Healthy Body, Healthy Mind: Why Fitness Is The Best Therapy You'll Ever Have
Millennials have a lot to be stressed out about.
The government may or may not be going to hell in a hand basket and ISIS won't stop the endless terror.
Social injustice and cultural unrest are everywhere. Full-time jobs are on the decline while our debt is increasing tenfold.
Granted, we may bring part of our stress upon ourselves. After all, we are a generation characterized by the word “narcissistic.”
We're lazy, emotionally detached and glued to Snapchat at all hours of the day and night.
But, for whatever reason, we aren't being set up for success, and it shows.
More than half of us deal with stress that literally keeps us up at night and 40 percent of us cite yearly increases. Furthermore, 20 percent of us have already been diagnosed with anxiety or depression.
We find ourselves drained, comparing our successes to Instagram filters, crying to our mothers in the midst of self-proclaimed quarter-life crises (are those even real?) and paying an arm, leg and our first born children for some halfway decent counseling just to cope with it all.
But, it doesn't have to be this way.
While it's okay (in fact, sometimes necessary) to seek professional help, we're often capable of working through things autonomously, but just don't give ourselves the fighting chance.
Maybe the reason we're constantly reverting to childish behaviors, destructive actions and prepubescent mindsets long after we've grabbed our diplomas and bounced to the city of our choosing is because we haven't forced ourselves to dig deep and solve problems on our own.
Because we haven't forced true self-discovery when sh*t really does hit the fan, we simply regress, feigning happiness in a half-full life instead of truly healing.
I used to be one of those individuals. At the close of my first year in college, I lost a loved one to suicide, and it broke me.
I cracked into a thousand pieces and had no memory of who I was pre-tragedy.
Somehow, I glued myself together on the outside, but on the inside, I lost it. Floundering. Confused. Understanding. Emotional. Numb.
Focused. Scattered. I was everything a person could be, and yet nothing at all.
Every therapy session in the world couldn't make me understand why tragedy struck, and it couldn't bring me back to who I used to be.
So, I stopped trying with counselors and started pretending I was fair-minded on my own.
I was grasping at straws to deal with my grief, turmoil and stress and while it seemed to the outside world that I was whole again, I knew deep down that I was a fraud, a shadow of my former self.
Then one day, two years after I'd lost myself, I went for a run.
I had never been a runner, but that day, I woke up with the sun shining through my blinds, and decided I was tired of feeling like half a person.
Desperate for a cure to my emptiness, I laced up my Asics, put my headphones in and ran out my back door into a nature park.
I did that every day for a week. Then a month. Then all summer.
Then, I moved to New York, where I combined these therapeutic runs with SoulCycle, then kickboxing, then hot yoga. And then one day, I woke up and the world wasn't so heavy on my shoulders.
The stress of the outside world didn't weigh me down; I finally felt like me. I realized then that fitness may be the best therapist I could ever have.
Maybe you laugh when you hear the line from “Legally Blonde,” “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.
Happy people just don't shoot their husbands. They just don't.” But to me, that rings true to the bigger sentiment: healthy body, healthy mind.
Each system in our bodies is connected; every piece of food that we eat and every movement we make affects us in ways we can't see.
Additionally, studies have shown that physical activity is an asset in combating depression and mental illness, although it remains sidelined as a viable option for treatment.
On top of these lovely endorphins, scientific studies and those tried and true benefits we've heard time and again (like sweating out toxins from your questionable Friday night), putting an emphasis on your body gives you time to think.
Physical activity can shift your thinking in directions you wouldn't naturally gravitate toward, which can lead you to conclusions, decisions and revelations all on your own.
Dig deep, find your goals, identify your problems and discover solutions. After all, taking a respite from the outside world to focus on yourself might be just what the doctor ordered.
Best for: Problem solving
Unless you're one of the few who enjoys sweating it out with a running partner who can magically match your stride, this is best done as a solo activity.
It's just you, the pavement and your favorite playlist.
Going for a run gives you time to weigh pros and cons of any situation, without the distractions of the outside world and unwanted opinions, which makes it easier to find clear-minded decisions.
Best for: Taking a chill pill
Maybe it's work, your crazy Jewish mom or your borderline-sociopathic roommate, but something or someone is making you way too tense to function.
Take 90 minutes and get yourself to a hot yoga vinyasa flow stat, because you need to center yourself immediately.
Find your zen and remember that you can't control others, but you can control yourself. Hopefully, that will bring you some peace.
Best for: Rectifying low self-esteem
This workout is designed to tone, lengthen and strengthen, and does just that (if you find the right studio).
Anytime you're feeling bloated, down in the dumps or find yourself with a little Instagram-induced depression, book barre and you'll leave feeling less like a DUFF and more like Beyoncé.
Best for: Expelling frustrations and anger
One of the best workouts I've ever had was a boxing class that a catcaller, whom I “met” just minutes before I wrapped up my hands and started in with my right hook, fueled.
After all, there aren't many other times when it's acceptable to punch things as hard as you'd like for a full 60 minutes with the only repercussion being emerging with Michelle Obama arms, so take advantage of the release instead of bottling up your emotions.
Best for: finding your inner strength
Your body (and mind, for that matter) are capable of handling much more than you think they can, and this is exemplified during any and all Crossfit-inspired sessions.
Take a class with a professional, especially if you're inexperienced with weights.
But if you can tough out an hour of back squats and kettlebell snatches, you'll never feel more invincible.
Best for: Days when you need some tough love
There's a reason why I'm obsessed with SoulCycle and other indoor cycling classes: they can strip you down and build you back up in just 45 minutes.
You compete against yourself harder and push your limits further — physically and emotionally — when you hear harsh realities like, “The only thing that's holding you back in life is you” (Spoiler: it's true.)
Cranking resistance to the right and climbing that physical hill really can help you in conquering the emotional ones inside you.
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