“The mind and body are not separate units, but one integrated system.” – Dr. Bernie Siegel
I think too often we confuse this relationship between our mental and physical health as completely separate entities. A relationship in which one does not balance the other. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The two are intertwined and as one grows the other grows with it and as one deteriorates the other does as well. I believe that once you begin to live your life with this in mind, controlling your mental health becomes more approachable. I first came to this realization when the two began to clash during the pandemic lockdown.
Due to the pandemic, I wasn’t able to go out with friends and I wasn’t able to see the world. This was the case for almost everybody and it felt like we were all in it together. However, as legal restrictions began to be lifted, I gradually saw more and more of my peers hanging out and going about their normal lives while I was stuck inside. My family and I came to a decision that it wasn’t worth putting our health at risk simply because I missed socialization. Over time this took a toll on my mind, I began to feel trapped, lonely, and my mental health began to slip. I started waking up at 3 pm, eating horribly, and overall not treating my body with respect. This only made things worse and I began to feel demons creep into my head. I felt like I wasn’t doing anything with my life and that I was wasting my last few years of youth away. So, I made a promise to myself to be better and to use my time with a purpose.
Instead of truly wasting away my summer I reinvigorated a passion of mine: fitness. For a while, I had given up on weightlifting and focusing on my health. I felt like there was no point with sports being canceled and gyms being closed. But, I soon realized how much fitness was vital in keeping not only my body healthy but also keeping my mind sharp. At first, I started with the basics as all the gyms were closed and I didn’t have access to much equipment. I began to jump rope, run, and do basic bodyweight exercises. I did this every day as part of my daily routine that was slowly being rebuilt around my workouts. Not only did my body begin to feel better but I now had a simple daily purpose, workout harder than last time. This kept my mind fresh and positive during a time where I couldn’t go outside and enjoy the world.
I soon moved back to weight training when my brother built a home gym in his house. This gym wasn’t the most luxurious one I’ve ever seen, but it had everything you needed. The gym gave me an outlet to work my frustration out and provided me with a safe haven where I could get away from any stress in my life. Something that I found to be really stressful before working out, like college applications, became much less intimidating after. I found that I was able to make better decisions, be more creative, and work more efficiently after I got a good workout in. Another big aspect of weight lifting that goes unnoticed is the mental fortitude and focus it takes. When you’re on your last set of squats it takes a different type of focus and perseverance to push through the fatigue and get good reps in. It’s hard mentally to push yourself when your body is telling you “you’re not strong enough”. This ability to persevere was able to permeate throughout different aspects of my life; for example, I’ve been able to become more optimistic through this mindset which has allowed me to continue to push through these hard times and look for brighter days ahead.
Now, when I first started lifting again I looked myself in the mirror and began to notice that I looked, shall we say, frail. You might be wondering what this has to do with mental health at all, well after working out consistently with my brother I began to see results. By no means am I saying that I’m the strongest or the most shredded person around now but I’ve seen genuine results in how my body looks and feels which has made me proud of the work I’ve put in. This pride in my progress is something that I leaned on when I felt down on myself or felt like I was missing out. Seeing that my hard work was amounting to something allowed me to believe I was using my time to the best of my ability. It also didn’t hurt seeing my body slowly become the body I always wish I had. All of this boosted my confidence and allowed me to have a purpose in a time where everything was up in the air. It served as an anchor in my life that created stability, something my mind and body sorely missed from the pre-corona days.
As I began to watch my work in the weight room pay off I began to become interested in the dieting aspect of fitness. My brother began to teach me about the ways you can structure your diet to yield different results. This coupled with the fact that I was active every day really changed my mental health for the better. I began to feel more energized, a complete contrast from my sluggish lifestyle before I started to work out again, I also felt like my mind was sharper and less clouded. I don’t know how to explain it exactly but it felt like my mind had so many thoughts that created stress in my life but I couldn’t think them all the way through which created more anxiety. However, after I changed my diet I began to feel like my thoughts were more manageable and I could tackle those problems head-on (no pun intended).
So, to anybody reading this I urge you to make time to be active, especially as the school year ramps up and your to-do lists start to fill up. You will not regret it, allowing yourself time to blow off steam and focus on yourself will allow you to work on academics and extracurriculars with newfound motivation.