By: Dr. David Guion, PhD, JFS clinical psychologist
May is Mental Health Awareness month and this year’s theme is Fitness #4Mind4Body. The theme highlights the important and strong connection between physical health and mental health. Mental Health America has a great resource/toolkit at http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may, with fact sheets on diet, sleep, stress, gut health, and exercise, as well as worksheets on making life changes in those areas.
While some people will be able to may quick use of those resources, others may struggle with the motivation to initiate such changes. I’ve worked with many clients who know some things that will likely help them feel better (e.g., exercise, call friends) but struggle to make changes. For example, you or someone you know may feel really depressed and lack the motivation to exercise. Counseling, and sometimes medication (after consultation with a licensed provider), are a couple methods that can help you get started with things like exercise on top of addressing underlying causes/precipitants of motivational and/or mood concerns. For example, I’ve seen some clients who benefited from collaboratively setting concrete goals (e.g., walk 3 times a week for a half hour at a time), in line with the research that shows that specific goals often help in increasing exercise. Others have benefited from collaboratively setting a more minimal goal that they can readily accomplish, from which they often go further. For example, one client set a goal of doing one revolution on his home elliptical. He usually ended up doing more than that but on some days that was all he did. Eventually, the exercise was part of a comprehensive approach that helped his mood. Others have benefited from learning skills in counseling such as mindfulness skills and/or grounding skills to bring the intensity of their emotions down to more manageable levels where they can then make decisions about engaging in activities like exercise. Counseling can provide a supportive, collaborative relationship that provides folks a “safe base” to try such new skills and/or ways of being and then come back and readjust if needed.
I think it’s important for folks to know that sometimes it takes more than just knowledge about things like exercise to make changes. Sometimes aspects of mental health like anxiety and depression make it hard for us to engage in things like exercise that could help our mental health. Counseling and skills like mindfulness are vehicles to help us move through such experiences and get out and exercise. We would be glad to help you in those efforts at JFS Richmond, call today at 804-282-5644 ext. 239!