A very well-known sporting giant has a saying, “Just Do It!” I can not think of a more appropriate mantra for improving one’s mental health. Through the years, I have seen a direct relationship between the level of activity in an individual’s life and their level of personal satisfaction and ability to deal with adversity.
I remember being in the military and dreading the inevitable “first call” each morning. This banging of wood and metal (the preferred way to wake slumbering paratroopers from sleeping bliss) was the first indicator that grueling physical fitness was simply minutes away. We would all stumble to the lavatory, slip into our running shoes and workout gear and assemble for an hour or more of running, calisthenics and a plethora of sweat-inducing madness. Few of us did it without grumbling; however, everyone seemed pumped up and ready to take on the mission of the day after we had sweat out all of the toxins from the night prior. It was a true “attitude adjustment” that few would deny was extremely effective in preparing us for the day’s challenges.
Years later, I see patients in the throes of depression and dysphoria. They often suffer from significant lethargy; limiting their activity to staying in bed or on the couch, watching the television or simply mentating on how miserable and hopeless life is. My challenge to each and every one of them is to get up and DO something; anything that puts their bodies in motion.
Thoughts are behaviors in and of themselves. Having a thought requires that chemical messengers are moved across distance in neural cells by electrical action potentials in the brain. If we remember anything from our High School Physics class; for every action, there is a reaction. So if thoughts are actions, the more negative and self-debasing they are, the more of a negative impact they will have on our daily functioning. I am not simply saying that positive thinking will cure depression; however, it will allow an individual to foster an attitude of change and prepare them to embrace the movement that is crucial in combating the pain and suffering of this serious illness.
If you poll my staff, they will most likely say that they can tell the days that I miss my morning exercise routine. I am grumpy, short-tempered and an overall pain in the butt if I don’t start my day with at least an hour of physical fitness. I have found a symbiosis between my mood and subsequent ability to stay present for my patients with a daily regimen of exercise. I need to be able to contain what my clients deal with on a daily basis; I owe this to them. I also tell them that they owe it to themselves to be healthy; that no one is going to do it for them, but I will absolutely set an example for them to follow.
My challenge to you this week: get up off the couch, bed, chair or whatever prison confines you and go for a walk,run, swim, hike, etc. With the power and speed of our latest wind storms, you maybe move just one step further away from the prison of depression.