“Stir Crazy:” Exercise and Mental Health

walkingSomething I remember distinctly from being in a psychiatric unit of a hospital was a strong desire to go outside. I was stuck inside for about a week, and before going in I had taken the opportunity to go outside for granted. When I finally got to go outside on a staff-monitored walk, the air had never felt so fresh as it did then.

Similarly, I’ve been stuck inside a lot these past few months while dealing with a back injury. I spent most of my time lying on the couch because that was about the only way to make the pain stop or at least decrease. 

I’ve been a dancer my entire life, so I like to consider myself an active person. As you can imagine, this immobility again was incredibly frustrating. I’m someone for whom physical activity is incredibly important to their mental health. When I was deep in depression these past few years, dance class was always the best part of the week. No matter how bad I felt, I always tried to force myself to get up and go to dance. That’s because once there I got to move around, get my mind of things, and socialize for an hour. It was like mindfulness practice but with the added benefit of adrenaline and endorphins. All of these things are wonderful for your mental health.

Yet, here I was stuck for months not being able to move much again this time because of a physical injury. Dance was off the table and eventually walking more than a short distance was even off the table. It made me want to scream. I was going what they call “stir crazy.” There’s a reason this term exists. When we’re stuck inside, it has an affect on both our mental and physical health.

Finally though, I’ve had surgery on my back and am on the path to recovery. I still have some intense physical limitations: no bending, lifting, twisting, or especially dancing. But I can walk as much as my heart desires. So, I’ve been walking. A lot. I go on about a forty-five minute walk every day while listening to music. Again, it’s like mindfulness with the added bonus of exercise endorphins.

What I’ve learned from this experience is two fold: One, have more respect for my body, and pay attention when it is in pain. And two, never again take the ability to dance for granted.

Morgan

“If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl. But by all means, keep moving.”

-Martin Luther King Jr.

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