It’s that time of year when people start to talk about Christmas bodies—a diet programme or fitness regime (or both) with the sole focus of getting you into a particular outfit for the festive season.
This concerns me for a few reasons. Firstly, our culture (still) tells us that we need to lose weight in order to look and feel good. Secondly, while being fit and healthy is good and important — concentrating this into a certain time period, or ‘season’, is not. And last, but not least, by focussing on our physical appearance, I worry that we’re taking valuable time and effort away from taking care of our minds and emotions. And with one in four of us experiencing a mental health issue during any given year, it’s time for this topic to take centre stage.
So, as we hurtle at full pelt towards the most hectic season of the year, here are some ways we can be majoring on improving mental fitness:
Open up the conversation
As people—and particularly British people—we are prone to saying we’re ok when we’re not. How are you? I’m fine, thank you. But if you’re keeping an issue or bad thoughts within your body, they’re bound to get darker. Talking is the first step to dealing with mental health issues, from opening up about what you’re finding difficult in life right now, to ensuring that mental illnesses are diagnosed. Not only do we as individuals need to get better at talking, businesses have a critical responsibility to create spaces where staff can bring their whole selves to work.
We need to create safe environments which allow people to speak up. I’m personally making a pledge to have some very open, honest and transparent conversations at the Christmas soirées that I attend this year—and I encourage others to do the same.
Help break down stigmas
Images and stories about mental health and mental illness are ingrained deep into our culture. Take Donald Trump blaming gun crime on mental illness, rather than on gun laws. That message is being communicated globally from a position of power—and the terrifying thing is that people are listening.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is often one of the first cultural references that comes to mind when people think about mental illness. It’s time to take back some of the terms that have been mis-used throughout the years. I’m so depressed, you’re really OCD. These are serious mental illnesses which have a place in our everyday language, but are misunderstood and used in a negative way. By perpetuating this misuse of language, we’re simply not moving forward. If you hear a colleague or friend mis-using some of the language around mental illness, challenge it—I certainly will be.
Strike a healthier relationship with technology
While technology brings so much good to our lives, our relationship with technology can also be so incredibly detrimental to our mental health. I’ve embarked on a couple of digital detoxes over the years and they’ve done me the world of good. Breaking that habit with my mobile, where I’m not constantly checking it—and beholden to my social media apps—literally feels like a weight has been lifted.
But it’s never long till I’m back in the routine, regularly checking for news, notifications and updates. In fact, it’s terrifying how quickly that habit becomes broken again. The constant noise that my phone brings is not positive for me. It’s important to give our brains space and allow them to relax. But we operate at such a fast pace these days, it requires some serious habit-breaking to let this go. My plan during the festive period is to delete some social media apps, and replace these with some mindfulness apps.
The world’s not allowing for quiet, so in the run up to the end of the year I’m going to create that quiet myself, by making a concerted effort to carve it out. Slowing down often feels unnatural—to the point that self-care is an act of resistance. But considering that one in six people experience a common mental health problem every week, such as anxiety or depression, we simply have to find the strength to manage it. I’m taking a stand and prioritising my mental fitness—this festive season and beyond.