There is a fine line to walk between what is best for your mental health and what is a challenge enough to make you strong, better...what we might call, "mental toughness."
Now, just like the "body positive" and "sex positive" movements, "mental health" and "mental toughness" are ideas of much debate. So, naturally, I thought I'd offer my thoughts and ideas on the topic.
Just some background, I am a child of trauma (ACE of 8 for those who are familiar); I graduated high school technically a year early because I went on home school to work full time because I was already out on my own at 17. I took care of my little brother for quite some years; I have provided for both of my older sisters (and their kids) and my mom even lived with me for quite some time. I say all of that to say, I have been through some stuff. My first trauma occurred at the age of 2 and really, it just kept on coming. I think it is safe to say I am pretty mentally and emotionally "tough." As an adult, I completed (and am about to complete again) the 75 Hard Challenge by Andy Frisella. This is a 75 day mental toughness challenge that includes (for 75 days): 2 workouts per day (1 must be outdoors no matter the weather or circumstance), everyday; no alcohol; no cheat meals; read 10 pages/day; drink a gallon of water a day; take a progress picture every day. If you miss any one of these things, you start over. It has to be 75 days in a row. That was rough, especially working in a bar...but I did it and it changed me in some very profound ways.
While I was in that challenge, many of my friends didn't get it, they didn't understand. I went through the holidays, vacations, events with friends..all while following it. I remember seeing my friends in the hotel pool, all drinking and relaxing while I was in the hotel gym trying to get my first workout in before I went to swim laps as they lounged. That was hard, but guess what, I did it. It is doable, as are all things. Our only limit is ourselves and I truly believe that.
I also have a psychology and mental health services background though and in that setting, we are taught and move with the notion that mental health is not anyone's "fault" and not necessarily in a person's control. I think, like with all things, there is a fine line and both are true. Is depression a real thing, yes. Are anxiety and other disorders, yes. Is it a biological happening in most causes and not a cognitive/mental one, yes.
All of that being said though, what are some of the best treatments for these?...
nutrition; exercise; water; staying away from substances; decreasing stress. HMM. 🤔 It would seem that true wellness is a combination of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Fun, right?!
So, how does something like a mental toughness challenge positively effect mental health? In every way.
When our "motivation" fails us, when stress overwhelms us...why do we lose our shit or shut down? Because we are overwhelmed..not by the event...but by a lack of plan to respond to these events.
Look, we know stress will happen. We know life is unpredictable and challenging but the difference, the line in the sand is drawn between those who are prepared to face it and those who are not. The line is between those who will not accept failure and those who give up. The line is between those who will find a way and those that will make an excuse. It is so, so easy to make excuses; mostly because excuses are usually rooted in a legitimate concern or hardship. The problem is when we allow that hardship to "weigh" more or influence us more than our own strength.
I think that yes, we do take it too easy on ourselves...most people do anyway. I also think there are a lot of us that are far too hard on ourselves...
I think that being "mental tough" can backfire and make us too rigid and too stone like and we are people, not stones. I also think that it's very easy and very common to use that as an excuse to accept less than our best from ourselves and each other..to me, that end of the spectrum is far more dangerous than the former.
If I am going to be on one end or the other of that, I'd rather be "obsessive" about my health and mental toughness than where I was before, only being that dedicated to hurting myself. And when I say hurting myself, I mean over drinking and under eating, not exercising...to me, that is self harm. I am careful now though, to monitor myself and try to find a sort of balance within my own strategies for life.
I guess the moral of the story is that mental toughness can and should always support our mental health. It is not "weak" to struggle with mental health. It is not "extreme" to focus intensely on your "toughness" tasks.
It is not wrong to want to be better. We CAN, in fact, love ourselves just as we are AND want and work to be better at the same time.
That's my goal and ultimately, what I think is going to provide the best tools for our journeys toward our healthiest, happiest, strongest selves and toward us "living our best lives."
Meet yourself where you are.
Love that, respect that, appreciate that and give credit where it's due.
See where you want to go; who you want to be - divine all aspects, clearly.
Fight for that, earn it, work for it, and give grace to the time and energy it takes to get there.
Do not stop. Do not give up. #neversettle
You don't have to be "well" to be strong. You can struggle every single day and that's okay..the "toughness" is not in not struggling. It comes from not giving up.
Everyone's journey is their own and I for one, just want to say that I love you and I respect you and whatever this amazing life journey is for you, I wish you well.