My friend Audrey works out five days a week. On the sixth day, she does Bikram Yoga in sweltering heat. Then on the seventh day, she “rests” by doing an 8-mile walk.
Know someone like that?
Yes, we all know that one person who exhausts us, just by telling us their workout routine. As a nation, we spend over $26 billion annually, on fitness. That’s great; we’re looking hotter, wearing muscle shirts and lifting our body weight on our pinkies. In fact, in our online health bootcamps, the fitness section ends up being very popular!
However, let’s talk about mental fitness for a change. Suicides of stars such as the iconic Anthony Bourdain or beloved designer, Kate Spade are shining a much-needed spotlight on our mental health crisis which is costing us of $200 billion and affects about 60 million Americans. Yup, 1 in 4 Americans suffers from some mental illness every year. It’s very likely that this number excludes the underreported teen mental health crisis.
So what is going on?
Some of the mental health issues are complex and inescapable, and my heart goes out to those struggling to heal from them.
However, a portion of this crisis, in my opinion, is due to our mental “obesity”. We are mentally fat and out of shape, incapable of handling this crazy roller coaster ride, called life. Our mental muscles are weak and flabby from overstimulation and overfeeding on a buffet of mentally disturbing media tweets, posts, alerts, and dings.
We have to remember that we are a beautifully brilliant mental program that’s absorbing everything around us.
Unfortunately, what we absorb today by the way of mouth, sight, sound, smell, and emotions is driving our less than joyful mental state.
It’s time we started treating our mind as the muscle that it is, and feed and flex it to keep it strong! In my opinion, the feeding of our mind includes not just nutrition but also sleep, socializing and social media.
So, if we watch crap, eat crap, and sleep like crap, we are bound to feel and act like crap. Hanging out with crappy people? Guess how you’re going to feel the next day?
I see it as simple math that no one mentioned to me when I talked to my primary care doctor years ago. Her terse reply was, “what do you expect, you’ve got two little kids, a full-time startup job and a traveling husband. Its normal to feel weepy and exhausted.”
Now looking back, having conducted 75+ interviews with health pioneers, I can say definitely that it was not normal and it was totally fixable.
Every day, every action either feeds your mind to joy or jitters.
I wasn’t sleeping well, eating right or breathing and resting. I was literally doing everything to contribute to a terrible state of mind,
So, whenever you feel sad, anxious, angry or reactive, take some time to think about what you’ve been feeding your mind lately. Better yet, become mindful of giving your mind exactly what it needs to stay fit!
Check out the short and totally unscientific quiz below that I crafted to help you gauge your mental fitness. Then scroll down to see your results and the explanation for the quiz. Let’s get started!
MENTAL FITNESS QUIZ
- Do you laugh at least 3 times each day with genuine (not fake!) glee and find joy in small things?
- Do you have the willpower to say NO to that extra brownie, drink, smoke, or double cheeseburger 90 percent of the time?
- Do you get at least seven hours of deep restorative sleep every night?
- Do you view social media, TV, Netflix etc for less than 2 hours every day?
- Are you consciously grateful for the little things like running warm water and almond milk at Starbucks?
- Do you spend time with people you love at least once a week?
- Do you get out in nature and say hello to the sun for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week?
- Are you loved? Do you love yourself?
- Do you rest and breathe deeply several times a day for a few minutes?
- Do your meals include 50% healthy fats, fresh fruits, and vegetables?
THE BOSS: MENTAL ROCKSTAR (8-10 YES)
If you answered YES to about 80% of the questions above, your mind is rock solid. You are the boss of your emotions and you’re not about to let anyone tell you how to feel or what to feel. You know you are in a creation of love and are strong enough to handle any crap that may come your way. Also, you have strong boundaries and try to live mindfully.
THE INTERN: MENTAL MIDSTAR (5-8 YESes)
If you answered YES to at least 50% of the questions above, that’s a good start! However, you’re definitely not in charge yet. You’re like an intern, still doing what others tell you to do. Like a poor intern, your emotions are on a roller coaster depending on the 10 factors above. For you, a bad day is just one social media post away. Or around the corner from one sleepless night. It’s an exhausting way to live and you’re probably moody as heck!
Remedy: Keep a diary and track which of the above-mentioned skills you need to work on to become the Boss!
THE JANITOR: MENTAL ROOKIE (0-4 YESes)
If you answered Yes to 4 or less, you’re probably familiar with mental messiness. Janitors have the fun job of cleaning up all the mess and so do you. Your mental mess maybe the extra or unwarranted irritability, anger, anxiety, fear or just a constant stream of negative self-talk. You may be contemplating using or already using sleeping pills, happy pills, wake up pills, weight loss pills and any other pill you hope will fix whatever you think is broken.
