Tools for Optimizing Your Mental Health

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MEP Tools for Optimizing Your Mental Health

by Gabriel Villarreal

Discussing​ ​mental​ ​health​ ​and​ ​lifting​ ​are​ ​two​ ​of​ ​my​ ​biggest​ ​passions.​ ​I​ ​am​ ​so honored​ ​to​ ​have​ ​been​ ​given​ ​the​ ​opportunity​ ​to​ ​talk​ ​about​ ​both​ ​to​ ​you​ ​all​ ​both​ ​in writing​ ​and​ ​in​ ​person.​ ​In​ ​case​ ​you​ ​missed​ ​me,​ ​either​ ​on​ ​this​ ​blog,​ ​or​ ​at​ ​the​ ​“True Health​ ​and​ ​Fitness”​ ​at​ ​TFW​ ​Fitness​ ​in​ ​August,​ ​I’m​ ​guest​ ​writer​ ​Gabriel​ ​Villarreal, Resident​ ​in​ ​Counseling,​ ​owner​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Mash​ ​Elite​ ​Affiliate​ ​“LostBoys​ ​Strength​ ​and Conditioning”​ ​in​ ​Roanoke,​ ​VA.​ ​Additionally,​ ​I​ ​am​ ​the​ ​owner​ ​of​ ​my​ ​private practice​ ​“ADHD​ ​Counseling​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Roanoke​ ​Valley”.

Enough​ ​about​ ​me​ ​today​ ​we​ ​are​ ​going​ ​to​ ​tackle​ ​how​ ​to​ ​optimize​ ​your​ ​mental health,​ ​as​ ​a​ ​coach​ ​or​ ​athlete;​ ​we​ ​all​ ​need​ ​optimization.​ ​Better​ ​every​ ​day!

In​ ​my​ ​last​ ​two​ ​articles​ ​we​ ​discussed​ ​the​ ​​comorbidity​ ​(dual​ ​issues)​ ​between overweight/obese​ ​and​ ​mental​ ​health​ ​diagnoses​​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​​why​ ​not​ ​to​ ​use​ ​exercise as​ ​your​ ​therapy​.​ ​​ ​Before​ ​we​ ​jump​ ​into​ ​today’s​ ​topic​ ​here​ ​is​ ​a​ ​summary​ ​of​ ​those articles​ ​for​ ​reference:

We found that the CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, estimate 300 million individuals are obese worldwide and approximately 75% of adults in the United States are either overweight or obese. The Department of Health and Human Services reports 300,000 deaths occur each​ ​year​ ​due​ ​to​ ​overweight​ ​or​ ​obese​ ​related​ ​issues.​ ​(U.S.​ ​DHHS,​ ​2007)

Additionally the CDC found that “approximately 75% of every American will have at one time a diagnosable Mental Health disorder” in their lifetime.

Basically, if you live in the United States and flip a coin: heads at some point in your life you’ll be overweight or obese, tails you will be diagnosed with a mental health disorder at one point in your lifetime; the coin lands on​ ​its​ ​side​ ​you’re​ ​in​ ​the​ ​clear​ ​of​ ​both.

We concluded that ​the impetus of alleviating the two from our communities falls to the strength and conditioning coaches, athletes, trainers, and members even who already lead optimal nutritional and exercise lifestyles. When we arm ourselves with the minimal effect dose of mental health knowledge in our own communities then systems can be put into​ ​place​ ​toward​ ​getting​ ​our​ ​communities​ ​truly​ ​healthy​ ​and​ ​well.

However,​ ​this​ ​article​ ​is​ ​not​ ​about​ ​the​ ​masses​ ​we​ ​serve​ ​or​ ​will​ ​serve​ ​in​ ​the​ ​future. This​ ​article​ ​is​ ​here​ ​to​ ​address​ ​the​ ​reason​ ​we​ ​have​ ​to​ ​take​ ​up​ ​this​ ​fight;​ ​because mental​ ​health​ ​professionals​ ​cannot​ ​practice​ ​or​ ​teach​ ​what​ ​they​ ​don’t​ ​know​ ​or practice​ ​themselves,​ ​and​ ​the​ ​inverse​ ​is​ ​also​ ​true​ ​of​ ​us​ ​as​ ​trainers​ ​in​ ​reference​ ​to our​ ​own​ ​mental​ ​health.​ ​If​ ​we​ ​do​ ​not​ ​have​ ​the​ ​tools​ ​and​ ​insights​ ​to​ ​help​ ​ourselves during​ ​easy​ ​times​ ​we​ ​cannot​ ​help​ ​those​ ​in​ ​that​ ​need​ ​in​ ​their​ ​dark​ ​times.

