The celebrity football player spoke openly and bravely about his mental health struggles. I was at a gala event aimed at raising mental health and suicide rate awareness. The conversation is important. Very important. But we need to get beyond the conversation and actually open ourselves to the possibility of resolution of our pain. The footballer finished his presentation by saying that he has his depression under control now. He goes to the gym for several hours every day and that keeps him in a basically ok place, mentally. He’s good at managing it.
Most of the room was celebrating the fact that he’s able to manage by spending hours and hours exercising. My thought, on the other hand, was that it’s a tragedy that he’s not been told that he can resolve it.
Sometimes clients come to me who can only sit exams if they’ve been for a 10km run beforehand.
Sometimes clients come to me who can only public speak after they’ve done their meditation and yoga practice.
Others only feel calm enough to perform if they’ve completed a murderous spin class that morning, or had a glass of wine, or taken some other drug...
These are ways of managing. Exercising is not going to resolve the underlying issues. Can they be resolved? Yes. Does it need to take months if not years of therapy? Hell no!
Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for exercise! It’s something that brings me, personally, great joy. Of course it has a positive impact on our outlook and attitude. But the words I read in a friend’s social media post yesterday, “strong body, strong mind” are, in my opinion and experience, often inaccurate.
Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, which describes his personal experience and observations from his time as a prisoner in a concentration camp, notes that it wasn’t the physically robust who survived, but those who were mentally and spiritually robust. A strong body does not necessarily equate with a strong mind.
If you have to exhaust yourself before a challenging event, like an exam or public speaking, you’re effectively exhausting your supply of adrenaline before the event so that you’re not overcome by stress chemicals during the event. Wouldn’t it be better to just resolve the underlying issues and be calm? Wouldn’t it be better to neutralize those triggers?
From personal experience I can tell you that ‘performing’, whether it’s an exam, on stage or speaking in a meeting, is a whole lot more pleasurable when you’re simply, naturally, calm!
Exercise itself? Fantastic!
Physically exhausting yourself as a coping mechanism? It shouldn’t be necessary.