The Aspect of Health No One Talks About
Today’s blog post is on a topic that not many people in the fitness world talk about, but should: mental health.
You can get strong and fit in the gym, but if you’re not happy, what does any of it mean?
While I’m generally a happy person, I have experienced times of sadness, doubt, fear, and purposelessness. In fact, I regularly have periods of time where I feel anxious and/or low. I find it hard to share my negative emotions with others when I’m in that place. I know that other people go through similarly challenging periods.
Life has an ebb and flow to it, as does our mental state. You could be doing everything “right” and still experience negative emotions. I’ve learned to be okay with the times I don’t feel amazing, and to remind myself that all feelings are temporary. That being said, I do think it’s important not to dwell in a period of depression for too long.
Many actions you can take to improve your mental state are low-hanging fruit, while others are a bit more complicated...
Experience love and connection with others. Our society has become more and more individualistic, and while there are many benefits to that, we are often left feeling lonely. Yes, it’s great to be able to live on your own, work from home, and have anything you could possibly need delivered straight to your doorstep, but spending most of your waking hours alone can be very isolating. Studies have shown that very happy people are social people. Make an effort to connect meaningfully with the people you love, especially when you are feeling down. Join communities that lift you up, i.e. a church, gym, or social group.
Eat high-quality, nutrient-dense foods and take care of your gut. While I don’t believe in demonizing particular foods, I do believe that 90% of your diet should be filled with fresh, unprocessed food. Low-quality meat (read: factory farmed) and processed food is easy to consume too much of, hard to digest, and messes with your body’s chemistry. Plus, it’s hard for your gut to process, and an unhealthy gut has been linked to depression. The overconsumption of alcohol and caffeine are wreaking havoc on your liver, your adrenals, your kidneys… and contributing to poor sleep, which is also linked to depression. So many issues -- physical and mental -- can be cleared up with a healthy diet. Yes, food should be enjoyed, but not at the expense of your health and long-term happiness! Try making small alterations to your diet, such as eating organic, grass-fed meat instead of farmed meat, or going on a caffeine reset. Replaced processed snacks with fresh fruits and vegetables. Limit alcohol intake as much as possible, or give it up altogether (it’s poison, after all). Consider a healthy diet an investment in your health, both physical and mental.
Pay attention to sleep hygiene. First of all, we are out of tune with our circadian rhythm. The invention of many technologies has allowed us to extend daylight so we can be more productive, however, it has caused many of us to be completely out of sync with our natural rhythm. Second, how many people actually get 8 hours of sleep per night (the optimal amount, according to science)? Improve your sleep hygiene -- and as a consequence, your mental health -- by sleeping in a 65 degree room, having a routine wake up time and bedtime, shutting off your phone an hour before sleep, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol.
Get sunshine every day. Do you ever have days where you don’t even leave the house and experience sunshine on your face? Getting vitamin D is not only important for your health, but can affect your sleep and your mood.
Get out in nature. Most of us live in concrete jungles, not the serenity of nature. Spending most of the time inside and under artificial light is one way to drive yourself crazy. When you feel chaotic, stressed, or down, go somewhere quiet and peaceful where you can experience nature and breathe fresh air.
Exercise. Everyone knows that getting your blood pumping and endorphins flowing is an easy way to turn your mood around. However, when I’m feeling down I have no desire to go to the gym to crush a training session. Instead, I’ll do something low-key like go for a walk, hike, or swim. Moving your body helps move emotions around or get them out, but that doesn’t mean you need to exhaust yourself.
Meditate. It took me until the last year to realize that there are many different forms of meditation. I used to think meditation meant I had to sit down on a hard floor, close my eyes, and fruitlessly try to clear my mind (never happened!). While I do find value in lying down with my eyes closed to process my thoughts now and again, I also find enormous value in activities like walking, juggling, and deep breathing to clear my mind and find a state of zen. If you have a hard time doing the traditional style of meditation, try finding other relaxing activities that force you to focus on the present moment. Getting away from your thoughts even just for a few minutes can be incredibly refreshing, and the benefits of meditation are numerous.
Feel valued and purposeful. I believe one of the strongest ties to living a happy, fulfilled life is finding a purpose that speaks to you. Focusing too much on your own suffering leads to misery; placing your efforts toward helping others or serving a purpose is often the best way to get out of that miserable place. While I am not immune to feeling purposeless, one of the biggest driving factors that keeps me learning, improving, and feeling motivated is my desire to be a positive force that helps other people. While there is no easy solution finding what your purpose is, things like family, service, setting an example, changing the world, and mentoring others can be very fulfilling. I challenge you to try new things, and most especially the things that give you feelings of excitement.
I hope some of the above resonated with you! Mental health is very complicated and highly individualized, but I truly believe that many of the key tenets to healthy living are very closely linked to living a happier, more purposeful life.
If there’s anything I can do to help you navigate your health, please don’t hesitate to ask!
PS - If you’d like to incorporate more exercise into your life, be sure to check out my online training programs.