Today​ ​you​ ​will​ ​learn​ ​about​ ​the​ ​5​ ​techniques​ ​I​ ​use​ ​to​ ​optimize​ ​my​ ​mental​ ​health, and​ ​the​ ​mental​ ​health​ ​of​ ​my​ ​clients.​ ​I​ ​pulled​ ​techniques​ ​from​ ​both​ ​the​ ​field​ ​of mental​ ​health​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​strength​ ​and​ ​conditioning​ ​to​ ​give​ ​a​ ​simple​ ​plan​ ​that​ ​will provide​ ​insights​ ​into​ ​yourself​ ​and​ ​eventually​ ​others.

Keep​ ​one​ ​thing​ ​in​ ​mind:​ ​these​ ​techniques​ ​will​ ​be​ ​a​ ​daily​ ​practice,​ ​one​ ​day​ ​at​ ​a time,​ ​one​ ​rep​ ​at​ ​a​ ​time.​ ​Before​ ​you​ ​read​ ​on,​ ​take​ ​a​ ​look​ ​back​ ​and​ ​remember​ ​your first​ ​push-up​ ​or​ ​the​ ​first​ ​time​ ​you​ ​put​ ​a​ ​barbell​ ​on​ ​your​ ​back,​ ​because​ ​this​ ​is where​ ​you​ ​have​ ​to​ ​start​ ​with​ ​your​ ​mental​ ​health:​ ​at​ ​the​ ​very​ ​first​ ​rep.

5​ ​Techniques​ ​to​ ​Optimize​ ​Your​ ​Life​ ​Through​ ​Lifting

1. Find​ ​a​ ​coping​ ​skill​:​ ​When​ ​choosing​ ​a​ ​coping​ ​skill​ ​use​ ​the​ ​following criteria:​ ​“if​ ​I​ ​were​ ​on​ ​the​ ​moon,​ ​would​ ​it​ ​work?”
Avoid​ ​catharsis:​ ​As​ ​we​ ​discussed​ ​in​ ​my​ ​last​ ​article,​ ​catharsis​ ​can​ ​be therapeutic,​ ​lifting​ ​as​ ​its​ ​vehicle​ ​alone​ ​is​ ​​ ​a​ ​poor​ ​coping​ ​skill.​ ​What happens​ ​when​ ​you​ ​are​ ​stressed​ ​or​ ​emotionally​ ​overloaded​ ​and cannot​ ​workout?​ ​“Our​ ​demons​ ​are​ ​patient”,​ ​people​ ​would​ ​be​ ​better served​ ​having​ ​a​ ​coping​ ​skill​ ​that​ ​is​ ​readily​ ​available​ ​at​ ​any​ ​time.

Gabriel’s​ ​go​ ​to:

BOX​ ​BREATHING:​ ​Box​ ​breathing​ ​is​ ​something​ ​Gabriel​ ​learned​ ​from SEAL​ ​Commander​ ​Mark​ ​Divine​,​ ​and​ ​uses​ ​for​ ​himself,​ ​his​ ​clients​ ​at​ ​his private​ ​practice,​ ​and​ ​with​ ​his​ ​lifters.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​the​ ​process​ ​of​ ​taking​ ​deep breaths​ ​with​ ​holds​ ​at​ ​the​ ​top​ ​and​ ​bottom​ ​of​ ​each​ ​breath.​ ​A​ ​simple​ ​box breathing​ ​exercise​ ​looks​ ​like​ ​this:
Inhale​ ​for​ ​4​ ​secs…hold​ ​for​ ​4​ ​secs…exhale​ ​for​ ​4​ ​secs…hold​ ​for​ ​4 secs…repeat​ ​for​ ​5​ ​to​ ​10​ ​rounds

2. Mindfulness​:​ ​Using​ ​a​ ​lifting​ ​session​ ​to​ ​be​ ​present​ ​is​ ​far​ ​more​ ​effective than​ ​catharsis.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​no​ ​different​ ​than​ ​meditation,​ ​other​ ​than​ ​you​ ​10x-ing

the​ ​physical​ ​and​ ​mental​ ​benefits​ ​of​ ​just​ ​breathing​ ​or​ ​meditation​ ​alone. You​ ​can​ ​focus​ ​on​ ​your​ ​breaths​ ​and​ ​a​ ​singular​ ​movement,​ ​and​ ​can​ ​block everything​ ​else​ ​out​ ​of​ ​your​ ​mind​ ​creating​ ​a​ ​mindfulness​ ​exercise​ ​out​ ​of​ ​a lifting​ ​session.

