Has the word and meaning of exercise turned into a complicated set of emotions for you? To some, exercise may be a “chore” or a tireless fight. To others it is a great feeling of joy and reward. There is no question moving your body is important – but when can exercise become harmful and reverse your efforts towards healthy living?
Understanding Society Pressure
The first element to recognize when discussing health and wellness is that we are all a part of “diet culture,” where people are made to feel not good enough. Everywhere you go in-person and online you are sold images of a body that can only be achieved by purchasing harmful medication or programs that encourage “not enough” mentality to produce economic gain. These companies use social media, models, photoshop or other means to market their brand. It reinforces a message that can create body dissatisfaction.
Identifying Concerning Behavior
As a psychotherapist and fitness professional who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of Eating Disorders, I don’t discuss one way around movement, mood or food. Each of us is truly complex and different. Unlike common misconceptions, a behavior warranting concern is not just about undereating or over exercising. When movement or exercise is discussed it is common to hear something like,
“I don’t think I worked out hard enough to eat that cake tonight.”
“I need those abs for vacation coming up.”
“I don’t want to get off the couch after work, all I can manage is dinner.”
“I don’t like working out, it makes me feel self-conscious.”
Underneath each statement you can find a certain level of stress tied to movement. The American Psychological Association shares that: “Chronic stress, experiencing stressors over a prolonged period of time, can result in a long-term drain on the body. As the autonomic nervous system continues to trigger physical reactions, it causes wear and tear on the body.”
Today, I will be focusing on this stress and its connection to movement. The reality is, constantly pushing yourself when you are not in a good place to move and ignoring your body is creating psychological discomfort in the form “not enough” thinking. By introducing this thinking in your mind while you are moving, you are producing a stress response that develops in the body, called Cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that focuses on the management of metabolism and immune responses and affects many parts of the body. Over time, over-exercise could lead to other complications such as blood pressure issues, amenorrhea (loss of period in women), mood swings or other evidence of some psychiatric disorders such as eating disorders.
Start by asking yourself these questions:
- What makes me feel good about myself when I am moving, what activity am I participating in?
- What brings me joy – what do I really love to do?
- Am I stressed and attached to the outcome psychically of this activity instead of how it FEELS now doing it?
- When do I feel my best to want to go to this activity? Is it also the people, the environment, the energy?
- How hungry or full am I for movement right now in this moment?
Health is vital to our wellbeing and movement. However, adopting an “all or nothing” mentality is. Instead we must focus on balance and finding ways to make time for JOYFUL movement in life.
Focusing on Movement and Joy
Now that we have addressed societal pressures, how stress can counteract the benefits of movement and how to identify concerning behaviors – lets discuss how to shift our thinking to ensure we are getting the most out of our health goals.
What is most important is that you are listening to your body. Intuitive movement is a task but one that is entirely gratifying and based on listening to your body’s cues. This includes making time for mindful times when you are ENJOYING your movement. I continue to say movement here, because well, it is just that. Why not give your body permission to feel good and move at the same time? This could be in a gym setting but it can also be in a completely difference place that bring you enjoyment. Mindful and joyful movement can be dancing in your living room, rock climbing, gardening, or cleaning your home. It can be as simple as taking a walk with your family dog.
Finding joy in movement can create positive memories, is self-esteem building, helps create social connections and self-awareness, provides greater focus, and a deeper mind/body connection for life. Take time to find out what really makes you feel happy or even excited to go to things to move your body. Offering space to create a deeper connection with yourself and your body will only give you greater joy. What society fails to tell us is that we already have the answers inside ourselves that help us feel well.
Cheers to you and your moves! Share how you find joyful movement in your life and fill the web with positive imagery and thinking.
About Jennifer Rego, MSW, LICSW
Jennifer is a psychotherapist with over sixteen years of experience in the mental health field based in Massachusetts. She provides individual and family counseling, movement-based healing, clinical supervision and facilitates various workshops in the community with other multi-disciplinary professional providers.