Your mental health and exercise: How the two affect each other.


Studies have shown that those suffering from anxiety, ADHD, and depression can benefit from establishing an exercise routine. The endorphins that are released during physical activity have been shown to increase pleasant feelings and supersede the negative ones. Being able to establish a toolkit of coping skills will aid you in reducing some of the effects of many mental health issues. Exercise is a great coping skill to keep in your toolbox to calm yourself down and manage negative feelings that arise. When you exercise you are becoming more mindful of your body, and your breath. Mindfulness interrupts the worry and channels the energy elsewhere. Walking, stretching, hiking, yoga, and lifting are all ways you can exercise. The more exercise you get the better you feel about your body, which increases self-esteem, release muscle tension, bring routine and structure to your life, increase your energy, and have better sleep. All these things work in connection in the same way as EMDR, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, during trauma processing.

The benefits of exercise are relatively well known. However, some of the mental and emotional benefits of EMDR are not as well known. EMDR Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is a therapeutic technique in which the processing of emotions is facilitated through the stimulation of the left and right brain in an alternating fashion. The process of bilateral stimulation is the main component of EMDR trauma processing. The process of stimulating the brain helps you to think about things more rationally, change your perspective on the event, and create a healthier belief about yourself related to the event. When you activate both sides of the brain the logical side and emotional side are able to communicate in a way that allows you to come to a more rational conclusion.

 Therefore, the creation of a less disturbing association to the event occurs. EMDR stimulation can be done using three different channels: sound, touch, or sight. The most common channel to facilitate stimulation of both sides of the brain are lateral eye movements sparked by watching the therapists hand or wand. The other channels utilized can include alternating audio sounds such as beeps, or tapping the client’s hands or legs. Being able to stimulate both sides of the brain helps to build more rational associations and neural pathways with events that have gotten “stuck”. How does exercise factor into the processing of trauma/emotions you may ask?

If you take an inventory of your feelings before and after exercise you can see a notable difference.  Have you ever gone for a run and felt that you had processed through an issue which resulted in less distressed? Sometimes this can be called “runners high” when the endorphins and euphoria kick in and you feel the positive psychological effects of the activity. “Runners high” is not just associated with running but the rhythmic cross movements that occur after it has been maintained for an extended period of time. Cross movements are considered movements that engage both the legs and arms, for example, swimming, Zumba, lifting weights, jogging, walking, and rock climbing. When you dance, walk, or run, you are using your body in a way that uses both sides of your body and brain during the movement.  In stimulating both sides you are able to simulate some of the EMDR processing due to stimulating both sides of your brain. Thankfully, there are many opportunities for you to engage in activities that stimulate both sides of your brain.

I make it a point to excercise 5 days a week and I notice when I have missed a day. I begin to feel more sluggish, I am not as rested, and I am more easily agitaed. After I workout, especially running, I have noticed that I am better able to sort through my thoughts and I typically end with a more positive position on an issue I previously had prior to running. When I run and think about the things that have disturbed me I always have a more positive outlook afterward. I find that the issue also does not linger with me through the workout. Therefore, I have made this apart of my coping skills routine. I take the whole person model of health and wellness very seriously. I believe the best health comes when you are able to properly address each component of yourself: mind, body, and spirit. An added bonus for me is that I feel closer to God when I am outside in nature. Scripture points to the fact that our bodies are temples and we are to take care of them. What better way to take care of your body than with excercise which can tap into all aspects of the whole person?
Take time to write out your thoughts before, during, and after these activities to see how you feel after the fact. If you would like more information on how trauma and the body work together you can reference the book The body keeps score by Bessel Van der Kolk. If you experience symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, and/or depression EMDR therapy can help alleviate your symptomology. You can find an EMDR trained mental health professional on psychology today or the EMDR specific website EMDRIA. With this information what exercises can you do to help process through your emotions more effectively?




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