Movement & Mental Health

It's something we all pretty much know by now. You should eat your veggies and exercise regularly. Although it's not groundbreaking that healthy choices like exercising consistently improve the health of our bodies, it's important for us to remember that exercising is so important for the health of your brain and general emotional health too!

Photo by  "Fit Approach"  used with CC License 2.0

Photo by "Fit Approach" used with CC License 2.0

Stress Relief & Self-Care

Exercise is one of the top recommendations I make for my clients to include in their self-care routine. Yes, bubble baths are nice and relaxing, but ramping up your heart rate in a sweaty workout actually has more benefits for dealing with stress. 

When you exercise, the concentrations of norepinephrine in your brain increase. Norepinephrine is a hormone and neurotransmitter secreted during times of stress. According to this article by the American Psychological Association, it is posited that increasing the norepinephrine in your brain through regular exercise allows your body to practice handling stress and therefore improves its ability to do so. When we become less active, our body becomes less efficient at responding to stress.

Anxiety & Depression

When we exercise, our bodies release endorphins, which are responsible for what is referred to as exercise-induced euphoria. Having this kind of experience daily as a result of exercise can enhance our general sense of well-being. That paired with the enhanced ability to cope with stress can help provide relief from symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Exercising also puts you in a state where you are more focused on what you need to make your body do rather than the million thoughts that run through your mind all the time. In short, exercising forces you into a state where you are more mindful of the present moment (check out my other articles to learn more about the benefits of mindfulness).

Brain Performance & Health

Many studies support that cardiovascular exercise can help generate new brain cells, a process called neurogenesis, which improves the brain's functions of learning and memory. Exercise-inducted neurogenesis has also been supported as helpful in preventing or reducing the impacts of neurological disorders related to cognitive decline, such as Alzheimer's disease.

On top of this, physical exercise has long been linked with improvement in your brain's ability to focus, as well as learn and remember. As such, physical exercise is often encouraged as a part of treatment for individuals diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). It's also just helpful in performing better in school, work, and everyday interactions!

Socializing & Confidence

Socializing with others is an important aspect of living an emotionally healthy life and exercising is a great way to meet new people. Whether you're a regular in fitness classes (CrossFit, Barre, spin class, Zumba, yoga, etc.), using equipment at your local gym, or going for walk around your neighborhood, engaging in exercise increases your chance of seeing other people and maybe even exchanging a smile, boosting your mood. Working out with others quickly builds a sense of camaraderie and community, decreasing inhibitions we may experience in other kinds of social interactions.

Improved senses of self-confidence and self-esteem are well-supported benefits of exercise. When you exercise, regardless of the activity, your age, or your weight, you start setting goals for yourself. If you stick with it, you'll undoubtedly start to watch yourself achieve them, set bigger ones, and feel more accomplished and capable in general.



Exercise isn't just helpful at making your clothes fit better and the number on the scale go down. It's a vital part of maintaining your mental health, too. So if you're starting to feel yourself slide on any fitness or health-related goals set at the beginning of the year, try not to worry or give up. Just get back in those stretchy pants and move your body! 


The Problem with Mindfulness

In recent years, Mindfulness Practice has gotten a lot of attention. It is part of recommended treatments for everything: from anxiety and depression (see archived articles on this blog) to cancer and pain management. There are numerous physical and mental health benefits from mindfulness meditation, and it is practically risk-free, so what could be the problem?


Despite my obvious affection for it, I do take issue with how mindfulness meditation is sometimes approached, particularly considering its growing popularity. People hear how effectively it helps high stress--and other conditions--so they download apps or stream videos on YouTube and give it a whirl! Though these resources house fantastic guided mindfulness practices, this is often where the problem begins.

Mindfulness is defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn as, “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally”. When mindfulness meditation is practiced with the focus on relieving stress, it can frequently have the opposite effect. We start setting expectations for ourselves and for mindfulness, like:

  • “I should be able to do this, it’s so simple”
  • “This is supposed to be relaxing. Why don’t I feel relaxed?”
  • “This isn’t working. There must be something wrong with me”
  • “I’ve done this a few times now and I’m still depressed/anxious/stressed. I knew this wouldn’t work.”

When this happens, we lose sight of the fact that mindfulness is meant to be practiced with the sole expectation of being present in that moment, nonjudgmentally. That’s the goal. All the other things are wonderful, helpful, fantastic side effects.

So if you’ve given up on the idea that mindfulness could be for you, or if you’ve tried practicing mindfulness and thought it was ineffective, I urge you to reconsider.

