When addressing your mental health and trauma, don’t underestimate the power of exercise as part of your mental health prescription plan. Research proves that regular physical activity improves our mental health; it reduces anxiety, symptoms of depression subside, negative self talk decreases. How can this be?
How mental health problems and trauma affect the body
Whenever we experience anxiety, our breathing and heart rate increase. This sends the nervous system into a sympathetic state. Next, the digestive system shuts down to redirect the flow of blood to our brain. Our vision narrows. The peripherals of our sight decreases. The body is preparing to respond to perceived threats and ensure safety. For people who experience anxiety often, this pattern is on repeat. Imagine the body tells itself, “hey, watch out for danger” at random times throughout the day. That would be a stressful day!
Hormones have a big effect on our emotional and mental states. They can cause moments of euphoria and depths of depression. Exercise helps the body to come into hormonal balance. Exercise helps to balance hormones. The body releases endorphins whenever we engage in routine physical activity. Studies indicate that endorphins stabilize mood and increase a sense of general well being. You can utilize daily workouts as a tool to regulate hormonal imbalances.
Cortisol is known as the stress hormone but its not all bad. It helps the body’s regulation of blood sugar, inflammation, and metabolism. So we want an appropriate amount of cortisol circulating throughout the body. Physical activity regulates the levels of cortisol in our blood. Meaning that if we have too much cortisol, exercise processes cortisol out of the body. Whereas if we have too little cortisol, exercise helps to increase cortisol production. This can speed up our metabolism, help the body to lose weight and regulate the body's response to stress. Therefore, daily workouts can decrease stress, regulate inflammation and improve our mood.
Focus on the body to change the mind
“When the body feels safe, the mind will follow.” - Dr. Bessel van Der Kolk
Dr. Bessel van Der Kolk, a famous research Psychologist, wrote a book called the ‘The Body Keeps the Score." He teaches that after a traumatic event, the body will respond to create safety. His research helps us to understand that if the body feels unsafe, the mind will not able to settle. When the body is in an anxious or depressed state, it feels unsafe. Meanwhile, the mind is scanning the environment for a threat or a way to protect itself against a perceived threat. These mechanisms work against us whenever we are safe in reality.
Try this on for size. Fear is a trigger response to stress. Stress and anxiety generate cyclical thought patterns towards survival. Whenever the body is
in this heightened state of fear, the mind will follow. The mind follows the body’s queue. If the body is in a state of semi-panic, the mind is stuck in a protective state. The mind is unable to get out of a negative state until we address the body’s dis-regulated nervous system. Exercise pushes the body out of that frightful stress response and helps to bring the body down to a state of calm. Once in this state of calm, we can begin to process difficult emotions, heavy to do lists or daily stressors.
What can we do about it
So how can we create balance within the body?
Yup! You guessed it. Exercise!
Daily workouts increase the flow of blood throughout our body and brain. It helps the body to reroute some of that stagnant blood in the brain to the other limbs throughout our body. Exercise wakes up digestion. The body needs access to all the nutrients in the stomach from the food we've eaten. Exercise requires the body to allocate more energy towards digestion. It also sends more blood to the muscles so there is enough energy available to perform the workout.
In addition, daily bodyweight exercise is a great way to regulate the release of hormones. This will balance our mood and emotions. In other words, a program like the 100 Days of Discipline helps the body to control our motivation and mood.
Now we understand the physiological effects of exercise on our mental health. However, there are many other intangible benefits to exercise. Stay tuned for our next blog.
Consider this: It takes 10 - 20 minutes a day to complete one workout. How will that daily dose of ‘feel-good’ hormones start to change your anxiety, depression or stress levels?
I challenge you to add daily exercise to your mental health prescription plan. If you're curious about what we are all about and what kinds of workouts we provide for our challenge participants, then I invite you to join our 7 day free challenge below:
Until next time,