September 6, 2018

Physical Health & the Mind

Mental Health & Wellbeing

I’m often asked by my friends and family about what I do as a therapist. What is therapy? Do you play mind games? What are the signs that tell you all about someone? While I sometimes do indulge in jokingly answering these questions, one response about what I do always surprises people is that I always ask my clients, “How are you doing physically?” With curious looks my friends ask me why I talk about physical health. I am a mental health therapist and not a physical therapist, but physical health is so intertwined with mental health. Many studies have been published showing a person’s physical well-being affecting their mental well-being and vice-versa, so naturally it’s an important portion of the whole to take into account in helping to promote emotional well-being for my clients.

What’s Going on Inside: Emotionally & Physically

It is not only when we are sick or ill, but how well we daily take care of our bodies that can have indirect and direct effects on our overall mental health. I like to ask clients when was the last time they had a physical examination. Things may be going on in their body that is unknowingly influencing them mentally. Now I do not give exercise worksheets or diagrams to my clients, but I do look for ways they can strengthen their physical body through exercise or diet. Again, I am not a physical trainer or checking if my client has done their exercises or are making any significant ‘gains’. I am simply looking if they are making concerted efforts to take care of themselves both mentally and physically.  

Here are some practical suggestions I give to clients who want to get started addressing their physical health:

What are you eating?

Our body is like a machine that needs the right kind of fuel.  What we eat is important and I do not think a certain diet (keto, vegetarian, vegan, etc) is necessary for good health. We just need to make sure we are getting the energy and nutrients our body needs. I do not believe this means we need to eat only healthy food every single day. There are moments we can indulge in our different cravings, but it helps if those are the exceptions rather than the norm.  

How often are you exercising?

The gears in a machine will get rusty after long periods of being unused. There are many articles online and studies about what is a healthy amount of exercise or how to exercise, and I believe the focus should be on pushing our bodies in some way for growth. Figure out what works for you. Once a week, three days a week, six days a week, discover what works for your schedule and your body. There is definitely a researched recommended amount, but when you are starting out, just get out there and do what you can! Your only competition is yourself, so try every day to do a little bit more or slightly better than you did yesterday.

How are you resting your body? Your brain?

After working for long periods of time, the machine needs to cool down before it overheats. Our bodies need to recuperate after strenuous moments. Therefore, good sleep is vitally important and sometimes we need more than sleep to refresh. Unfortunately, depending on our circumstances, rest is luxury that some can little afford. If you cannot find an extended period to rest, discover little ways you can let your body relax. Maybe it is in between shifts, or simply taking minutes to reflect and meditate. Rest looks different for everyone, so take time to identify what makes you feel refreshed.

Getting Inspired? Consider taking a step further to regularly check in with yourself:

Starting to exercise or eating well is not the magic answer to solve all our problems, rather it is a positive step toward change. Getting back on our feet mentally and emotionally takes a lot of effort, and it helps when our body has the energy it needs to fight with us.  So take a moment to reflect on how are you taking care of your body, and see if there can changes that will boost not only your physical health but your mental health too! If you feel you are struggling to find a holistic health balance, please do not hesitate to reach out to me for help. Sometimes we need a little help in figuring out what we need to change in our lives.


Written by therapist Daniel Pak

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