Our health isn’t like an on/off switch.
We aren’t healthy one day, and unhealthy the next.
Our mental health works the same way.
It’s more helpful to think of them like a gas tank.
We slowly deplete the tank when we don’t exercise. If we reach empty, something bad is bound to happen.
The same is true of our mental health; we aren’t healthy one day, and unhealthy the next. It’s a gradual process, for both improvement or decline.
The only difference is that things get worse as our tank gets empty. Positive and negative feedback loops don’t happen in a car, but they’re real for us.
Our physical well-being can affect our mental health, and vice versa.
Poor mental health might affect our work, which in turn affects our mental health.
The gas tank analogy is useful because it helps us correct along the way.
Here are a few things you can do:
Check in: What level is your tank at? Why? How can you tell? Physical health is easier to assess than mental health. For physical health, you can test yourself, or use benchmarks and measurements. For mental health, you’ll have to use more subjective measures. How do you feel when you wake up? Do you feel motivated at work? Do you feel energized through the day?
Identify the habits that drain the tank: This is also easier for physical health. Eating poorly or lack of exercise are going to cause decline. For mental health, what things drain your energy? What do you dread doing each day?
Identify the habits that fill the tank: For physical health: what healthy meals do you like to eat? What unhealthy food can you cut? How can you make exercise or activity fun? For your mental health: what relaxes you? What feels like play to you? How can you spend more time with friends or family, or have more time to yourself?
Schedule: The final step is to schedule time for the things that fill the tank, and try to reduce those that drain it. This is easier said than done. But acknowledging that your tank is low is the first step.
Our mental and physical health doesn’t decline or improve instantly. It’s a slow, gradual, process.
The good news is that gives us ample opportunity to figure out how to fill the tank.