RISKFACTOR: Why mental fitness matters

I frequently hear complaints of stress from toxic environments at the workplace. There is too much aggression and rivalry. Burn-out have become frequent. Anger and anxiety are commonly experienced emotions. Diseases like depression have become well-known not just with adults but also with the younger ones.

Who would you consider a physically fit person, beyond the superficial characteristic of someone just looking good? There are all sorts of measurements such as body mass index, fat percentage, etc. that can help identify this. But let me ask for a deeper thought on the characteristics of who is really physically fit. Perhaps, someone who has immunity to various diseases — one who doesn’t catch the flu with change of seasons easily. Then, someone who has stamina — can go for a long run and still feel energetic or someone who can go through day with vigor. Then you could think of agility, strength, and balance. Also recovery — the ability to bounce back into good health quickly if hit by infections or injuries.

In fact, you could think of the all various activities that gym provides to understand the different components of physical fitness. Weight training provides strength and endurance, yoga, pilates, & tai chi can help with flexibility, posture, and balance. Cycling and treadmill are about building stamina.

Next, let me invite you to think of what constitutes emotional fitness? Who would you consider as an emotionally healthy person? If you think about it, there are strong parallels of it with physical fitness. Mental resilience — the ability to withstand massive changes in one’s environment and not being affected it. Ability to ignore the negativity and toxic environments around. Someone who has mental stamina, strength, and agility — quick and smart thinking at all times, getting over the procrastinating mind, ability to exercise self-control, and not feeling the fatigue easily. Flexibility and adaptability to new situations and be able to absorb new ideas. At the same time, the posture of calmness and stability — standing strong on one’s values. Maintaining equanimity in happy and sad times. And in tough times, resilience and the ability to endure stressful situations and keep oneself motivated.

If you are one of the fitness freaks, you have done your research on how to get fit and you know that most trainers vouch for the importance of healthy diet. In fact, some estimates say that losing weight, gaining muscle, or just building stamina is 70-80 per cent diet change and exercise actually has only a secondary role. Getting the right nutrition seems super important. Then, the natural question is what kind of nutrition do we provide to our mind? The negativity of world around us, spicy information about what is happening in other people’s lives, and feelings of envy by looking at others’ fancy Instagram posts? How nutritious would all of that be?

To train for physical fitness we can easily find a gym nearby. Or even go for a long walk. However, isn’t it time to wonder where the gym is to develop mental fitness? How can I train myself to become emotionally fit? How can I build resilience, agility, and equanimity?

There are various strategies one can take. Doing regular physical activity is one for sure. The two — physical and emotional fitness — are intertwined. People often complain that if they don’t do their sports, they feel cranky. Similarly, if one is not mentally or emotionally fit, then physiological symptoms begin to emerge. For example, too much stress can cause heart issues, poor digestion, etc.

Next, do a diligent information detox. Get rid of all that unnecessary information that does no good to you. That might even include that office or party gossip which seems rather tasty but has no nutritional value. Third, several people vouch for meditation and mindfulness – there are several apps now that help one to do that. My sense is that all of these are aimed at forcing people to switch off all distractions and focus on one’s senses and being. This helps build stability and resilience. Fourth, give your mind difficult tasks to do from time to time which might include learning a new language, skill, or hobby. That way, you would be able to build stamina and agility. Many even attend laughter sessions regularly. And some others have the great ability to laugh at themselves. Whatever your techniques might be, it is time to switch the focus to emotional fitness.

­(Dr Kriti Jain is a faculty member at IE Busine­ss School, Spain and an EU Marie Curie Research Fellow)

Kriti Jain