Healthy Mind, Healthy Life

As some of you might know, May is Mental Health Awareness Month! I wanted to take some time to explain my background to you, and why I think fitness is a great way to help foster a great relationship with yourself and those around you!

First and foremost, my undergraduate degree is in psychology. I have dedicated 4 years of my life learning all about what is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM for short). I specialized specifically in anxiety and depression my fourth year, and being in school, I was not only taught what the illness was, but also how to fix it – with drugs. When you’re a student, you listen to the teacher… but when it was time to write our final papers for the class, that’s when I started doing my research and asking more questions than I would like to admit.

I chose to write my final paper on ways to ease anxiety without the use of prescription drugs. Now I know why drugs are normally a doctors first choice – they went to school to learn what drug can treat an illness and why. But my first question to my professor was “why not see how you can fix it naturally?” My professor was actually a PhD student, and was very much doing his job by the book. He was puzzled, but told me to use that question as fuel for this paper. And that’s exactly what I did.

I just want to state that I am not a trained psychologist or doctor in any way, and if you feel like you are suffering from any illness, you should speak to your doctor and see how they can help you. I’m writing this post for you to see how I started to learn about the effect of exercise on the brain, along with how it helps me to control my anxiety.

There is a little almond shaped part of our brain that has a lot of control over the way we feel. This is called the amygdala, and it controls our emotions, including stress and anxiety. When our amygdala is triggered, our fight or flight response kicks in, which for some people can cause a great deal of anxiety. And for those who suffer from severe anxiety and panic attacks, drugs such as benzodiazepines (Xanax) can help to reduce the extreme effects of anxiety when taken as prescribed. But shouldn’t there be a natural way for us to help subside these dark clouds of panic?

Exercise, my friends. It’s a powerful thing.

I know how hard it is to get your ass out of bed before you HAVE to, or stop at the gym on your way home from work when you just want to sit on the couch and binge Vanderpump Rules with a  glass  bottle of rosé. But when it comes to managing your mental health, you have to include exercise into your week in order to ease the stress, low moods, and anxiety in your life. Because when you start to clear your mind of the bull shit that the week throws at you, you’re more likely to enjoy the time you spend at the gym, and everywhere else for that matter.

Having 20-30 minutes to yourself to blast your music and pump up your endorphins has been medically proven to lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. You are setting aside time in your day to clear your mind of whatever happened at work that triggered you to feel overwhelmed. You are taking the time to better yourself, which will lead you to be an overall more positive person. Once you’re in that state of mind, the things that were once the end of the world are suddenly dismissed as being a small hiccup. I’m not saying it’s easy to get to this place, but once you start to take care of your mind and body, this will all fall into place.

Personally, I suffer more from seasonal mood swings, which I only put half of the blame for that on the seasons. I live in New York, and we don’t see the sun for about 4 months out of the year. But during those 4 months, I cut back on exercise, start eating crappy food, and stop taking care of myself. Until I realized…. EXERCISE IS MY FRIEND! After taking on a new lifestyle of diet and exercise, along with all of the research I had done, I kicked those bad habits to the curb this winter. And guess what? It was great!! The endorphins I had from exercising left me feeling every workout like I was on top of the world. And isn’t that the best feeling to have?

There is a ton of research out there proving that exercise and a healthy diet can help your anxiety and depression come a long way without the aide of prescription medication. I know it helped me get through the winters, and any stressful situation I’ve been in. I know that if there is 20 minutes for me to hop on a treadmill, my stress will instantly be relieved. Just make sure that you are noting what you’re doing in the gym that you *actually enjoy* because that will motivate you to go back on a regular basis, keeping your anxiety in check.

Releasing the negative will make more room for the positive. Leading a positive life is the best way to live, and with a little bit of time and patience, you’ll be in the great state of mind. Schedule the time for yourself, because it’s important to put your physical AND mental health above all!

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