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Why we are mentally malnourished

...and what to do about it

The subject of this week’s blog is mental health, and specifically mental nourishment. To nourish: “to provide with food or other substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition”, and our minds and brains need nourishment as much as the vital organs, cells, tissues and muscles do. Despite this, I think mental malnourishment is becoming more common, whereby people are perhaps mindful of what they eat to fuel their bodies, but neglecting to fuel their minds.

Mental malnourishment stems from many sources, but most common among busy professionals are these: technology, email, absence of breaks, competitive presenteeism, perfectionism and measuring self-worth through productivity. Let’s discuss some of these in more length.

Technology

Tech has helped us in many ways (I use the Headspace app daily for example to help me nourish my brain and body) but it’s also part of the problem. Our smartphones and devices mean we’re connected 24/7 to the internet and anyone who wants to contact us. Sometimes that connected is welcome, but it’s hard to disconnect if it’s not. There’s always a device pinging, dinging, buzzing or beeping somewhere.

Email

Clearing an inbox reminds me of the curse of Sisyphus in Greek mythology. His punishment was to roll a boulder up a hill only to let it roll back down and repeat. Clearing down your emails is a similarly redundant task, as your inbox will only be full again in the morning. Better to find ways to manage email volumes and expectations around response times.

Absence of breaks

We are overtaxing our minds by refusing to take short breaks throughout the day. A survey by the National Charity Partnership of 1,700 workers found that 24 per cent work through their typical lunch break and a further 46 per cent spend it on the internet. One in eight blamed stress levels, and a similar proportion cited workplace culture. Using a timer on your phone to remind you to get up every 30-60 minutes will make you feel more energised, and give your mind an important break.

Competitive presenteeism

Most of you will know the person in the office who’s first in and last out, but are they the most productive? We’ve been getting busy mixed up with productive. I’ve seen it myself in every office I’ve ever worked in in my corporate career. Coming into work when you’re sick because you don’t want to lose face is competitive presenteeism. Coming into work because you take pride in “pushing on through” even when you risk extending your own sickness and making others ill as well, is competitive presenteeism.

Crippling perfectionism

One factor that contributes to chronic stress and burnout is perfectionism. I used to describe myself as a perfectionist, but having spent some time watching and reading the work of Dr Brene Brown, I realise that perfectionism is simply a mask for shame. (Read her book Daring Greatly as a starter if you’re new to her work).

How to optimise and nourish your mind

There’s so much you can do to optimise your mind, body and wellbeing, but here are just a few tips that are easy to implement and that I have found work really well for me.

Have a screen time curfew

I turn off alerts on my smartphone at around 9pm so whilst the messages still get delivered, I can’t hear them come in and no calls get through either. The same goes for my iPad and my laptop is closed from 7pm onwards. I do tend to watch something on TV for an hour or so at night, so I wear blue light blocking glasses to ensure my sleep isn’t impacted.

Breathing and meditation

Deep breathing (combined with or separate to meditation) is a very effective way of switching to parasympathetic dominance or put another way, destressing the body. When you inhale deeply, you’re providing fresh oxygenated blood to all the cells of the body, as well as decreasing your blood pressure and cortisol levels. It’s the perfect antidote to stress, anxiety and even pain.

Being present

Many of us spend our waking moments worrying about the future and feeling depressed about the past. Being present, a core tenet of mindfulness, encourages us to focus on the moment. It’s easy, especially as busy professionals, to be rushing through life without stopping to savour the moment. Before you know it, another year has gone by. Slow down, be present. Enjoy this moment before moving onto the next thing.

Interact with nature

One of my favourite ways to nourish my mind to get out into nature and disconnect. I love solitary walks in the countryside, or with someone who likes to mix conversation with companionable silence. Spending time in the fresh air, feeling the crisp leaves under your feet and observing the effects the weather has had on the landscape for instance really helps me to get out of self. Being around animals is also really calming, and there are always plenty of those on a country walk!

Remember to have fun

An important part of being mentally nourished to remembering to have fun. Make your exercise sessions fun – if you don’t enjoy it, change it up. Sign up to a challenge every few months that takes you into your discomfort zone. Book a night with friends at a comedy show or cinema where there’s laughter. So much of life can be serious and challenging, but it’s important to create a balance and a chance to relax your mind.

What’s your Health IQ?

If you’re reading this, you’re are probably in a reasonably senior position, running your own business or have a busy life running the home and juggling other responsibilities. Either way, you’re busy. The convergent pressures of work and family life have probably meant that the time you did have to spend on health and fitness has disappeared. Why not talk to us and see how we can help.

Click here to take our test

Leanne Spencer is an entrepreneur, coach, TEDx Speaker, author of Remove the Guesswork, and founder of Bodyshot Performance Limited. Bodyshot is a health and fitness consultancy that helps busy professionals get more energy by removing the guesswork around their health, fitness and nutrition. Visit www.bodyshotperformance.com or email [email protected] to register your interest in our services and connect with us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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