Sadly, no pill will. But there’s great news still: YOU can fix your problems!
Remedy: Take each question above and figure out how to get to a YES on it. Take your time, but be sure to get that question to a yes before you move to the next. Eventually, life should get lighter, easier, and more engaging. Before you know it, you’ll be the Boss of your emotions and a heavyweight champ in mental fitness.
(Legal disclaimer: See your doctor before you make any change to anything).
So you’re probably wondering what the science is behind this totally unscientific mental fitness quiz created in a Starbucks while sipping steamed almond milk with nutmeg?
Having interviewed almost 60 brilliant health practitioners I’m sharing how I came up with the quiz questions and the recommendations.
1. Do you laugh at least 3 times each day with genuine (not fake!) glee and find joy in small things?
Our brain creates pathways based on emotions. The more often you travel on the same emotional path, the more your brain subconsciously jumps onto that pathway. Translation – if you tend to laugh a lot, you’ll laugh even more. If you tend to find faults often, everything will always appear faulty. So the great news about this revelation is that we can fake our way to mental fitness. Find reasons to laugh (watch cat videos, memes, comedy channels, whatever tickles you) and you’ll find more and more things funny and entertaining.
2. Do you have the willpower to say NO to that extra brownie, drink, smoke, double cheeseburger 90 percent of the time?
If you remember your first yoga class or your first marathon, then you know what it means to push through when your body is screaming “NO WAY”. Willpower is the basis of mental fitness. Having the power to say No to spending an hour on Facebook, or simply deleting your twitter account is a significant piece of mental fitness. Otherwise, you’re merely one step away from being a robot programmed by the masterminds around you. Just like it takes willpower to walk away from a Krispy Kreme doughnut in the office kitchen, it takes serious willpower to walk away from negative self-talk. But, you can develop the inner strength if you focus on it. Start small, make a list of what you should be saying “No” to but aren’t. Then get started with one item at a time. Before you know it, you’ll be in charge with a strongly developed “No” mental muscle.
3. Do you get at least seven hours of deep restorative sleep every night?
According to so many studies, if you lose sleep, you lose your mind. There are hundreds of studies that show an undeniable connection between sleep and the mind. So if you’re a proud night owl, insomniac or a college student, your constant thoughts of misery may just your brain being sad about not getting enough zzzs. For some of us on the wrong side of 40 years, we would like to sleep, but can’t quite seem to catch that perfect snooze. Thanks to a little help from my podcast guests I now sleep like a baby. My secret potion? I apply some magnesium and take a drop of vitamin D with K. If you’re getting less than 7 hours of quality sleep, prioritize fixing it. These days there are such great natural sleep supporters that you have no reasons to suffer poor sleep. Just remember sleeping pills are not the answer, according to various doctors. It is vital to get natural, deep, restorative sleep.
4. Are you on social media, TV, Netflix etc for less than 2 hours every day?
Imagine eating the buffet at Bellagio, the Venetian and Mandalay Bay combined, at the same time, and for free? That is exactly what happens to our minds on social media! Naturally, our mind enjoys living vicariously through other people. Lying in bed scrolling through a celebrity’s social media feed, reading about a recent feud or reading someone’s food recipe is to our brain what a bubble bath is to our body. It just wants to sink in with a glass of wine and never come out. But then, there’s the subconscious thought flow that accompanies the passive scrolling: “I’m not as pretty, as rich, or as successful, as ____” producing an inevitable sense of sadness. The results of studies performed to evaluate emotional states after Facebook binging are not pretty. Worse still, the stories we often get riled up about on social media, in the news, or on Netflix are just that — stories! Perfectly filtered to feed our lowest emotions. Do not fall for them. It is time to take back your sanity! Limit social media and entertainment consumption to less than 1 hour a day, total. Instead, read a good book or go for a walk with a friend.
5. Are you grateful for the little things like running warm water and almond milk at Starbucks?
While social media can make you feel unloved and “not very special”, gratitude can fix it in less than 5 minutes every day. It is the closest thing to a “silver bullet” for all that ails you. For one thing, you can’t be grateful and sad/angry/anxious at the same time. So make up a list of specific things you are truly grateful for and read them daily! What I did during my two years of my health crisis is write a word of gratitude in the morning and right before bed. I ended up creating The Health Journal, a weekly health tracking and inspirational journal, as there was nothing easy or quick to track gratitude and my health. I’m not the only fan, check out what Kelly Noonan Gores says in our interview on the HEAL documentary.
