Get Moving: The links between physical exercise and psychological states
This week, in the last of the series on self regulation, we are going to talk about exercise and movement. For many exercise is something extra they must do every day, but in reality movement is part of what regulates your body throughout the day.
It starts with breathing. As you breathe you regulate your sympathetic and para sympathetic parts of your nervous system. You do this through what is known as heart rate variability. Many of us who work in the exercise and health care fields use this number to understand how healthy your cardiovascular system is, however in my world of somatic psychology I can also use it to program movement to help you change your psychological states. This manipulation of your physical system allows for another option to change how you feel without the same level of concentration changing your thoughts may take.
Mind & Body as One
Lots of people talk about the mind – body connection and how important is is to your health. To me there is no separation. If we want to know if you are stressed we would look at your cortisol levels in your saliva, depressed check out your blood serotonin levels, how well you are absorbing the nutrients you need to make the neurotransmitters to feel content, pleasure, calm, and control your impulses (physical and thought based) we could examine your feces.
The body and mind do not have a connection point. They are one thing. The mind just has the ability to abstractly consider your experiences and decide what you would like them to mean. This ability gives the impression that the body is separate from the mind, but the mind has nothing to make meaning of if it does not have the body experiences to decipher. Understanding this oneness helps make more sense of our need for movement to regulate our emotions.
My Research Findings
When I was doing my doctoral research, it was hard to find the bridges to understanding how our physical health intersects our mental health. There were studies with some longevity looking at how aerobic exercise helped depression, anxiety, bi-polar, and even schizophrenia. We could see how exercise impacted stress levels and anecdotally I heard many stories of people who were helped by regular exercise. However, so many people struggle to work out it was hard to understand how psychological struggle was associated with lack of exercise when we know how helpful it is. Turns out there is correlation between how physically stressed your system is and how hard it is for you to exercise. In my research I found that those who struggled with panic disorder (that feeling like you are having a heart attack, going to die, cannot breathe, and are so scared that you cannot think. Sometimes even feel as though you are losing your mind) is the hardest disorder to get enough physical exercise to meet your needs. Problem is, physical exercise is what helps metabolize the chemicals out of your system and decrease your feelings of panic and stress. As the cortisol, adrenaline, and other stress hormones rise in the system, they feed the symptoms creating a self fulfilling cycle of increasing stress levels. Thus making it harder and harder for the person to physically exercise.
Anxiety and Stress
For the person without panic, but with anxiety and stress overload, struggling to exercise is often linked in a similar fashion just not at the same level. It is hard to motivate and get out the door when your physical system is already so tired and feeling overwhelmed. People will describe feeling heavy, lethargic, slow thinking, or in contrast “tired but wired”. As a result exercise seems too hard and it is much easier to grab a substance to unwind or sit and watch TV. …