5 Steps to Better Physical and Mental Health: Step 3 - Relationships

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Step 3: Relationhips

For “Mental Health Awareness Week” - which this year has its focus on body image - I’m writing a daily blog describing each of the five foundations of wellbeing and happiness. 

Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, developed the PERMA model to show what we need in our lives to feel better both mentally and physically:

This week, I’ll consider how each pillar can help us to see body image in a different light and to build towards a healthier mind and way of living. There are two aspects to body image:

  1. how we think about ourselves and our bodies

  2. how others perceive us and the effect that can have on our mental state

Building a sense of belonging

Today’s post, then, is about our relationships and investing our time and energy in nurturing close connections with others. 

When we think about what keeps us healthy, things like exercise, diet and sleep are often at the top of the list. We don’t usually think about friendships, even though research shows that our social relationships have a significant impact on our physical and mental health during our lifespan.

  

“Don’t compare yourself to others" 

There’s a page I love in Matt Haig’s book, Notes from A Nervous Planet, in which he promises 10 tips on how to be happy… then makes every tip identical.

 

“Do not compare yourself to other people"

 

I think this is particularly crucial when thinking about body image. In an age when it’s so easy to compare ourselves to anyone else in the world at the touch of a button, we can be flooded with images of the “perfect body”. And, according to the research, this is making us miserable. To stop this happening, we should try to notice when we’ve shifted into this negative comparison mindset and gently remind ourselves that this way of thinking isn’t helpful. It’s easier said than done, but it’s possible with practice and bucket-loads of kindness towards yourself.

Find your tribe 

So, how can your relationships help you develop a positive body image? 

Exercise is brilliant for our physical and mental health, yet it isn’t always easy to build a routine that you can sustain long term. And sometimes a negative body image can be a barrier too. This is where relationships really matter. When you exercise with others, it can be a massive win-win. You get the chance to catch up with friends, be supported (and support others), and revel in the feel-good hormones released.

Be cautious about the people to choose to exercise with. Do they feel like your tribe? Does it feel positive doing exercise with them? Try to focus on finding people who enrich this experience for you, and gently move away from those where it feels like everyone’s comparing themselves to each other.

 

Try it:

So today, if you notice yourself shifting into comparison mode (and we all do it from time to time, so you’re not alone), try to acknowledge that’s what you’re doing and remind yourself it’s not helping you. 

You may also like to think about connecting with a friend and planning a lunchtime walk or after-work cycle (or any other exercise that you enjoy).