Just start by acknowledging simple, wonderful things that happen daily, like waking up! Jokes aside, millions don’t wake up every single day, so if you woke up that’s worthy of a little gratitude (according to Sadhguru) and me! Now that I’ve developed this practice, I find myself constantly saying thanks – for a delicious brownie that I couldn’t eat a year ago to the warm hugs from my teen daughters.
6. Do you spend time with people you love at least once a week?
There’s a sad transition that happens between childhood to adulthood. We stop hanging out with the people who love us unconditionally (ahem, parents) and start spending time with those who we want to associate with for various reasons. That might mean choosing the mean but popular kids in high school, the hot/cool teens in college, or the boring boss who controls your promotion. Nevertheless, we are subconsciously aware that these are transactional and transitional relationships built on some form of codependency and not love. As I get older, I realize how crucial it is that I cultivate loving relationships with people who respect me for who I truly am inside. Even the presence of only one loving friend can bring you a sense of general well-being. Yes, your spouse counts too! Prioritize spending time with people who really love you, from your family to those few friends who will drop everything if you ever need them.
7. Do you get out in nature and “say hello” to the sun for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week?
As humans, we have gone from living under the sun and in nature to living inside and under artificial lights. This has changed everything. We often forget that the sun and moon power our design in a significant way. Our brains are wired to pick up cues from the sun, and our body needs the sun for thousands of processes (not found in a bottle called, Vitamin D+ K, although I take it regardless). We need nature to keep us in balanced and in rhythm, yet, so few of us spend time having a picnic or a hike over the weekend. After sleeping, this is the second most important of the ten factors for mental fitness. It’s virtually a shortcut to better fitness! Schedule your daily lunch in the sun with your feet on the grass, instead of eating in a tiny cubicle, and watch everything get better! I am not exaggerating. Try it for 40 days and share your experience in the comments.
8. Are you loved? Do you feel loved?
Can you look in the mirror and say, “I love you” without cringing? Try it. It took me months before I could do it without giggling or making funny faces at myself. One of my favorite authors and inspirational speakers, Louise Hay, introduced this concept and calls it mirror work. The brilliant and famous psychologist to the stars, Marisa Peer, talks about the critical importance of being able to say, “I am enough.” A great antidote to the world making us feel unworthy is to look in the mirror and repeat, “I love you.” In my interview with Dawson Church on beating anxiety, he said at the very end that the most important thing anyone can do is to love themselves. It sounds easy, but so few of us treat ourselves the way we treat others. Track how many times you are mean to yourself with words like, “you idiot” or “stupid you.” How many times do you acknowledge that you love YOU? Every cell is listening, and they need to know that you love them no matter your size, color, level of education, bank balance, or accomplishments. Ensuring that you love you is the single most valuable thing you can do, starting today. Other than, you know, sleep, sun and laughing.
9. Do you rest and breathe deeply at least a few times a day?
Somehow rushing around has become a norm. Trying to pack three days of work into one has become a thing of pride. Perhaps not for all of us, but some of us. This only ends in sheer exhaustion. Rushing around creates many ripples with an overall dangerous impact. First, it makes you breathe poorly. You begin to experience shallow and quick breathing which creates a lack of high-quality oxygen needed by cells. Second, constantly hurrying signals to your brain that there’s a tiger somewhere (your body uses breathing to figure out when to release fight or flight hormones) which propels it into action by changing your chemical composition in seconds. More glucose is released, your digestion shuts down, sending more blood to your extremities. Your body is ready to fight or run and certainly not prepared for that sandwich you’re wolfing down while driving madly through traffic. Then, we wonder why digestive issues are the new epidemic! So, take time to rest, as your grandmother did. Rest after lunch. Take breath breaks where you simply sit for 5 minutes and a deep breath. Check out some great breathing exercises for anxiety with Dr. Mukta Khalsa here.
10. Do your meals include 50% good fats, fresh fruits, and vegetables?
Finally, we cannot conclude any fitness talk without a section on nutrition. After all, without food, we die. However, because our poor minds cannot speak as loudly as our cravings, they are ignored. So, I’m here to remind you that your mind would like some good fats, like avocado and olive oil, to feel safe and loved. It would love some juicy organic in-season fruit to feed its creative juices. It would like some dark greens as a connection to our beautiful planet. Feeding our mind a diet of lab-made food (sorry, but did you think that chicken nugget was real food for your mind?) only creates a huge deficit, which no amount of sleep is going to balance. Just like your car won’t drive on good wishes, your mind isn’t getting fit on nuggets. I’m not making a case to boycott nuggets if that’s your thing, but it should be an occasional treat. Prioritize feeding your mind for fitness. It will reward you with a burst of joy like you’ve never experienced before.
Let’s prioritize mental fitness and together create a more loving life experience for all!
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