As a mental health counselor, I of course understand the importance that we, as humans, have appropriate access and use of mental health services in our communities. In Virginia, where I am located, our General Assembly just (FINALLY!) passed a budget that would allow for expansion of Medicaid coverage to almost 400,000 additional citizens who lack coverage for obtaining medical and mental health care. This is a great step, and one that I hope benefits the LGBTQ folks I work with who are currently uninsured because they don’t make enough to afford Marketplace coverage, but have made too much to qualify for Medicaid coverage, and may not otherwise qualify for GAP insurance (Governor’s Access Plan) in Virginia. Mental health coverage is something that most, if not all of us may need to access at some point in our lives, and it shouldn’t be only available to those with financial support or abundance.
I realize it’s the last day of May, and I am usually not a procrastinator, but for this post I was more intentional in leaving this till the end. My reason? Well…eeeeekk!…I’ve rejoined the gym. Long story, but after paying off some debt, we had freed up some disposable income to join our local YMCA. Yes, I recognize that it started off as the Young Men’s Christian Association, and that in some Y’s there are more reminders of their affiliation to Christianity (which for some may be off putting), but ours offer many rewards that we are grateful for. The journey to fitness that I am on has many facets. My spouse and I have been working towards getting back into “shape”, and after having my child a couple of years ago, I decided that feeling poorly and generally not being confident in my body needed to change.
We often forget how much of a relationship our brain has to our body, and vice versa. Usually people obtain a rush of chemicals, endorphins, oxytocin, etc, that help us feel grrrrrrrrreat after a workout. But, our mental health can change if we are not regularly exercising our bodies. People with ADHD can benefit from expending energy working out to help them settle down and sleep at night (which if you have ADHD you probably recognize, but can look at it as a positive to be able to stay up until all hours of the morning). Newsflash: Your body breaks down before your brain does, so do yourself a favor and sleep! People with anxiety can use exercise to help reduce the overwhelming effects of anxiety by putting their focus on something they can also control, their body’s movement. People with depression can help improve their outlook with flooding themselves with these positive neurochemicals so that they can recognize their ability to get through the day, improve motivation, and SLEEP BETTER AT NIGHT. I use generalities here, but many people can obtain the positive effects of exercise.
Exercise can help us reduce our dependency on medication to fully treat mental health issues. I say this with extreme caution, as many people will still require the use of medications to treat mental health conditions, but not only with their medication potentially be more effective in that it can be metabolized more efficiently, but they run the possibility of requiring less of a dosage, or less side effects of those medications. And, those who may have a medical diagnosis (diabetes is just one example), may improve their conditions enough so that a possible side effect of depression is not required to be treated with additional medications that could have a negative impact on blood sugar regulation. Again, extreme caution (*I am not a doctor*) must be used, as treatment of medical AND mental health conditions always needs to be guided by a medical provider, and what works for one may not work for another.
My journey with exercise has been a rollercoaster. I have dieted, I have used “supplements”, I have exercised. And now that I am entering a new demographic (goodbye 18-34 year olds), I am entering a different confidence and concern for my health. I am less concerned with how my body looks than what it can do. I can run after my kid in the Target parking lot before they get smushed, carry his 30-lb body up and down stairs with less huffing and puffing, and can stand up straighter, knowing that my core is engaged and my back is improving in its strength. I don’t care what size is on the label as much, but just that I feel as good in my clothes as I can. I am meeting new people, and feeling that I fit in as a person who “works out”. I don’t really know what that means, per se, but I have been going at least 3 times per week for over a month to exercise. This has resulted in exactly 2.5 lbs lost. But I have gained so much more!
- I am losing my fear of trying a new class! I did an Aqua Zumba class and a line dancing class that I normally wouldn’t have tried. (You will never catch me in a Cycling class. Those people are #beastmode)
- I am losing my concern with how I look in the locker room! I had a kid. My stretch marks show this. Get over yourself, Angela.
- I am becoming a “regular” and people are saying hello to me! That helps reinforce that what I am doing is positive. Finding a new type of tribe is important for everyone’s mental health.
- Insuring my body for future wellness! With a host of heritable conditions in my family, I am hoping to protect myself from receiving diagnoses in the future, or at least delaying them if I can. Remaining active in mind and body is one way of doing that.
- I am less angry and stressed! This is one that was really the impetus for our family going to the gym. My concern with being “on” all the time in running my household AND running my small business was getting to me. I was snapping at my husband and kid, and felt guilty, and the cycle would repeat, ad infinitum. Now, I can relax more and enjoy my family more.
(SN: If you are a WAHM/SAHM mother, and would like to be a part of a great program to feel more accomplished as a Chief Household Officer, please check out my bestie Katie Rössler’s program From SAHM to CHO, and be a part of her new group starting June 16th!)
But the biggest thing I can now be proud of is NOT BEING A HYPOCRITE. Why? Exercise is one of the best tools we can use to improve our mental health. It helps us sleep better, be more focused and present, and able to improve our physical health and stamina. I have recommended it to countless clients over the last several years, and all the while making excuses as to why I can’t, won’t, don’t, or shouldn’t exercise. My excuses were based on fear; fear of being the “worst” at the elliptical machine, fear of sweating, fear of falling, and fear of actually liking to exercise. I am now in that place of liking to exercise, and feel awesome when my son and I get in the car and he asks “We going to Y?” He goes because there’s childcare, and now I have NO EXCUSES.
You don’t have to join a gym (although there are many options that fit with most budgets), and the YMCA also offers financial assistance to those who qualify. You can walk around a park or use a local school’s athletic track and fields to exercise. You can walk around malls, neighborhoods, nature trails, local parks, and nature also provides a boost to your mental health. Changing course is never easy, but with the support of my family and my new-found appreciation for my physical body, it has made all the difference. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, and it’s tagline Fitness #4Mind4Body, get out there and work it out!
See you at the gym!