Monday, July 29, 2013

A New Idea

Hey there! I had an idea after publishing my last post, "Feeling Good: Exercise and Mental Health." Namely, I should make a series out of it. I like that. There are so many disciplines and outlets that can aid one's mental health, and really just augment the quality of one's life overall. So be on the lookout for another installment, revolving around art.


Friday, July 26, 2013

Feeling Good: Exercise and Mental Health

(the author can be cheesy at times)

You've probably heard it before: exercise makes you feel good. You've probably heard all about endorphins and dopamine, too, and how even modest physical exercise affects the levels of those brain chemicals, which in turn leads to an increased sense of well-being.

My guess is that most of you have read all that stuff at some point, nodded your heads in approval, and surfed on over to the next article of interest without making a single change.

Who can blame you? I certainly can't. Exercise is tough. Besides, there's a big difference between understanding a good idea and implementing a good idea. You can probably point to several examples of that principle in your own life: those habits you keep that you know are bad for you, that letter you've been meaning to write but never seem to get around to, etc. It can be difficult to put a good idea into practice -- exercise among the rest!

The way I see it, the problem with exercise is that there's a relative delay between the activity and the perceived payoff, whereas most of us tend to prefer immediate results. That is, if we're going to do something, we want to see results now. We want to feel good now. It can be difficult, therefore, to stick to something like exercise, which is often uncomfortable in the short term, and for which the positive results aren't always readily apparent.

What I want to say, though, is this: all the stuff you've read about exercise making you feel better is true. I'll say it again, differently: Exercise really does increase your senses of happiness and well-being. 

Now, please note I'm not saying exercise is a cure for everything. But I am saying, with great assurance, that it helps.

I started being more physically active about a year ago, and I can't overstate how much I've benefited from it. Here are some specific ways it's helped me feel better:

-I'm more comfortable with my body.
-I suffer less from random aches and pains.
-I sleep better.
-I'm less "moody." Put another way, I'm more "even keel," emotionally speaking.
-I have an abiding sense of well-being.
-I'm more alert and focused during the day.
-I feel a sense of accomplishment during and after a workout.
-I feel proud to know I'm doing something truly positive and healthy for myself.
-I get to enjoy my mode of exercise.
-If I'm feeling negative before or during my workout, I get to use my workout as an outlet.
-I've gained heightened awareness and understanding of myself.
-I get to reinforce the knowledge that I can achieve my goals.
-I experience being "taught" by my workouts, which, I've learned, are active, personal metaphors, and sources of great inspiration.

I'm not a fitness guru, so I don't have specific advice about any particular workout regimen. I will say, however, that I think it's important to do something you enjoy. I love to walk, for instance, so I do that. I discovered fairly recently that I also love to jog and bike, so I do those things, too. And since I enjoy those things, actually doing them doesn't feel like such a chore, you know? I look forward to doing them. Plus, I've found the more I do them, the more I want to do them. In other words, a sort of momentum has set in: it's easier now to keep up with my exercise habits than it used to be.

Now, listen: the benefits I've described in this post didn't appear for me overnight. It's taken time. What's helped me, though -- and I think this is key -- is I've made a point of giving myself positive feedback before, during, and after my workouts, even if it feels like BS at the time. That is, I've given myself due praise for making room in my life to feel good.

A few final thoughts: even if you're thinking about it, you're on your way. I recommend acknowledging that to yourself. Also, there are lots of terrific and inspirational -- and FREE -- resources on the Internet that can help you get started, or stay on track. Check it out.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

It Is Possible!

Hi! It's nice to be writing here again. I didn't intend to take such a long break, but, well, I did. I took a trip back home to visit family and friends, so that certainly contributed to my relative silence. Mainly, though, I think I needed to recharge.

I've been slowly reading Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung. It's my first immersive experience with Jung's work, and it's been fascinating, enlightening, inspiring, affirming, and serendipitous. (A lot of 'ings'!) It will undoubtedly influence my work here, although I cannot yet say how, exactly.

In the meantime, I did some further thinking about the name for this blog. I've been vaguely mystified by it since I picked it, and I've seriously considered changing it on more than one occasion. It doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, you know? Mental Health for Humans. There's so much buzz online and on bookshelves about "branding" and "web friendly content" and the like, and I've realized all along that this blog pretty much flies in the face of what's considered clever formatting. But what I finally decided is this:


So what if the name of this blog is strange, or even awkward? So what if I don't always keep my blog posts short, or pepper them with witty lists, or find the latest, greatest bells and whistles to entice Today's Discerning Reader?

I'm my own person, and this blog is a conscious and unconscious reflection of who I am, and what I'm about. Why should I try to make this blog be anything but my blog? Why shouldn't I take my own advice and, you know, honor who I really am? "Mental Health for Humans," a name I created, is the perfect name for this blog which I also happened to create. So that's that.

But I realized something else, too. Namely, I have a real ax to grind, and have for some time, about our society's general perception of mental health. Mental health isn't just a subject for psychiatrists, therapists, nurses, students, patients, or the families and friends of patients. No, mental health is for ALL of us. Mental health, simply and profoundly is, yes, for humans to consider -- because if you have mental activity (which we humans certainly do), you have some degree, or lack thereof, of mental health. It's just like how if you have a body, you have some degree, or lack thereof, of physical health. You dig?

It makes me sad that my culture so strongly devalues giving attention to one's own inner life. We are trained to believe that happiness is to be found outside us somewhere -- maybe in a new car, or a bigger bank account, or in our partner. Culturally, we give lip service to individualism and personal responsibility, but we are quick to blame other people for our problems. We proclaim to value strength and toughness, but we avoid coming to terms with ourselves.

We humans are full of contradictions, and that's fine, in and of itself. However, we get into real trouble with our contradictions when we try to bury them, or to pretend they aren't there, i.e., when we try to avoid them. (Not coincidentally, that's how we get into real trouble with most things.) For my part, I feel it's important to do what I can to shine a light on these matters, because I believe they unnecessarily enslave far too many of us.

It is possible to live a free and satisfying life. Will it be perfect? No! Does it have to be? Heck no! Life is a strange and mysterious process of becoming. It is ever unfolding into an uncertain future, and it does so along an often curving and elliptical path. We are marvelously complex and fascinating creatures, and no two of us is the same. My hope is for us all to move toward a freer, kinder, and more peaceful shared reality.

But it starts with you. It starts with me. It starts, not "out there" somewhere, but "in here" -- inside your own (my own) mind and heart. Recall the words which are variously attributed to Gandhi: "Be the change you wish to see in the world." The wisdom, values, dreams, and essential self which you seek are all right there, right now. Enjoy it. And enjoy the ride that is this lifetime.

Thanks for reading.