Neil Tambe

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

Mental health vs. mental fitness

Treating mental illness is obviously important. But what about training regularly to maintain mental fitness?

I’ve been thinking of this since I bumped into Ray, and he off-handedly contrasted mental health and mental fitness in the few minutes we took to catch up a few weeks ago.

By this I don’t mean doing crossword puzzles and brain teasers to stay sharp cognitively. I mean doing daily “exercises” to stay fit emotionally.

Just like there are lots of options for physical fitness (weights, running, swimming, team sports, aerobics classes, Pilates, etc.), there are lots of options for staying emotionally fit. For example, here are some of the ones that I’ve tried: writing daily gratitudes, journaling, making an “enough” list, meditation, prayer, calling an old friend once a week, talking with Robyn about how my day really  was, sleeping, playing with Riley in the yard, spending Sunday with our immediate family, reading literature, avoiding email after work hours, and more.

What I think is hard is that there’s no set structure for a mental fitness regimen - you kind of have to figure it out on your own. More than that, I don’t think Americans generally think of our emotional state as something we should take regular action to maintain. Rather, we think of receiving treatment when we’re already ill or in crisis, if we consider mental health at all.

Dont get me wrong, treating mental illness is really important and the stigma around it needs to fade away. But that’s only part of the story. Maintaining mental fitness on a daily basis - just like physical fitness - is really important, too.

And after trying to do exercises to maintain my own mental fitness pretty seriously over the past 2 years, I’d argue that it’s essential. Shifting from treating mental health to training for mental fitness, is a pretty tough change in perspective, but doing so has changed my life. And maybe even saved it.