Balancing Mental Health And Physical Fitness

Balancing Mental Health And Physical Fitness

If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’d know that I’ve been going through a bad mental health phase for the last 6-ish months. And if you’ve known/seen me in person during that time, you’d know that while most people didn’t realise I was struggling emotionally, a lot of them did notice (and comment upon) how my physical state changed.

What exactly do I mean? Well, things like mental trauma and anxiety can be unpredictable in how they affect a person. For some, it can make them hyperactive, doing all they can to distract their minds and keep themselves busy. For others, it can leave them completely unwilling to get out of bed or step out of the house, barely managing basic functions like brushing their teeth or eating a proper meal. Still others may find themselves dealing with both reactions in waves.

I found myself in that last category. For the first month or so, I remember struggling to eat. I barely managed one meal a day, and even that wasn’t anywhere near nutritious or sufficient. The rest of the day was just gallons of coffee, which admittedly didn’t help my anxiety. The result? I rapidly lost inches, and ironically, had people complimenting me on how great I looked.

Once those initial weeks had passed, I found myself lethargic and always eating. Needless to say, the eating wasn’t always particularly healthy. Chips, ice cream, instant noodles… anything that was easy to order on a food delivery app. There was comfort in carbs and salt, and Lord knows I needed comfort!

One of the hardest parts though, was that I couldn’t bring myself to workout. That’s right, nearly 6 months without a single workout, because I simply couldn’t bring myself to get up and go outside, or to even move within my house. That’s the thing about mental health, it can have such a grip on you, that it prevents you from doing the simplest things that could possibly make your day better.

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I know what you’re probably thinking — “But exercise releases endorphins, it would help you feel better.” And you’re right, it would. And logically, I knew that. But my mind wasn’t interested in succumbing to something as trivial as logic. It had already decided I wasn’t going anywhere, and that was that. My mental health had pinned me down, preventing me from addressing my physical fitness.

Why am I talking about this? Because if any of you had come to me a year ago and told me you were struggling with mental or emotional stress, I would have probably told you that you needed to exercise. That it would make you feel better, that the endorphins would actually help minimize some of the stress. I’ve probably even said this to a couple of TwitterGetsFitter participants over the years. Because back then, I thought it was as simple as “willing yourself” to workout.

I’m writing this because I want anyone who thinks the way I used to, that it isn’t always as cut-and-dry as that. By all logic, by all my education, I know that some amount of physical activity would only be good for my mental health. That making smarter food choices would help me feel better and less sluggish. But my logical brain doesn’t always have the reins.

I know now that taking a little time off to just vegetate on the couch might be what you feel like you need. I know now that maybe watching endless FRIENDS reruns might be what you need to tune out the trauma in your head. I know now that watching your tummy get a little rounder isn’t the worst thing you have to deal with, and that sometimes, curling up with your blanket feels like just what you need.

Mental health is a lot trickier to understand and deal with than physical fitness. Outside of seeking professional help (which I very strongly recommend!), it is important to learn to “listen” to what your mind is going through and trying to communicate to you. Be aware of your thoughts and moods, and keep a journal to see if you can identify patterns and triggers. When feelings of self-hate or self-harm arise, immediately reach out to your therapist or a trusted loved one. Other times when you feel like just curling up on the couch under a blanket, remember that it’s okay to do so.

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The mind is complex, in that only it can heal itself. So while you should do your best to stay reasonably healthy as you strengthen your mind, remember that it’s okay to lose those abs to a soft belly for a while. The body can be rebuilt once the mind is healthy, but it doesn’t work the other way around.

Stay healthy, Fitterati. Both physically and mentally.

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