Try starting with the sole aim of paying attention to the present moment, without judgment. It sounds simple but this goal is plenty lofty.

Supporting Grieving Loved Ones


Grief is one of those ubiquitous human experiences. We all feel it, no matter who we are or where we come from. Though it’s universal, it is also deeply personal, and every loss is uniquely mourned. This can make it extremely challenging to be the supportive friend or family member you want to be when someone else is grieving. How, then, do we support those we love when they experience a loss, be it a person, pet, job, health, relationship, or opportunity?


Ease the Challenge of Daily Functions

We often feel at a loss as to how to support others. We ask them how we can help but they’re not sure either and may not want to burden you. This is a time to take action and, within reasonable boundaries, roll up your sleeves and help out.

Here are some ideas of what to do:

Drop off meals that are:

  • Freezable
  • Healthy
  • Individually portioned
  • Within their dietary restrictions and preferences

Do simple, unintrusive chores, such as:

  • Laundry (stick to things like towels & bedding, avoid delicates/undergarments)
  • Sweeping and mopping
  • Washing dishes
  • Dusting
  • Taking out trash
  • Mowing, raking, weeding, shoveling
  • Grocery shopping for simple items (bananas, granola bars, toilet paper, etc.)
  • Helping care for pets.

Make or bring coffee/tea in the mornings (but not too early)


**Always let the person know what you’re doing and confirm they feel comfortable with that. When you’re there, offer a supportive ear without creating a feeling of obligation for the other person to talk.

Hold Off Judgment

The reality is, we make judgments about our friends and family members--as much as we try not to. We too often let these judgmental thoughts about how intensely and how long people “should” mourn certain losses that we forget our loved one is suffering and in need of support.

So here’s what you do:

  • Accept that your brain comes up with judgmental thoughts, even when it seems terribly inappropriate to do so.
  • It’s what you do with these thoughts that matter!
  • Remember, even if a loss seems less significant to you, it could be a major upheaval for others (the opposite can also be true!)
  • There is not a prescribed period of time for grieving
  • Just because it’s been a year, two, or ten since the loss, does not mean a person is “over it”.

If you truly are concerned about your loved one’s behaviors as they grieve, encourage them to seek professional help and support them as they do.

Acknowledge the Difference

Grief is, in part, a reflection of the lost relationship. This loss will be different from any other before and most definitely different from other people’s losses--even if situational similarities exist. It’s essential you acknowledge this for yourself (you may even need to verbalize this to your loved one).

It’s helpful to refrain from:

  • Bringing your past experiences of grieving up unless prompted or asked
  • Saying, “I know exactly what you’re going through”

Instead try saying something like

  • “There’s no way I can know exactly what you’re going through but I’m here to support you any way I can.”
  • “I know this hurts and I’m here with you.”

Don’t Forget

Remember birthdays, wedding anniversaries, anniversary of the deceased’s parting, or any other significant dates. These will likely be challenging times for your loved one. Verbalize that you remember and offer support.

Use the deceased’s name specifically

  • It can be difficult for a person to move forward in grief if they think their loved one will be forgotten.
  • We often refrain from using the deceased’s name because it feels gentler but for the grieving, use of the name can be a comfort
  • Be mindful that for some cultures or religions, use of the name of the deceased in the first year is inappropriate

Ask your loved one what feels right and best for them, then respect that.

Ask the Hard Questions

If you become concerned about how your loved one is coping, it’s important not to shy away from some of the difficult questions. You may be the only person asking them.

Ask if they have started to have thoughts about not wanting to exist

Ask if they have had thoughts about suicide or otherwise hurting themselves

  • If they say yes, ask if they have thought of a plan.
  • Ask if they have intention to act on the plan.
  • Remain calm and understanding, especially if they say yes.

Keep resources on hand to help you help them.

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Texting Crisis Line: Text “Help” to 741741
  • Nearby hospitals
  • Mental health professional contact information

Above all, don’t panic. Remember it is not uncommon for thoughts of suicide to arise for a person who is grieving.


Just Be There

Enough said. Your friend or loved one may not want to be with you. They may not want to talk all the time. They may want to do their own chores, they may want to work, they may not want to leave the house. Respect any and all of these. Everyone grieves in their own way.

You don’t have to have the perfect words or know what to say. After all, there’s nothing you can say to bring back their loss.

It’s difficult and uncomfortable, but the most supportive thing you can do is just be there.

Be ready to listen and be ready to help.