The Positivity Forum - One Small Step
posted: Apr. 02, 2021.
One Small Step…. Jessica Hunt, LSW
Greetings everyone and welcome to the Positivity Forum. This is my blog where I will share my suggestions and knowledge on different aspects of mental health. I will focus methods to address and cope through anxiety, but I may also address different areas at times such as trauma and depression.
My first series of posts will address common and well-proven ways to deal with stress and anxiety. The changes we have experienced this past year have brought understandable worries. We are sometimes at a loss of where to begin to push through the struggles of family, work, school, among other things.
Exercise is one effective place to start for anyone, regardless feelings stress or not. One important fact about physical activity of any type is that it stimulates production of endorphins and neurological blood flow. In simple terms endorphins are considered feel-good hormones. Endorphins help diminish the perception of pain and act as sedatives, and they are manufactured in several parts of your body. Endorphins help to take away the feelings you may experience, even from exercise. Other activities can produce endorphins, such as laughter or meditation.
Most of us know that there are undeniably physical health benefits from exercise. It can increase our energy, decrease our blood pressure and heart rate, help control our weight, enhance immunity, strengthen muscles, and contribute to better sleep.
How does exercise impact us emotionally though? Essentially, endorphins are the feel-good chemical that helps to increase of sense of happiness.
Given all the benefits of exercise, we do have to overcome some barriers to keep doing it regularly. Sometimes it may feel like a chore. Whether it is limited time or current physical complications, we all have different circumstances. At the same time, we can come up with little changes we can make to incorporate exercise. When thinking of a goal we should be specific and make sure that it is attainable. If you know that you are not a morning person, do not to try to force yourself to be one. Set yourself up for success. So, you want to settle on a time of day and determine how often you want to engage in exercise. This does not mean you cannot exercise when you feel like it!
Make this goal your own and avoid the temptation to compare yourself with others you know. You may want to run 3 miles a day in an ideal world, but you need to figure what works for you and not your friend. Accountability will help also and discussing your goal with a therapist or counselor can be a start. If you prefer, find a trusted person to help to encourage you in your efforts and this will help you to keep pressing on. If there are setbacks, be kind to yourself and move forward to start again the next day. Or think of something small you can do if you do not feel up to a full-on physical exertion. Perhaps you can do some stretching instead of a full workout time. You can still take care of your body and have a recovery day. Lastly, come up with a plan to reward yourself for doing exercise that day or for the week. Enjoy a nice meal for instance to celebrate. We must recognize the progress we make and recognize that we are doing the best we can!
Here is a practical list of exercise ideas for different levels of physical activity:
*Walking and going outside- This is a nice one to do especially when the weather is nice and for people who are needing a low impact physical activity. For individuals who have physical health concerns, you still want to speak with your doctor or medical provider on what they may recommend for you in terms of exercise. Getting some sun will help you get some Vitamin D and will get your body moving. And you will be able to appreciate your surroundings and nature. A bonus will come if you can find a companion to enjoy the time with and to motivate you.
*Physical activity around the house- This past year has found most of us in the home more often or in front of a computer screen. Little spurts of physical activity can help. Even five minutes of moving around or doing a chore will get you up and engaging your body.
*In home exercise routines/videos- Technology can be to your advantage! I personally have appreciated this. You can find an array of DVDS, YouTube workouts, etc. This is especially a good for people who get tired of the same workout but need some motivation from a person speaking. And you can cater your workout to your comfort level in many cases and your needs that day. There is such a variety you are likely to find something that will work for you in the moment.
*Starting at a gym of fitness center- This is a common one, though some people do not always feel comfortable heading to the gym. It can be intimidating for some. However, if you really want to do it I would suggest you first compare the gyms out there (price, location, offerings, class offerings, safety, equipment, etc.). You want a place you can afford and feel at home. Take advantage of the staff and trainers if they have any, which will help with your accountability and support network.
Strength/weight training- Cardio exercises tend to be the most frequent activities we use. But do not forget the importance of building up your strength, muscle mass and improving your bone health. It is important that you try to incorporate strength activities when possible. This may be weights, pushups, squats, or leg raises. 10 minutes of such movements will make a difference. These exercises can actually help increase our flexibility and lower the risk of injury also!
*High energy workouts/group sports- Running and group sports provide greater intensity. While not for all of us, I would encourage young people to take advantage of their energy to engage in organized sports. You learn teamwork skills and coaches can challenge you to do your best and help you improve your skills. They may also push you to your limits, which can provide you with a needed challenge. Be intentional about taking breaks and caring of your body. Stretch before and after your practice if in a team sport or running. Refuel with water often and eat healthy options either before or after such intense activity.
With the wide range of physical activities out there to do, there is no doubt you can find a way to get moving daily. When you can find a consistent routine of exercise, there is no denying the physical and emotional benefits you will gain from even from taking one small step forward.
By: Jessica Hunt, LSW
Therapist at Hope Centered Counseling