As someone who’s spoken to her fair share of therapists, you’d think I remember how important exercise can be for mental health. You’d think, but you’d be wrong. I mean, in theory, I know. Of course I do. But I’ve never really done the recommended exercise. I’m a butt-in-chair kind of person. 🙂
Lately though, with my anxiety reaching uncontrollable heights, I’ve been forced to take my mental health more seriously. Among other things, exercise became a part of my daily routine.
With the weather finally changing here, it’s the perfect time to be outside. So, for a month and a half now, I’ve taken daily walks of five kilometres or more and I can’t begin to explain what an enormous difference it’s made for my mental health. Honestly, I underestimated nature’s healing power. There’s something to be said for the sun and wind on your skin, and the scent of freshly cut grass.
The first week of walks wasn’t easy. Giving up and moulding to the couch looked much more rewarding than heading out the door. So many series to binge, so little time. 🙂 So, for motivation, I used the step counter on my phone. I had to at least match the previous day’s step total, or I’d fail. Accountability has always been my kryptonite, so even if there would be no real punishment, the knowledge that I’d failed would drive me insane. Also, Pokemon Go. Friends, it’s a silly little game but it’s effective. Because I had eggs to hatch by walking a certain amount of kilometres, I walked. Because my buddy got candies for how far I walked, I walked. And because I want to collect them all, I walk.
As a result, I’ve been sleeping better. Sure, I was physically exhausted for about a week. We walked much farther and more often in Germany when we had no car (even if just on the weekends). It’s shocking how quickly you lose whatever fitness you’ve built up when you become stationary. Butt-in-chair and all. But after a few days, the distance made no difference and my body didn’t tire as quickly.
Sleep is important no matter what, but I reckon it’s more important than ever when you’re ill or recovering, right? Mental illnesses are no exception, even though so many people will tell you it’s all in your head. Dude, it’s 2018. Google it.
While I do tend to be super lethargic in times of angst or depression, I struggle to fall asleep and then the quality of sleep is usually horrible. When you’re competing with both physical and mental exhaustion, keeping a reign on thought spirals can become impossible. I guess this is why therapists recommend exercise – they want you to be tired enough to actually get some sleep and recover. And, hey, it works.
The other thing I noticed is how much clearer I could think while I walked. You don’t have to focus on whatever your problems may be, but subconsciously, you’re working through the mental stuff while you’re working on your body. Without realising it, you’re dealing with the stress and freeing the mental capacity to tackle the larger problems.
I’m not saying you can think away depression. If it were that easy, none of us would be depressed. But I do believe that once the overwhelming anxiety calms a little, you’re able to look at the depression levelly. And that makes a world of difference. When you can breathe, you can also try the other exercises recommended by therapists and the problem becomes manageable. It doesn’t go away, unfortunately, but manageable is better than drowning in it, right?
Also, the mind is a wonderful thing. While finally dealing with some of the issues I’ve been dragging along for a good while now, I’ve been tackling storylines for my novel’s sequel. Yay for multitasking.
Muscles. Those are cool. I’m not trying to lose weight. For the first time in my life, I’m at peace with all the wobbly bits and I celebrate my body for what it’s lived through and what it’s accomplished. This skin has witnessed horrors and wonders alike, and never gave up. Having said that, it’s incredible how much confidence comes with strength. I like having calves that are growing more defined. It’s so stupid, but it does something. And when you’re struggling with the inner demons, anything that lends you confidence is welcome.
Another thing that gives me confidence is actually doing it. Opening the door. Taking that first step. You know, it took me a year and a half before I took a train alone in Germany. I went nowhere if my husband wasn’t with me. I was reclusive to the point where it was damaging both my and my daughter’s health, but I was unable to fight it.
Moving to Canada changed that. With her in school, I’ve been alone all day every day for the first time since she was born. I think the sudden shock of it added to the crushing depression that trapped me (though I never noticed it until about a week ago). By going for these walks – alone – I not only got to know the neighbourhood, but I got to reconnect with a part of myself that’s been dormant for four years. The part of myself that was totally okay with being stuck with my own company.
Yes, I miss my kid. But you know what, she’s learning about herself while I’m learning about myself. We’re both going to be stronger for it.
I guess my message to you today is to look at your mental health situation and find something to help you unwind. If you can, take a walk. Fill your lungs with the kind of air that hasn’t passed through the aircon twice. Count the petals on a bloom. Follow the flight of a bird from tree to tree. It does something for the soul.
Until next time.