Gabriel’​ ​go​ ​to:

Our​ ​minds​ ​seem​ ​to​ ​always​ ​be​ ​“on”.​ ​Going​ ​forward​ ​when​ ​under​ ​the barbell,​ ​practice​ ​focusing​ ​on​ ​a​ ​single​ ​thought,​ ​being​ ​present​ ​in​ ​that moment:

Inhale​ ​sharply​ ​through​ ​the​ ​nostrils​ ​driving​ ​all​ ​thoughts​ ​out​ ​of​ ​your mind​ ​and​ ​make​ ​the​ ​lift.

Once​ ​you​ ​master​ ​this,​ ​spread​ ​your​ ​mindfulness​ ​out​ ​to​ ​another​ ​point in​ ​training,​ ​and​ ​finally​ ​to​ ​your​ ​entire​ ​gym​ ​session.​ ​That​ ​will​ ​be​ ​a powerful​ ​tool​ ​for​ ​the​ ​​ ​busy​ ​and​ ​stressed.

3. Self-Awareness​:​ ​Having​ ​a​ ​higher​ ​degree​ ​of​ ​self-awareness​ ​is​ ​paramount in​ ​distinguishing​ ​between​ ​a​ ​coping​ ​skill​ ​and​ ​catharsis,​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as auto-regulating.​ ​Are​ ​you​ ​too​ ​emotional​ ​to​ ​workout?​ ​Have​ ​you​ ​slept​ ​well, eaten​ ​enough,​ ​etc?​ ​Would​ ​your​ ​time​ ​be​ ​better​ ​served​ ​elsewhere​ ​to​ ​return you​ ​to​ ​equilibrium?​ ​And​ ​are​ ​you​ ​self-aware​ ​enough​ ​to​ ​know​ ​what​ ​you need?

Gabriel’s​ ​go​ ​to:

I​ ​encourage​ ​my​ ​lifters​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​records​ ​of​ ​their​ ​workouts​ ​and​ ​lifts​ ​in​ ​a notebook.​ ​They​ ​keep​ ​track​ ​of​ ​lifts,​ ​when​ ​they​ ​PR,​ ​and​ ​when​ ​they​ ​miss a​ ​lift​ ​they​ ​hit​ ​before​ ​(some​ ​of​ ​my​ ​lifters,​ ​like​ ​my​ ​wife,​ ​write​ ​how​ ​the lift​ ​felt​ ​throughout​ ​their​ ​body!).​ ​This​ ​helps​ ​them​ ​see​ ​how​ ​they​ ​are progressing​ ​and​ ​is​ ​a​ ​good​ ​measure​ ​to​ ​help​ ​them​ ​identify​ ​areas​ ​and times​ ​when​ ​they​ ​may​ ​have​ ​not​ ​been​ ​operating​ ​at​ ​their​ ​best.​ ​I​ ​can​ ​then help​ ​them​ ​reflect​ ​on​ ​their​ ​lives;​ ​are​ ​they​ ​sleeping​ ​enough,​ ​eating enough,​ ​or​ ​is​ ​something​ ​else​ ​going​ ​on​ ​in​ ​their​ ​lives?

4. Honesty​ ​and​ ​Transparency​:​ ​You​ ​may​ ​very​ ​well​ ​be​ ​self-aware​ ​enough​ ​to recognize​ ​what​ ​you​ ​need​ ​in​ ​the​ ​moment,​ ​but​ ​are​ ​you​ ​being​ ​transparent and​ ​honest​ ​with​ ​yourself​ ​about​ ​what​ ​you​ ​need?​ ​Being​ ​transparent​ ​is​ ​just as​ ​it​ ​sounds,​ ​you​ ​are​ ​totally​ ​open,​ ​your​ ​cards​ ​are​ ​on​ ​the​ ​table,​ ​and​ ​you have​ ​a​ ​“take​ ​me​ ​as​ ​I​ ​am”​ ​attitude.​ ​When​ ​becoming​ ​transparent​ ​and
honest​ ​you​ ​need​ ​not​ ​only​ ​be​ ​comfortable​ ​with​ ​that,​ ​but​ ​love​ ​yourself​ ​for it.

