Happy 2021 everyone! Throughout my training as a psychologist, one of the most important things we learned to teach our patients was the importance of exercise. We were taught not only how exercise makes us physically healthy, but mentally healthy as well. It was through countless graduate discussions on exercise that I was able to recognize further what the mind/body connection really was.
The mind/body connection serves as one of the major foundations to the work that I do with my patients. I come from the school of thought that if our bodies are unwell, so are our minds, and vice versa. Working with many patients who suffer from a variety of physical diseases, I see firsthand each day how our physical health impacts our mental health.
The idea is this. Let’s say one is given a diagnosis such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS). This comes with a variety of physical issues that can include trouble walking, holding objects, and other disabilities. This also comes with depression, anxiety, and other mood issues. We often see these mood issues in MS patients due to the fact that they have to cope with the loss of ability in their bodies. On the contrary, let’s say you have a person who exercises five times per week. This often comes with better physical health overall, which is certainly more relative to happiness, an increase in positive relationships, and overall achievement in mental health. These two examples demonstrate the mind/body connection.
For years, I would preach to my patients and encourage them to exercise. “Go to the gym.” “Run.” “Join a Pilates class for exercise and the social aspect.” These are all examples of what I would say to patients in an effort to help them achieve mental health as their psychologist.
This year, I finally realized that I was not practicing what I preach. I realized that I was encouraging patients to do things that I was not willing to do myself.
It was during the ever-so-famous COVID quarantine where I did some self-reflection. Some self-reflection got me to a place where I asked myself what changes I could make during quarantine, and the first thing that came to mind was exercise.
Not only was this decision going to help me lose that COVID 20, but also help me feel better emotionally at a time where it was so much needed. This began with me doing simple things for myself like getting a mat for my hardwood floors to do at-home exercises. It turned into me going to the gym once it reopened again, socially distanced and masked of course, and working with a personal trainer who provides me with exercise and nutrition knowledge that are essential to meeting my fitness goals.
Engaging in an active fitness lifestyle (mind you this has been a less than 6-month thing) has already taught me so much about myself personally and professionally. Not only does it allow me to move away from depression, anxiety, and all of the other emotions that come along with a COVID world, but it also makes me physically feel better, allowing myself to prevent a variety of physical health issues as I age. Making this part of my daily lifestyle has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my life thus far, not to mention all of the amazing, healthy foods I am learning how to prepare for myself.
How do you find this type of motivation you ask? Here are some helpful tips to follow:
Assess your COVID anxiety. Obviously, if you’re a person who fears infection within a gym or training setting, the right place for you to be exercising is home. Personal trainers will often say the best way to lift weights is to use your body (i.e. push-ups). This means you might actually spend $0 on a new fitness lifestyle and YouTube videos instead of purchasing overpriced equipment.
Notice yourself on the couch. The first step to finding the motivation to make a change is to notice a time when it's needed. It's easy to get on the couch and turn on Netflix and have the day pass by. It's more difficult to find awareness of those moments when you need to get up and move!
Set realistic expectations. The number one reason why my patients often fail at meeting their goals is that they set them unreasonably. It might not be a good idea to expect to start exercising six days a week, especially with a family, work, and other stressors. Starting small (one or two days per week) will give you that intrinsic motivation you need to increase frequency as you move forward!
Make it enjoyable. “Exercise is boring.” “Healthy foods taste like cardboard.” These are a number of statements (and myths) that I hear patients make. Find exercises that are fun. For example, Zumba class (in person or on YouTube) is great for people who like to shake it up a bit! Prepare healthy foods that actually taste good. A little thyme and rosemary go a long way. Spice up your baked chicken for some amazing flavor!
What better time than the New Year to make such a change?! Regardless of whether or not you choose exercise and fitness as part of your 2021, I hope each of you takes a moment to determine what you might want your life to look like when we head into 2022, especially at a time where change is so necessary!
To help support our community, Lukin Center is offering a 15% discount for new patients that are interested in getting started with tele-health to help manage feelings of anxiety and isolation during this time.
Dr. Brian Amorello, Ph.D, is a Licensed Psychologist in NY and NJ. Dr. Amorello is a graduate of Seton Hall University where he obtained a Master's Degree in Professional Counseling and a doctorate in Counseling Psychology. He completed an APA accredited internship at the University at Buffalo's Counseling Services and a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of the Sciences Student Health and Counseling in Philadelphia working with college-aged clients. During his graduate training, he has had the opportunity to work with individuals across the lifespan, including children, adolescents, couples, and adults presenting with various concerns. Dr. Amorello's primary specialty is working with individuals who suffer from depression and anxiety, however he also has extensive experience with individuals struggling with substance abuse and LGBTQ people.
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Konstantin Lukin, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in Ridgewood, Hoboken, Clifton, Jersey City and Englewood. He has extensive clinical and research experience spanning individuals of all ages, in both inpatient and outpatient settings. He specializes in men’s issues, couple’s counseling, and relationship problems. His therapeutic approach focuses on providing support and practical feedback to help patients effectively address personal challenges. He integrates complementary modalities and techniques to offer a personalized approach tailored to each patient. He has been trained in cognitive-behavioral, dialectical behavior, schema-focused, and emotionally focused therapy, and has also been involved with research projects throughout his career, including two National Institute of Mental Health-funded studies. He is a member of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, New Jersey Psychological Association, Northeast Counties Association of Psychologists, New York State Psychological Association, The International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy, The New York Center for Emotionally Focused Therapy, the International OCD Foundation, the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACSB) and a regular contributor to Psychology Today.