Winter can be a hard time – lack of sunlight, cold weather, holidays, lack of physical activity. These coupled with mental illness can be a nightmare. This nightmare impacts those with depression and those who love them. But what can we do? There are traditional medical remedies (which I fully endorse) of therapy and medication. But this isn’t enough for many.
We all know regular exercise and proper nutrition help our bodies function better. We often forget the mind is part of the body and our mood is a result of a chemical process. These chemicals, when improperly balanced, cause depression, anxiety, etc. The results of these imbalances can lead to isolation, risky behavior, hyper-sexuality, and self-medicating (leading to alcoholism and addiction). One way we can restore balance is by creating the proper hormones (exercise) and taking in the right chemicals (nutrition and supplementation). The medical community doesn’t talk enough about the efficacy of these activities regarding to mental health, but it’s a necessary conversation.
The old mindset was exercise creates endorphins and these endorphins heighten mood. While it’s true exercise does create endorphins, they merely help our muscles feel less pain – they are too large to enter the brain. What makes us happy from exercise? Our bodies have an endocannabinoid system which releases cannabinoids (like the ones in marijuana) which are small enough to reach our brain and elevate mood. Exercise may also increase dopamine, a neurotransmitter which attaches to reward centers in our brain. Dopamine enhances mood, reinforces the positive behavior, and makes us want to repeat these behaviors.
These chemical processes are great, but what about our need for community? Exercise in public settings, like gyms, fulfills our inherent desire for interaction. We develop a sense of community, belonging, and make new friends. Working with a trainer or being in a group exercise class has the same benefits! We crave attention and purpose. Fitness helps us find them.
It’s clear, exercise helps us feel better physically and mentally. Yet, there is still one problem… How do I even start? Who can help? The answer is more complicated. For me, it took getting to a point of desperation. Realizing I wasn’t the person I wanted to be. I wasn’t living up to my potential. I wanted more yet felt stuck. When I’d had enough pain I found myself ready to change and start a new path. Let me be clear – it doesn’t have to get that bad. Does this mean my life is all roses? Of course not. I still have my struggles, doubt, lack of motivation, depression, but I know how much better I’m going to feel if I just get up and move. Sometimes my workouts are more about feeling better than reaching some weight loss or strength goal.
If you struggle with mental health you’re not alone. I’ve been there, too. And I can promise you, it gets better. We need to take personal responsibility and ask for help. Life isn’t perfect, it doesn’t need to be, but it can be as bad or as good as you want it to. The choice is yours. t
Joshua and Elyse Buchbinder are Fitness Professionals working in the Baltimore and surrounding areas. They strive each day to make the world a little better by helping others. If you’re ready to start your journey to the best version of yourself call or email them today at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-967-9699.