So, today I’m continuing where I left off from the last BUSG post: basic self-care for your physical body. Seeing as your brain is responsible for your mental health and your brain is housed in your physical body, it is probably in the best interest of your mental health to make sure your body is getting what it needs.
(Just to clarify, since I know I’ve mentioned recently that I’ve moved to another city, when I’m talking about moving today, for the most part I’m talking about getting your body moving, not packing up and moving to another place of residence.)
I’m starting to consider that maybe I should’ve titled this “Depression and Anxiety Survival Guide (Break-Up Edition)” instead of the other way around, since so much of this is strategies for handling anxiety and depression, but it feels wrong to change it now. Oh well.
Your body is made to move. Exercising regularly decreases your risks for a myriad of diseases and delays a lot of age-related health problems, so it’s an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. If I’m remembering correctly, we start seeing these preventative effects when a person exercises for three hours or more per week, which is why I am aiming to get three hours of exercise a week. I’m halfway there right now, but seeing as my life is very unsettled at present, I figure it’s better for me to get more things in order before I get the other hour and a half or else I’ll overwhelm myself and give up for several months.
Also, endorphins. One of my counsellors told me that forty minutes of brisk walking three times a week can be equivalent to an antidepressant. (For the record, if you’re on antidepressants, I’m not telling you to go off them and just go for a walk instead. Do both, and keep in touch with your doctor.)
Movement also gives you something to do. It’s not like I stop thinking when I move or that my thoughts are now only focused on the act of moving, but thinking about depressing things while moving around and reorganizing my room isn’t nearly as depressing as thinking depressing thoughts while just laying there staring at the ceiling. Moving doesn’t stop the depressing thoughts but I do find it can sometimes dial down the intensity because there’s a little bit of distraction there.
And I totally get it if you feel tired and sore and don’t want to get up. I understand and respect the need for rest. But spending too much time laying around can make things worse. You ever heard of disuse atrophy? It’s what happens when you don’t use your muscles enough– your muscles start wasting away, becoming smaller and weaker.
I also find that if I don’t move enough, my body gets sore from that, too, and frankly I find it a less pleasant type of sore than the kind I get from exercising. “Good workout” sore makes me a bit sore and stiff, but stretching feels great and I know I’m getting stronger and I’m admiring myself more in the mirror even though I probably don’t look any different. But “selectively bedridden” sore is different. I feel weak and tired and purposeless. There this sinking, sluggish feeling about it and it’s awful.
But going from barely able to get out of bed to exercising three hours every week is a bit extreme and overwhelming so that’s not what I’m telling you to do right now. That’s why this portion is entitled “Move” not “Exercise”. Take breaks from reading or watching movies or interneting to get up and walk around your room for a few minutes. Shrug your shoulders. Reach for the ceiling. Try to touch your toes. Stretch a little, just enough to feel it (don’t tear anything!). Basically, just use your muscles to do everyday tasks. Integrate movement into your regular activities.
Me, I’m lucky that I don’t have to go out of my way to do that. To give you an idea of what implementing everyday movement looks like, I’ll use myself as an example.
In my job, it is an office job (part-time, since I’m in school), but I still stand whenever people come to speak to me, I sit when I’m inputting at the computer, I walk around to follow up with people and to grab things out of the back room, I crouch to pick things up of the floor or to talk to children, so I get everyday movements implemented into my work. It’s not physically demanding but it’s movement.
Same goes for simple things like keeping my room clean, reorganizing things, picking things up, putting things down, doing my laundry, emptying and reloading the dishwasher, cleaning the cat box, vacuuming, sweeping the floor. Not demanding, but movement nonetheless.
Of course, this satisfies not just the need for movement, but it also increases my standard of living and it makes me feel like I’ve done something useful that day. It also means less work for my mom to do, which in turn means less strain on our relationship. We both start to feel like I’m pulling my weight, so… win-win.
I also try to implement movement into meeting with friends. Usually we grab lunch or a hot chocolate then walk around for a bit. That way I’m both socially and physically active.
Before I moved, I lived in an apartment and would take the stairs instead of the elevator. Now, I have to park down the street from where I live since there’s no more room in the driveway, so I get some movement walking to and from my car.
Movement can also be used in tasks like grocery shopping, walking from the parking lot into the store, etc.
And I actually do get exercise too, since working at a dojang means I get free martial arts classes as an employee. Again, I’m not telling you to dive headfirst into exercise. You’ve got to slowly and gradually work your way into it, allow your body to adapt to these new habits, so that you’re less likely to be overwhelmed and exhausted and more likely to be consistent and succeed.
And now that I’ve moved, I live in a nicer, safer neighbourhood. I feel comfortable walking around on my own where I live now, so I can go for a walk when I want to. This unfortunately isn’t a privilege everyone has. If you can’t go for walks like I can because you feel unsafe or live in a dangerous area, don’t feel bad about yourself, just stay safe and do what you can.