How's Your Mental Fitness?
”How much of our work to better our bodies is eclipsing our concern for the fitness of our minds?”
Two-thirds of the way through my spin class yesterday morning, I wondered, “What if I worked as hard to keep my mind healthy as I do my body?” What if a fraction of the energy and stamina and diligence it takes for me to hurl my jiggling body back and forth across a stationary bike each week so that I seem to be surging faster than the skinny girl next to me – what if I reallocated a fraction of that effort toward working out my mind into a state of healthy, beautiful fitness?
Let me start by making one thing very clear – this hopeful hypothetical of mine has ZERO to do with battling mental health diseases. The tragedy of depression, anxiety, addiction, and all the rest are absolutely not relevant in the conversation of questioning physical vs. mental health priorities. Those physiological challenges are to be taken as serious as heart disease and treated with astute professional guidance. Period.
I am merely a fairly average, part-time “spinner.”
So besides offering momentary mental reprieve from my struggle to push “up” the medium-to-big hill, this question left me in a spin cycle of both conviction and relief. We’ve talked much about body image recently, endorsing balance and championing mindset toward the issue over pounds and pant sizes dropped. What we failed to examine as a relevant factor to overall health is: how much of our work to better our bodies is eclipsing our concern for the fitness of our minds? How obsessed are we at counting calories and carbs that we’re forgetting to count the endless junk on which we snack that can and will lead to moral, intellectual, and relational obesity?
To say I’ve had a tough year doesn’t quite scratch the surface. Hear me when I tell you, my capacity to numb, in a laundry list of different ways, has far exceeded anything I’m proud to admit. Food and wine were certainly a part of it, but this just drives us back to the false paradigm that health and fitness are uniquely physical.
I also let my mind and my soul be numbed more than I should. Though social media held virtually no appeal to me in the early days of grief, it eventually crept back in all its consuming resilience. Instagram and Netflix proved successful insulations around the hurt of my reality, yet the hurt soul I was insulating to protect, I in turn only weakened in its stagnancy. I avoided, even ignored, the encouragements of many friends and compassionate acquaintances because it was easier not to face it than to send back a thank you and acknowledge it all over again.
Grief is by no means my excuse, but it did set off a pretty loud siren of warning in light of the way I’d chosen to condition my brain. I love the word condition because I hate the word condition. As a high school athlete, fall “conditioning” meant weeks of torturous running, endurance, sprints, HIIT, all the like. It meant cutting the fat from a summer consumed with physical and mental play. So cruel in the moment yet ultimately the most compassionate for my overall athletic condition. It made me hurt, but it made me better.
I can’t help but think how much more fully we might relate to one another if we conditioned our minds like we do our bodies. If the first thing we feasted our eyes on in the early morning hours was in print and un-scrollable. If we satiated ourselves with series or shows or songs that left us considering a perspective we’d not considered before rather than blindly bolstering our own. If we called our mother to share our day’s greatest struggle or success rather than texting a “personalized” emoji face. If we starting asking our friends where they felt lead by a Sunday message and not where they’re going for lunch.
The list is endless, but the goal, simply an encouragement to try and filter through a new lens; to consider what we’re feeding ourselves and how we’re keeping or not keeping our minds fit. Far beyond Sudoku squares and Words with Friends are the tools and timeless exercises to build the muscles of our minds and souls. And don’t get me wrong! I love a good spin class. I love to feel sore after a workout. I love to push my body because at the heart of it, I am pushing my mind. This is not a call to prioritize one over the other, but a hope that we might give them equal opportunity as crucial, complementary ingredients to our overall wellness.
Read the book.
Hand-write the grocery list.
Listen to a podcast that challenges or teaches, not just entertains.
Ask the hard questions then really hear another’s answer.
Because if we can condition each other’s minds a little bit more than we compare each other’s bodies, it’s hard not to believe that our whole team of SHE’S wouldn’t really start winning.