In September 2018, the ABC’s hit documentary series Australian Story tracked ...
Dr Jenny George, CEO of global workplace assistance, health and wellbeing program provider Converge International, provides the following advice on the topic of mental fitness.
Why mental fitness and not, say, resilience?
There are many similarities between mental fitness and resilience, and in fact at Converge we have always been involved in helping individuals and organisations increase their resilience. However mental fitness is broader than just resilience. Resilience measures how well you bounce back from adversity. Mental fitness includes this but is also about staying in tip-top condition so that your wellbeing is at high levels even when no adversity is present. Resilience focuses on the outcome – getting to a particular level of ability to cope with knock-backs, whereas mental fitness focuses on improvement and identifies the inputs that you are able to control. This ensures you’re improving and protecting your wellbeing starting from wherever you are now.
Is there much evidence to support the concept of mental fitness?
Is there what! One of the most interesting things to discover about mental fitness was just how much relevant research has been done over decades about the sources of wellbeing and the particular interventions that help to raise and maintain long term good mental health. Some of the key findings are in a white paper that I compiled with a colleague and is published and available for free by Converge called, “Wellbeing and how to improve it”.
How are mental fitness and mental illness related?
They are absolutely not the same thing. But they are related. Going to the gym doesn’t stop you breaking your leg – or having a heart attack – but we also know that people who keep themselves physically fit live longer on average with fewer health problems. It’s possible for someone who has high levels of mental fitness to develop or to struggle with a long-term mental illness. But it’s also more likely that someone will develop or struggle with mental illness if they have low levels of mental fitness.
What do you see as the future for mental fitness right now – particularly in the context COVID-19?
Obviously right now is an important time for people to maintain their mental fitness. But for many people the habits that are normally built into their lives – like grabbing a coffee with a friend, walking in a park on the way to work, getting into nature at the weekend, eating well or volunteering at a charity – may have been disrupted. That means that people need to be much more intentional about developing new habits to replace things that were part of their pre-COVID routine.
Habits to increase your mental fitness during COVID-19
- Stay connected – call rather than email, utilise platforms to stay connected with your colleagues and use your videos not just audio.
- Regular breaks – schedule in regular breaks as it can be tempting when working from home to not take time out. It is important to step away from your desk during your breaks and don’t look at anything work related. Try enjoying a cup of tea in the garden, call a friend for a quick chat or do some stretches
- Create a routine including ways to unwind/decompress at the end of the day – for some of us the commute home is an important way to end our work days or to prepare us to enter our next job which may be as a parent, partner, carer etc. Try to find ways to ensure you are still getting that critical time, for example go for a walk outside after you shut down your computer, or work on your balcony or back yard. If you don’t have a lot of time, doing a 10-minute relaxation/meditation before leaving your work space can help you get ready for your next role. Dr Adam Fraser’s concept of ‘the Third Space’ is a must-see on this topic, check out his short explainer video below.
How to prioritise your habits:
- Make the activity a habit or make it easy to remember (for example, set up regular reminders on your phone to do something or set a time of day when you will do it).
- Change it up – try to vary something about the activity every one or two times you do it. If you are recording what you are thankful for, try thinking about what you are thankful for about other people one week and then what you are thankful for about where you live another week (for example).