5 easy ways to boost your emotional fitness
Expert tips and tricks to help you tone up those mental muscles
Many of us have given our workout regime an overhaul over the last year, but what about your emotional fitness? ‘If you want to be physically fit, you’ll exercise and eat healthily,’ points out Clare Davis, Mental Health Trainer and author of Emotional Fitness: A-Z for Positive Mental Health. ‘If you want to be emotionally fit, you need to work on your emotions, so you’re better able to regulate them.’
At times of change, stress or uncertainty, being able to manage difficult emotions can become harder, so it pays to be prepared. Even micro-stresses and traumas can disturb your equilibrium, leaving you riding an emotional rollercoaster of extreme highs and lows.
Training your emotional fitness will equip you with the tools you need to manage and stabilise your emotions. ‘Emotional fitness involves doing positive exercises to build up your resilience muscle,’ explains Clare. ‘This will help you to feel better, achieve more and be more productive.’
1. Train your brain
Just as your morning HIIT workout can help you keep your heart and lungs in shape, a daily dose of HINT (High Intensity Neural Training) will do the same for your emotional health.
The amygdala is the part of the brain that responds to emotions and drives your body’s fear and stress responses. But research suggests that emotion regulation training can influence these responses. ‘By doing positive exercises every day, you will train your brain so you think more positively,’ Clare explains.
Whether you’re an habitual worrier, or just struggling with a particular challenge, HINT can help you ‘train’ your brain to respond to stressful situations in a calmer, more positive way, says Clare. Visit the Mental Health Chats YouTube channel to try her three-week HINT program – it’s made up of 21 simple exercises, each designed to bring a little positivity into your day.
2. Focus on the positives
When things aren't going the way you’d hoped or planned, it can be difficult to focus on the bigger picture. But studies indicate that positive thinking can reduce anxiety and help you live a longer, more successful life – so it’s important to appreciate the good things in your life, and learn to spot the silver linings when the outlook seems grey. ‘If you feel like something is not going to plan, turn the negative into a positive and appreciate what you have learnt from the situation,’ Clare suggests.
3. Write it down
Negative thoughts getting you down? According to researchers, people who keep a gratitude journal tend to become more optimistic, more emotionally resilient and more content with their lives. Journalers also tend to sleep better and may even experience lower levels of physical inflammation.
A few sentences are all it takes. ‘Either in the morning or before you go to sleep, write down everything you are grateful for that day,’ Clare advises. Simple things such as ‘I’m grateful to have been on a walk in the sunshine’ are perfect. Read our beginner’s guide to journaling for more hints and tips.
4. Take a meditation break
Meditation can help us to manage difficult emotions by training us to focus on the present moment, detach from our thoughts and develop an attitude of acceptance. Research suggests regular practise can reduce symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety, lower blood pressure, improve sleep and help with pain.
It doesn’t have to take hours – aim for a few minutes first thing in the morning, last thing at night or whenever you feel in need of a mental reset. ‘Meditate for five to 10 minutes a day,’ Clare suggests. ‘This will help you to focus and balance out your emotions.’ Get started with our beginner’s guide to meditation.
5. Make time for you
Don’t let emotional fitness become just another chore to tick off your to-do list. ‘Self-care is key,’ says Clare. ‘Remember to have some “me” time every day, even if it’s just five minutes on your own with a cup of tea.’
Self-care and “me” time mean different things to different people – lacing up for a run, rolling out your yoga mat, taking a short mindful walk, cracking open the bubble bath, lighting some scented tealights, or simply kicking back with a good book. Why not make a list of little things you can do to treat yourself? Then block out a regular slot in your calendar and tick off one thing every day.