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What is Mental Fitness?

We all know that one person. No matter what hits them, they simply get back up. Amidst all adversity, they hustle, they battle and sometimes they even shine. How do they do that? The truth is they were never naturally good at it. This is a skill they had to practice attaining. However, such individuals inadvertently know a deeper truth: just as you can take control of your body by working out, you can similarly take control of your mind. These individuals inadvertently trained their mind to feel, think, and act positively amidst their adversity and are thus less vulnerable to mental illness.

This behavior is recently being recognized by the psychological community as “mental fitness.” You see psychologists have long known about mental illness but little about mental fitness. They observed illnesses, understood them, diagnosed them and categorized them but they have always had difficulty curing, preventing and strengthening mental health. For the longest time, medication was (arguably) the best way. However, recently scientists are starting to put their hopes into this amazing human capacity to rewire our brains to be mentally fit and form good habits under adversity. 

The ability of the brain to erase old habits and form new ones over a lifetime is called neuroplasticity and it actually happens quite automatically. We all know this, none of us can truly say they have the same habits as when they were children. Psychologists study these changes and what they can tell us is that it is possible to direct this process yourself, i.e to take control of the wheel. Here’s how.

The idea is about exercising a certain perspective amidst your adversity; to see it in the most objective light and recognize the patterns of your reactions to it. By playing this observer role, you will get very personal and familiar with your adversity. Just like in a boxing ring, to knock down your enemy, you have to get up close and personal, same here. You have to understand your challenges, yourself, your reactions, your patterns of behavior so that you develop personal strategies to fight your demons. The prescription is divided into three steps 1) experiencing the personal adversity and mental illness (when it happens), and 2) reflecting on the inclination towards your usual bad habits already embedded into your psychology, 3) stopping that direction and developing better coping strategies for better adapting to the adversity. If you slip up, and go back to old habits don’t worry, if you genuinely reflect on your habit you will be already at step 2. There is very fertile land between step 2) and 3) all it takes is to plant one seed of a new coping habit, even if it's hard, and you will see it exponentially grow thanks to neuroplasticity. That’s how you take the wheel and win the boxing match. A wise man once said, “the mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.” – Robin Sharma

The teacher is the most trained to teach these concepts to students that need them the most. Growing up, we face a ton of problems that challenge us. The key is to realize these challenges are not meant to break us, they’re meant to make us. They’re meant to improve our emotional, social, and physical habits. Such lessons can save lives. Teachers must teach that happiness doesn’t just come to us but requires training and skill. Most of all it requires control over your mind. Just like they teach athletics and its benefits to physical health, there should be a class devoted just to developing good mental health strategies. Furthermore, teachers need to realize the struggle these students are facing with their mind on top of the usual course load. They must be there to listen to students concern non-judgmentally and be a voice of reason when asked for advice. 

What We Offer: Did you know we have Mental Fitness Card Packs? You can download the mini-pack for free, buy each pack separately, or buy the entire set! Our cards were developed to address the following concepts with students: mindfulness, grounding, self-massage, body scans, and breathing. Click here to visit our shop! 

Guest Author: Maryam Mohammad recently graduated from the Bachelor of Education Program at Western University. Previously, she received a Bachelor's degree in Chemistry and Biology from Western. Currently, Maryam lives in New Brunswick where she's working towards becoming a Vision Teacher (teacher for students with visual impairments). In her free time she is an avid photographer, her favourite subjects being nature and portraiture. Maryam loves hiking and running on nature trails all over the country. Her favourite hike thus far was up a mountain in Alberta where she got to see the Lake in the Clouds (Lake Louise, Mirror Lake, and Lake Agnes) and drink from a mountain top tea house. She also loves badminton, drawing, writing, and cooking with friends.

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