Bad days. Depending on who you are, this could entail something as small as feeling moody and grumpy when you first wake up to something much bigger such as the beginnings of a depressive episode, or a spiral into anxiety.
Recently I found myself re-experiencing symptoms of my anxiety. My chest will tighten, my breathing will become rapid, and my throat will feel like its closing. Having dealt with anxiety for many years, I know these are the warning signs of a miserable day. My anxiety seems to grow stronger when I begin to experience physiological changes, as I become acutely aware of its presence. Although I have found that deep breathing techniques do help, the thing that completely shifts my mental state and shakes me out of my anxious funk is exercise.
I have never been someone who could easily just lace up my shoes and go for a run. Exercising came with its own set of mental obstacles, among them the insecurities that I wasnâ€™t fit enough to work out. My legs werenâ€™t toned enough to run, and my arms werenâ€™t strong enough to lift weights. It sounds ridiculous to me now, but in the past it was a major obstacle that prevented me from even trying. I was deterred from even attempting to better myself for fear of what other people would think of me. When I was finally able to ignore these inner voices that constantly shamed me, I began to start working out, and it felt amazing.
If you are anything like me, you too have experienced these nagging insecurities that pop into your head every so often. These are the voices that tell you that you arenâ€™t good enough, or that youâ€™ll do something wrong and look stupid or weird. But if you can shut out these voices, even if its just for the short time it takes you to walk out the door and go for run, or walk into the gym for a small workout, you might be able to reap some of the amazing benefits that exercising can have on your mental health.
Here are some the things that exercise can help you with:
1. Block out the Mental Noise.Â When you are focusing on, for example, trying to stand on one leg, while lifting a dumbbell and trying to keep your balance, itâ€™s pretty difficult to ruminate on your negative thoughts. Exercising requires mental focus, and this focus can allow you to leave behind the negative energy dragging you down.
2. Endorphins. When you exercise, endorphin hormones are released, which make you feel really good! Endorphins are similar to morphine in the sense that they can diminish your perception of pain, and increase feelings of euphoria. They might be enough to shake you out of your bad mood.
3. Embracing your Strength. In motivating yourself to take action, you will come to see how strong your body can be, which will help you see how mentally strong you really are. It takes a lot of courage to silence the negative voices and fears and challenge your body to try something new. Observing how many reps you can do or how far you can walk or run without stopping, can restore some self-confidence and pride in yourself. This is something I think everyone could benefit from, especially those of us who experience many bad days filled with self-deprecating thoughts.
I know it’s much easier to talk about how great exercising can be for you, but I do want to acknowledge that it is not something that is easy for many people to just jump into. Some people may not be in the mental space where this is even a plausible suggestion. I was one of those people a few years ago. But for those of you who feel more ready and think this might be something you can benefit from, try paying attention to your mental state, both before and after you exercise, in order to see if you notice any shift in your focus and your self-talk. You donâ€™t have to go to the gym for two hours or go on a 10-mile run to reap the benefits. It can be something as simple as going for a walk around your neighborhood, or doing a few sit ups. Something that lets you take a step away from your negative mood to focus your attention on how strong you can be.
By: Talia Main
Talia is pursuing a degree in psychology at the University of Toronto. She hopes to continue her education in psychology following graduation. She is passionate about ending the stigma surrounding mental health through her writing and education.