Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Exercise and Emotions
Some days are just hard, things might not go our way or we feel overwhelmed. When we bring those feelings to our workouts, occasionally we are surprised by a sudden downward spiral of emotion from the very activity we had hoped would alleviate our stress. This type of emotional curve ball can catch us off guard, but it doesn't have to.
Physical-emotional connectivity is primal and yet we often experience an exercise culture that deals primarily with the body, and therapeutic and spiritual cultures that more readily addresses the mind and emotions. There are some areas of overlap, for example, somatic therapy is a branch of psychotherapy that addresses mental and emotional issues in close relation to the client's physicality. In an athletic context, issues of mental and emotional fortitude are often addressed under the umbrella of mental toughness or strategy.
So what do we do when mid-workout our training partner suddenly warps into a tyrannical figure intent on our destruction, or the barbell starts to represent all that has ever made us fail in life? If catching ourselves mid-thought is possible, there is a chance that laughter might resolve the issue. More realistically, we need a plan of action for recognizing what's going on and moving through our emotions.
The following suggestions come from several overlapping sources, including my coaches and teachers, various meditation techniques and my own life experience.
Option One: Return to the present moment. Notice the physical sensations that are occurring. Notice where your feet are. Notice the pace of your breath. Notice the movement of the activity you are doing. Presence takes us out of story and gives us an opportunity to reset our focus.
Option Two: Create more room for your emotions, give them more space in which to exist. Expand your perspective so that there is also a place for calmer emotions, thereby making the difficult emotions less intense.
Option Three: Purposefully compartmentalize at the start of the workout (or at the moment of duress) by making an agreement with yourself to stay on task throughout the workout, and as much as possible to think only about the workout. Feel free to attach an heroic theme to the workout or listen to specific music. Promise yourself that you will return to your day and the emotions of the day at a designated time (it is important to keep this promise).
Option Four: Channel the challenging emotions into a winning scenario by triumphing physically over the workout. Sometimes diving into physical exertion takes us through our feelings in a productive way, leaving us more relaxed and better able to handle life stresses.
Option Five: Stop working out and do something calming and restorative. This can include taking the time to let your emotions out, calling a friend, resting. The right choice might be to ease up entirely.
Whatever you choose to do under pressure, put your safety first and remember that there will be easier days ahead!