For this blog I’m taking a more serious tone compared to my last one about a Virginia winter.
At the beginning of each year many of us make resolutions to change something in our lives, whether it’s to add a new habit or modify a current one. Many of these resolutions are centered around health, wellness, mental health, and nutrition. If you’re like me you are usually committed for the first few weeks but then life happens and you fall out of your rhythm. I’m writing this blog not as another “infomercial” of sorts talking about the physical benefits of exercise but to focus on the mental health side of exercise. I wanted to use this as an opportunity to tell a story, and hopefully provide some help or support for those who may be going through their own struggles with their mental health.
Since my youth I have struggled with my own mental health, dealing with anxiety, depression, anger, and paranoia. The most helpful thing I found when I was working through my personal struggles was regular exercise and/or activity in the form of skiing, golfing, going to the gym, or rock climbing. I have done the yo-yo of staying active when I feel good, but then fall off (sometimes very drastically) when I don’t. Then I’ll crawl out of whatever hole I was in and start anew, then it’s rinse and repeat.
So why do I feel better when I’m regularly exercising or being active, versus when I’m not? (DISCLAIMER THIS IS WHERE I BREAKOUT THE SCIENCE) Exercise releases various hormones to help keep your body in equilibrium. Two important hormones released affecting your mood are serotonin and dopamine. Dopamin is the “feel good” hormone that helps relieve stress, and can help with depression. The other is serotonin which can help with insomnia, appetite, digestion, and memory.
So the answer to my question of why do I feel better when I keep moving and grooving than when I’m not? It’s a stress release for me. It’s a way for me to confront my mental struggles head on, rather than let them build and then cause me to spiral downward.
If the past 2-3 years have taught us anything, it is that it is important to take care of yourself. Exercises and activity can be a part of it. But if you need to talk to someone about what you’re going through, I encourage you to do so. Whether it is a friend, a family member, coworker, or a professional. BetterHelp.com is a great resource for professional guidance online or there are also different experts in your community that you can reach out to.
I will leave you with some words that you have probably heard before, however it is the truth. It’s ok to ask for help, being strong is to be vulnerable, it’s OK to not be OK, and you are not alone in this fight.
David Derco, PTA