Your body feels heavy. You feel stuck. Trapped. Your breath is uneven. Your thoughts racing, yet you can only find a few words to describe them. You feel stressed, lost, alone, anxious, scared, uneasy, not YOU.
The reality is 1 in 5 Canadians will experience mental illness at some point in their life. Truth is: every single person has mental health issues. We are all tested at different stages in our life with problems (maybe financial burdens, heartbreak, losing a loved one, failure, work) that will place a strain on our mental health and wellness. It’s not a weakness -- it’s reality.
I used to be incredibly frustrated with myself: “Why can’t you just be tough, why are you so tired, have thicker skin, stop being so emotional.” I have come to view these setbacks in our mental health as actually essential parts of who we are. And we can use these struggles to our advantage in certain circumstances. Use it as motivation to keep going, to never quit, to show others that you are in fact – no matter what your mind says – a fighter! You are better than these thoughts in your head.
I have used exercise and my mental health journey simultaneously to help each other. It’s common knowledge that exercise is excellent for your health and well-being – physical and mental. We know we’re supposed to improve our physical health by training our heart through aerobic activity (e.g. running, cycling, swimming) and build muscle through strength training, but how do we improve our mental health?
There’s no secret recipe to follow, just a few guidelines to keep in mind:
1) Never ever give up on yourself,
2) It’s up to you to truly help yourself,
3) Stop running away from your thoughts/emotions.
Let me go into a bit more detail with each and how they apply to exercise…
1) Never ever give up on yourself, aka KEEP GOING. Even when you’re tired, lonely, feeling heavy, depressed, anxious, not yourself, angry, lost. Keep moving your body. It doesn’t have to be an hour-long heavy lifting session each day, but keep your body in motion. This is going to take mental toughness because your thoughts will tell you otherwise, but you must look deep within yourself and realize that what your body craves is some love and attention. It will be hard the first few weeks, but you have to keep being persistent and consistent in all that you do to see those long term benefits.
2) It’s up to you to truly help yourself. You can have all the help in the world from friends, significant others, family, psychologists, etc… But at the end of the day it will, and always has been, just you and only you. No one else. No one else can hear your self-talk, can feel your heavy chest, or tears behind your eyes. It’s you. And since others can’t feel/hear/think your thoughts/feelings/emotions, it’s not up to them to help you improve and take control of your own mental health. It’s up to you. No one can force you to go for that jog, they can say “you’ll feel so much better after, I think you should go for a jog”, but they can’t force you. That’s when your self-discipline must come into play. You must realize that nothing will ever change if you don’t change. TAKE CONTROL. Because you have it in you.
3) Stop running away from your thoughts/emotions, instead run with them. These dark, scary thoughts and feelings can be daunting. We can try to ignore them, pretend they aren’t there because we think it decreases the pain and reality of them. TRUTH: They’re not going anywhere. So don’t pretend they are. Instead, listen to your mind and body and try to “run with them”. It doesn’t necessarily have to be running, but find some type of activity that you can work through these thoughts. These thoughts and feelings should be thought of as your fuel, and the more you move the more fuel you burn. You will be working off this extra anxiety or sadness or anger… whatever it is that’s affecting your mental health.
It’s been proven over and over that exercise has incredible benefits for your mental health. From gaining confidence, to releasing the “happy” hormones that improve mood, to creating social connections, to helping with sleep – the benefits are endless. And the amazing thing is that they can be IMMEDIATE. Unlike other ways to deal with daily stresses or long-term illness, exercise provides an immediate way to cope and the benefits can be felt within a few minutes into your workout.
So put on your sneakers, grab your water bottle, and start moving your body. If everything else seems to be going wrong in your life, at least you can have complete control of this.
Best of luck on your fitness adventure, whether you’re just beginning or continuing your journey. You’ve got this. Find that inner fire, and let yourself use some of your internal struggles to your advantage.
Message me any time on Instagram if you have any questions or would like further guidance.
Anna is a 23-year-old certified personal trainer, with a bachelors degree in Kinesiology Science. She graduated from UNB Fredericton in 2018 and has since moved to Melbourne, Australia. She advocates for mental health and encourages fitness as a way to cope. On her Instagram account @annapetrie96, she loves to motivate others to live a healthier, happier life through daily exercise. Anna even shares some of her workouts to help you stay on track. If you are in need of some daily motivation or looking to learn more about mental health check out her Instagram!