Gabriel’s​ ​go​ ​to:

This​ ​is​ ​a​ ​lifelong​ ​pursuit​ ​as​ ​we​ ​are​ ​our​ ​toughest​ ​critics​ ​and​ ​we​ ​lie​ ​to ourselves​ ​more​ ​than​ ​anyone​ ​else.​ ​With​ ​practice​ ​on​ ​the​ ​first​ ​three​ ​of these​ ​techniques​ ​it​ ​will​ ​begin​ ​to​ ​become​ ​easier​ ​over​ ​time.​ ​So,​ ​when you​ ​find​ ​you’re​ ​not​ ​being​ ​honest​ ​with​ ​yourself,​ ​note​ ​it​ ​in​ ​your​ ​mind (or​ ​in​ ​a​ ​journal​ ​or​ ​notebook),​ ​and​ ​simply​ ​forgive​ ​yourself.​ ​Tomorrow is​ ​a​ ​new​ ​day​ ​and​ ​you​ ​​will​​ ​be​ ​better​ ​tomorrow.

5. Conditioning​:​ ​Once​ ​you​ ​begin​ ​to​ ​condition​ ​yourself​ ​a​ ​rhythm​ ​and​ ​pattern will​ ​emerge,​ ​just​ ​as​ ​Pavlov​ ​conditioned​ ​his​ ​dogs.​ ​You​ ​can​ ​condition yourself​ ​to​ ​switching​ ​“on”​ ​mindfulness,​ ​self-awareness,​ ​and​ ​honesty while​ ​working​ ​out​ ​(and​ ​more​ ​importantly​ ​throughout​ ​life).​ ​As​ ​soon​ ​as you​ ​begin​ ​a​ ​task​ ​your​ ​brain​ ​knows,​ ​“it’s​ ​time​ ​to​ ​do​ ​X”,​ ​​ ​this​ ​cycle​ ​begins all​ ​over​ ​again.

Gabriel’s​ ​go​ ​to:

You’ve​ ​heard​ ​it​ ​before:​ ​when​ ​lifting,​ ​approach​ ​the​ ​bar​ ​the​ ​exact​ ​same way​ ​every​ ​time,​ ​grab​ ​the​ ​bar,​ ​drop​ ​into​ ​position,​ ​take​ ​your​ ​breath ,and​ ​finish​ ​the​ ​lift​ ​the​ ​same​ ​way,​ ​every​ ​time!​ ​And​ ​if​ ​not,​ ​restart.

Once​ ​these​ ​techniques​ ​become​ ​common​ ​place,​ ​let​ ​them​ ​bleed​ ​out​ ​into​ ​other areas​ ​of​ ​life:​ ​dinner​ ​time​ ​with​ ​family,​ ​work,​ ​church,​ ​playing​ ​with​ ​the​ ​kids​ ​etc. When​ ​it’s​ ​time​ ​for​ ​dinner​ ​you​ ​condition​ ​yourself​ ​to​ ​be​ ​there​ ​with​ ​your​ ​family, not​ ​still​ ​back​ ​at​ ​work.​ ​When​ ​at​ ​work​ ​it’s​ ​time​ ​to​ ​do​ ​the​ ​tasks​ ​at​ ​hand,​ ​not thinking​ ​about​ ​that​ ​afternoon’s​ ​lifting​ ​session.
You​ ​get​ ​the​ ​idea,​ ​be​ ​present​ ​in​ ​the​ ​moment​ ​and​ ​condition​ ​yourself​ ​to​ ​utilize these​ ​techniques​ ​in​ ​all​ ​aspects​ ​of​ ​life,​ ​not​ ​just​ ​the​ ​gym.​ ​This​ ​will​ ​lead​ ​to​ ​being optimized​ ​both​ ​in​ ​and​ ​out​ ​of​ ​the​ ​gym,​ ​and​ ​a​ ​step​ ​closer​ ​to​ ​where​ ​the​ ​world​ ​of mental​ ​health​ ​and​ ​fitness​ ​is​ ​heading.

About the Author:
Gabriel Villarreal is a the owner of Mash Elite Affiliate “LostBoys Strength and Conditioning” in Roanoke, VA. Additionally, he owns his private practice “ADHD Counseling in the Roanoke Valley” where he is a Resident in Counseling. Lastly, he co-hosts a podcast “Informed Consent” about community mental health to support incoming professionals.

If you’d like to learn more about anything you read above Gabriel would be more than happy to answer an questions, concerns or just to continue this conversation. Feel free to email him at Gabriel@roanokeADHD.com
SOURCES:
United​ ​States​ ​Department​ ​of​ ​Health​ ​&​ ​Human​ ​Services​ ​[U.S.​ ​DHHS].​ ​(2001).​ ​The​ ​Surgeon​ ​General’s​ ​call​ ​to​ ​action to​ ​prevent​ ​and​ ​decrease​ ​overweight​ ​and​ ​obesity.​ ​Retrieved​ ​on​ ​August​ ​4,​ ​2009​ ​from http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/topics/obesity/

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