The Mind Muscle Connection

      As a high schooler, especially as one who is taking classes online, it almost seems necessary to spend a majority of my waking hours in front of a screen. I, among many, have spent dozens of nights working until the 11:59 deadline set by my teachers. Every day, I either overeat or didn’t eat enough, and what I was eating was complete junk. After months of living the same day over and over again, I finally hit my breaking point. I had no energy to do the things I once enjoyed, no motivation to complete assignments or start college applications, and I was completely miserable in every aspect of my own existence. I needed something to change.

      I have been dealing with depression and ADHD for most of my life now, however, I was too stubborn to seek out help for either of these issues until this past summer, when the drastic change that came with the pandemic made me realize I couldn’t just drown my issues by keeping a busy schedule. I began seeing a therapist and was prescribed medication to treat these issues, but I felt nothing change, in fact, everything got a whole lot worse. Moments that should have excited me, I was indifferent towards, I began exercising less, and I began to isolate myself from friends and family. I felt broken, I felt like there was nothing that could be done to help me.

      At this point, I felt as if I’d tried everything, but I was very wrong. While doing some research, I came across an article documenting how those who exercise first thing in the morning get a boost of endorphins (the chemical that makes the brain “happy”) which can last them the whole day. In the same article, it explained how lack of sleep can increase the levels of stress hormones in the body, and the importance of a proper diet.

      The same night, I set my alarm for 4:50 A.M. and went to bed at 9:30, the earliest I had done so in months. I got seven hours of solid sleep, ate a healthy and full breakfast, and drove to the gym to work out. Upon arriving home, I could already notice a shift in my mood, I was more upbeat than usual, and had the motivation to complete my classwork and participate in class discussions. After class, during the time I would usually take a nap to make up for my lack of sleep, I completed the homework which had been assigned that day. I continued this routine for the rest of the week, and by the weekend, I felt the best I had in months. No longer did I feel as irritable and depressed as I was used to, I was spending more time with my friends and my family and began to take initiative on assignments in a way I had yet to do all year. 

      I felt energized, I wanted to tackle the challenges of life in a pandemic according to my rules, not the unhealthy way I had been coping with them in the past. I built upon this momentum and began to read every night for an hour, learned to play chess, and decided to take up more challenging workouts in the gym each morning. After about two months of this new routine, I finally felt content with my life in a way I had not felt during all of high school. I felt like I was in control of my time, and not the other way around. This momentum continued after I got into my number one school, thanks to the work I had been able to put in during the application process, and also when I realized that I was only a few pounds off of holding a state record for powerlifting in the bench press and squat. These two events further motivated me, to maintain my grades and continue to work in academics, as well as to double down on my routine in the gym. 

      The reason I chose to share this with everyone is that I know that many of those who are reading this are in the same circumstance I was just a few months ago. Feeling aimless, angry, and sad at all times will add additional stress to the hardships we are all going through as young adults. Depression is an illness that takes thousands of lives every year, and I feel that it is important to share my experience, and how I have learned to live with it. You never know what small changes in your daily routine may make all the difference. I encourage everyone reading this to take control of their schedule and to treat their body right. The value of good sleep, a balanced diet, and exercise is often overlooked by those wondering how to deal with issues in the brain, but the truth is, depression and many other mental illnesses are a result of chemical imbalances, and there are ways to even out those balances. I can promise you, if you put the work in, and keep consistent with a sleep and exercise cycle that works for you, that it will provide you benefits that you may not even realize.