Medical science has learned a lot about what makes us function, and an increasing body of research over the past few years points to the close link between our physical health and our mental well-being.
People generally begin therapy because they believe they’re having challenges with their emotions, ways of thinking, concentration, and other aspects we usually assign to the brain. What researchers have recognized is that our physical health has a proud effect on our mental health, and vice versa. When our emotions seem to be getting the best of us, our physical health often suffers … and when we’re experiencing chronic sickness or other physical problems, it often has a significant impact on our thinking and emotions.
We like to think of mind and body as separate, but they’re really just different parts of the same person. Our brain triggers the creation of hormones and other chemicals that govern how our body functions. That elation we feel after a brisk walk or other exercise is one example. So is the racing heartbeat and shortness of breath experienced when feeling anxious. Exercise produces chemicals like endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers. Anxiety produces cortisol and adrenaline, which prepare your body to flee from whatever has you worried. In other words, you’re not imagining those feelings. They are real, and they are worth getting curious about.
If your goal is to improve your mental health, spending some time supporting your physical health will help. Suppose you’ve been experiencing overwhelming anxiety, which is what led you to call us. While your session with that counselor might focus on the issues that are at the root of your anxiety and your reaction to situations, becoming more aware of your body’s response and how you can control it will help you deal more effectively in those anxious moments.
When we speak of exercise and mental health, we’re not necessarily talking about the kind of calisthenics athletes use to stay in top physical shape – although they can definitely be healthful. For most people, forms of exercise that emphasize mindfulness such as yoga are particularly effective as a companion to therapy. Yoga combines physical movement with concentration and deep breathing to help people become more mindful of their thoughts and body. When practiced properly, yoga not only enhances physical strength, flexibility, and balance, but also helps people attain a sense of peace and calm.
Mindfulness approaches such as yoga can help us get better at managing our responses to stressful situations. It helps us train our brains to experience calm and improves our concentration, so we’re better able to work on the skills and steps to move forward. That’s why we recommend yoga and other mindfulness techniques. In fact, there’s even a special yoga for mental health group at the YMCA starting this month.
If you’re thinking about seeing a counselor to help you with mental health issues, please do yourself a favor and make taking care of your physical health a priority, too. Contact us today.
Ginger Boyce worked in clinical research before deciding to teach trauma sensitive yoga and movement as a way to help with mental health challenges.