My day job is that I work with trauma survivors, people with anxiety, depression, and a whole host of other problems. The body-oriented therapy I primarily pull from (called Somatic Experiencing) involves getting people to notice their body’s involvement in their inner state.
As an athlete, I’ve always been interested in how this dynamic works the other way though. That is, how does what we do in the gym, trail, or park keep us out of offices like mine? How can we use our training to keep ourselves resilient and support good mental health?
Notice your body
This probably seems obvious. I mean, what athlete isn’t aware of their body right? You might be surprised at the number of people though who I ask questions to like: “where do you notice anger in your body?” only to receive a blank stare in return. We know our bodies are there when we need to use them but really slowing down enough to attend to them in the present moment can be another skill set entirely.
Let me challenge you with something the next time you go to pick up a kettlebell. What does ‘ready’ feel like in your body? What muscles are tense or relaxed? What is your posture like? When you’re prepared to either swing a kettlebell or fend off a sabertooth tiger, how do you know that in your body? At the end of the workout, what does complete feel like? Learning to anchor our inner experience in our bodies is a key component of resilience.
Notice your food
Think about the last thing you ate. If you were out hiking and ran across a bunch of it on the ground, would you be tempted to eat it? Let me add the caveat here that I am not anti-cheeseburger. Not by a long shot. I do know however that eating what our bodies were designed to eat helps them to do what they were designed to do. Oh, and put the screen down please. You’ll enjoy your food more if you give it more of your attention.
Get those legs involved
Exercise in any form is good for your mental health. The neurotransmitters it produces, the way it regulates blood pressure, lowers the stress hormone cortisol, the list goes on and on. Leg exercise in particular, may just be king as it turns out. People who are up and moving around on their legs appear to have healthier brains and nervous systems. The human creature simply wasn’t designed to be sitting at weird 90-degree angles whilst being bombarded with artificial light from a screen for hours on end. I know, I know, you gotta pay those bills. Me too. When you can though, celebrate and thank your body with a little exercise. It’ll thank you back, trust me.
Countless studies have been done on this, it’s your body’s primary way of regulating and replenishing itself. It’s when your brain cleans itself of harmful toxins. There are even trauma resolution methods (called EMDR) based around the eye movements that occur during REM sleep. In fact it’s so important that when I’m working with someone who has a trauma history or addiction, it’s one of the first questions I ask about their week. Before we get to whether or not you used, how your mood has been, or how regulated you felt, I want an overview of what your body’s rhythm has been like in this regard. It gives me a lot of information and a framework for all those other things.
No, I’m not repeating myself. If the only time you ever rest is when you’re sleeping, you’re doing it wrong. Engage in life-giving activities. Whether that means outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, or kayaking, or organized sports, give your body a chance to actively recharge and do what it was meant to. Take that kettlebell outdoors into nature’s playground and bring a spirit of play into your training.