By Chay Tanchanco, LMFT
It's January, so I suppose working out is a common topic many of us are discussing, trying to 'get back' into the swing of physical exertion in order to improve our lives.
What I love most about the metaphor of exercise when related to mental health?
The necessity of challenge AND rest.
When we work out, we literally create little tears in our muscles. Little rips and injuries, so small that we experience them as soreness and pain, but something necessary to create new bonds, new muscle tissue, space to grow.
In order for us to grow new muscle tissue, we must rest. We take time off of exercising.
No one says, "In order to lose weight, you must run for 3 days without stopping. No water, no food, no rest. Just run, and you'll lose weight." Without being a physical therapist or a doctor, we all know the intense risk that comes with method of madness. Our bodies need sustenance; we need to rest, we need to eat and drink. Without this, we simply cannot survive.
Often we don't realize that we tend to have the opposite view of mental health.
We think to ourselves, we have to "work" on this all the time, continuously staying vigilant, stay on the lookout, always keep your eye out for anxiety, or depression, or negative thoughts, lest it sneak up on us during the night.
This can often leave us feeling like failures, inadequate and guilty, unwilling to tackle the work that our therapists so earnestly asked us to do. We recognize one thing that we've done "wrong" or see continuous behavior that we are trying to change and we think to ourselves, "I'm not really trying" or "this is getting worse" or at the very least, "this isn't getting better."
Therapy can feel like a relief.
Therapy can also feel like little, tiny tears in our muscles.
We might feel sore the next day, moody and sad, or listless, especially after talking through a difficult topic or traumatic event.
Sometimes it's a little of both.
When we recognize this as "part of the process", as we therapists like to say, we can practice releasing our shame and understanding ourselves more.
How great does it feel to finish a workout, take a shower, plop down on the couch and eat a meal... and rest?
If we had the same attitude and acceptance for the aftershocks of therapy, we may all feel more motivated to get up the next day and try again.