How to get through the pandemic day-by-day part 2?
Today I would like to talk about something that is really close to my heart: the incredible relationship between body and mind and thus, the connection between physical and mental well-being.
In "another life", I was a professional Latin American ballroom dancer practising an art form that I loved for more than 10 years. Those of you who are familiar with ballroom dancing from the famous TV shows probably have a sense for the training, refining and effort needed to achieve an outstanding performance. In hindsight, the reason why I got into dancing was a mix of dealing with my own psychological hardships of living through my parents´ ugly divorce, my love for rhythm and a certain degree of talent for expression through music. What regular dance training really did for me was that it gave me something to hold on to, a community, a sense of accomplishment where - through discipline and repetition - I could make improvements quite quickly. I believe this was the first time that I really experienced how regular physical activity could help deal with signs of depression or anxiety.
Even though I stopped dancing many years ago, I have continued to follow a regular pattern of weekly physical activity through functional training (a great coach in my area I can recommend can be found here), jogging, rowing, yoga (there are many free yoga classes available on youtube) or hiking. During these difficult times where gyms are closed and many of us feel isolated and stressed working from home, I can really recommend to everyone who does not suffer from any medical pre-condition to try and get out there and get your body moving - your mental well-being will benefit as well!
Last weekend, I talked to a friend of mine who stopped smoking and started jogging, as she was worried about putting on weight. 9 months ago she started with only 1-2km in a slow pace, but now, she is able to do 13km and feel fine. Unfortunately, my friend is going through a very challenging time in her life requiring her to seek the support of a mental health professional. Her psychiatrist very recently suggested for her to try and take anti-depressants. Whereas there may be many conditions where the help of medication is required, it is always a matter of weighing the pros and cons as every drug has undesired side-effects - weight gain being just one of the many of anti-depressants. When we talked about how she felt about her doctor´s proposal, she decided to still keep on trying with her routine of doing sports regularly as she feels better every time she motivates herself to go out there and run. Jogging gives her well-being and the feeling of having accomplished something for the rest of the day. Not surprisingly, the finding that regular physical exercise can be a useful treatment when combined with psychotherapy to combat depression has been backed up by many different studies, e.g. by Kenneth R. Fox who summarises his insights in his book "PHN Public Health Nutrition" or by S. Biddle and N. Mutrie in their book "Psychology of physical activity and exercise", just to name a few.
I hope these true stories inspire you to try and start integrating whatever form of regular physical activity in your week as it truly works, does not cost much money and has both physical as well as scientifically proven positive effects on mental health. Whereas this is a general truth, I believe it is more relevant now than ever, as the current challenges Covid poses on many aspects of our mental and physical well-being have been greater, more long lasting and more immediate than anything most of us have ever experienced before.
When should you seek the help of a mental health professional?
Should you experience symptoms such as f.ex. loss of interest, feeling really low, have a lack of energy, have a hard time concentrating, suffer from feelings of guilt and hopelessness, have trouble sleeping or be very pessimistic about the future you should consider looking for a professional counselor or psychotherapist to discuss treatment options.
Also, I would recommend for people who do not have a routine of being active and doing sports to consult a doctor prior to commencing the integration of physical exercise in their daily life.