling better, you will actually be much more motivated to act in positive ways in whatever situation you are in.

Put it into practice

Which exercise are you willing to try?

See results

Practice Relaxation

Exercise 3: Practice relaxation regularly.

Many people seem to live in a paraphrase of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous statement: The thing I fear most is fear itself. They are distressed by the physical sensations of anxiety: their heart beating rapidly, their hands trembling, their stomachs feeling queasy, their chests feeling tight. They believe their anxiety will grow and grow until they completely lose control. They are worried other people will notice and laugh at them. Some people even worry that their anxiety will harm them physically. Unfortunately, this fear will only make the initial anxiety worse and intensify the physical sensations. It also leads to avoidance, which, as we already discussed, worsens anxiety.

Relaxation is a solid antidote to feelings of anxiety. Most relaxation techniques (deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, yoga, tai chi) will activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the part of your nervous system that is in charge of “rest and restore” and it counteracts the sympathetic nervous system, which is in charge of “fight or flee”. When you are anxious the sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive, and it feels terrible. Practicing relaxation techniques on a regular basis will give you the tools to activate your parasympathetic nervous system when you need to. The key words here are “regular practice.” If you only attempt to use relaxation techniques when you are feeling very anxious you will not find them very helpful. Like building up strength in a muscle, relaxation practices build strength and effectiveness from repeated exercise.

Don't Avoid When You are Afraid

Exercise 2: Don’t avoid what you are afraid of.

A basic part of human psychology is that avoidance increases fear and anxiety. So, for example, if you are nervous about going to work for some reason and decide to stay home sick to avoid the situation, you will be even more nervous the next day when you have to go to work. If you keep following that pattern you will become more and more anxious and soon find yourself unable to go to work at all, which will result terrible consequences for your life!

When you find yourself not doing something because it frightens you, it is time to take a step back and examine the situation. Of course, there are some things in life that are genuinely dangerous and it’s appropriate to take precautions. But it’s important to realistically assess the risk. Ask yourself the following: What is the worst possible outcome? How severe is it? How likely is it? Then realistically assess the cost of avoidance. Ask yourself: What am I missing out on? What will it cost me in terms of time, money, relationships, and fun? What negative consequences could come from my efforts to avoid this potential danger? Can I afford to be anxious about this for the rest of my life? Can I afford to avoid this situation for the rest of my life?

Often you will find that the cost of avoidance is much higher than the potential risk of the situation. When that is the case, take a deep breath and push yourself to do the things that make you anxious. You will find that over time your overall anxiety decreases and you will be able to handle challenging situations much more easily.

Relaxing gives you a mental vacation.
Relaxing gives you a mental vacation. | Source
Spending time with friends improves mental health.
Spending time with friends improves mental health. | Source

Stay Connected with Other People

Exercise 4: Make and strengthen social connections.

Study after study demonstrates that social connectedness is a major factor in ongoing well-being and mental health and that social isolation is a big contributor to mental illness. Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, in her fantastic book “Kitchen Table Wisdom” tells the story of a woman who did not seek assistance from others in an extreme medical crisis. When Dr. Remen asked her about what happened she reminded the woman that as children we are all taught to go to an adult for a kiss when we have a “boo-boo.” The woman replied that she never understood that because the kiss didn’t help with the pain. And Dr. Remen wisely replied – the kiss isn’t for the pain, it’s for the loneliness. Loneliness is for many people a deep emotional wound that is disregarded or even disparaged. Many people are raised with the idea that they shouldn’t ever need help or comfort from others. This is a silly idea. Human beings are social creatures. Our very nervous systems reinforce our connections to and need for other people.

Here are some ideas for making and strengthening social connections. If you don’t like my ideas, I challenge you to add some more. Have lunch with someone at work. Ask someone to exercise with you one evening a week. Call a friend or family member on the phone or send an email. Join an organization that does something that interests you – you start out focused on the activity but you meet people who like the same things you do and begin to make friends (some of the activities in my area, many of which are free: a church, a synagogue, another religious group, a running group, a biking association, a knitting gathering, a dinner club, a sewing circle, a book discussion group, a hiking club, a mother’s of preschooler’s meeting, soccer mom’s booster club, a regular yoga lesson… what’s available in your area?). Find an online community for something that interests you and spend time in chats and posting comments on other’s pages. Serve someone else – in a food pantry, a literacy organization, an SPCA, or other cause that is close to your heart.

Social connection does require an investment of time and energy on your part. But think about it this way – how much time and energy is your mental health worth? How much time and energy do you invest in things like TV or video games that could be more profitable if invested in other people? The investments you make in social investments will pay much richer (and more certain) dividends than any stock market investment.

There are many additional things you can do to stay mentally well. Exercising, practicing, gratitude, and nurturing your spirituality are three more I can think of. All of us want long, healthy lives. But making those long, healthy lives happy is just as important. I encourage you to begin some of these mental wellness exercises as part of your own wellness routines today.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Enlydia Listener profile image

      Enlydia Listener 5 years ago from trailer in the country

      rated up for useful...great suggestions!

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)