One week ago, I came across a very inspiring video on social media from one of the people that I currently follow. In this video, Rafael Méndez (who is visibly drenched in sweat and fatigued) opened up by simply saying, “I’m angry”. Rafael, a US Army combat veteran, had witnessed the very worst part war. He had to watch his friends die and subsequently has seen how it affects the lives of many others around him. To avoid “putting that anger into a wrong way”, he runs and also incorporates sparring sessions in hopes of releasing it, not only for him, but for his family as well.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can affect a person in a variety of ways. Among its most common symptoms is a lack of concentration, depression, anxiety and sleep deprivation. Because it is such a multifaceted disease, it requires a multifaceted treatment plan in order to have a chance to fight against it. Like so many other combat veterans, Rafael understands that physical exercise is one of the biggest keys to help him reduce some of the symptoms associated with PTSD.
Many studies have already proven that exercise is an excellent way to reduce stress, boost self-esteem and improve sleep. This occurs because when we are engaging in a physical activity our body releases endorphins that interact with the receptors in our brains to reduce our perception of pain (sort of like an analgesic). It is the exact same reason that runners experience what is commonly known as a “runner’s high”. That is why in recent years more and more Behavioral Health providers have suggested exercising as an integral part of their patients’ treatment plan.
The key to making progress is to find a physical activity that is best suited for you. As much as it would please me to know, not everyone that reads this post is going to be able to start doing cardio immediately. Here are several things that need to be taken into consideration before you can begin to exercise.
Medication: There are certain medications such as anti-depressants that can make a person feel more fatigued than they normally would. This quickly eliminates running and any other high intensity activity as a viable option to stay active. For those taking these types of meds I would highly recommend beginning to walk at a moderate pace to slowly increase your stamina. Not only does walking help you build up resistance, it helps by releasing those natural painkilling endorphins I mentioned before.
Depression: Another issue that has to be taken into consideration is that someone with depression may not have the motivation to start doing any form of exercise. Maybe you are not in the mood to do anything that requires exertion, but think about that energy boost you feel once when you finish working out. Remember, this is something that is going to be beneficial for you in the long run.
Confidence: Familiarity is a great way to help build confidence when you’re trying to get back on track to working out. For those who have military experience, try to start with those regular basic training exercises that you had to do over and over for so many days. I’m sure it will bring back great (and not so great) memories. For everyone else you can try simple exercises such as push-ups, sit-ups, and light jogging and continue to add others once your confidence is at a higher level.
Reflect on Your Inner Self: I’m sure you’ve already noticed how many times I have mentioned the many benefits of yoga and meditation; well here is another time that I’m going to mention it (and it likely won’t be the last). Yoga and meditation are crucial to bringing a sense of awareness over our minds and bodies. It incorporates breathing techniques that reduce stress and anxiety while the mindfulness aspect helps to remain grounded and concentrated on our every day tasks. Start with several breathing exercises and some of the basic poses to reduce stress such as child pose and both upward and downward dog.
Stay Within Your Limits: Not all of these exercises are for everyone. Some people have injuries and conditions that may prevent them from performing them effectively. There are many other activities that can be done such as swimming, cycling or even Pokémon GO! (I’m not kidding. You would be surprised to know how many people are using this as motivation to lose weight).
All of these can be valid enough reasons enough for someone to skip a workout. The first step is always the hardest. Just find the right exercise to get you going and soon enough you will start to feel better about yourself. It is important to consult a professional health provider before you start any training regimen. Now go out there and “let’s start putting in some work!”
David J. Ortiz (MSW) is an Iraq war veteran educated in Military Behavioral Health. He is currently focusing his energy towards assisting service members in living well-rounded, productive lives. You can find him occasionally on Twitter as @balancedsoldier and if you want to read some of his past posts you can find them @ facebook.com/balancedsoldierlife/ Also, checkout his Instagram page instagram.com/balancedsoldier if you’re looking for motivational and uplifting content. Namasté