Dr. Megan Laiblin enjoys helping clients find ways to use physical activity to enhance their mental and physical health. I talked with her briefly about her thoughts on the intersections of both mental and physical health. Here’s what she said:
My specialty is working with families. Even when working with individuals, I always see them as part of a family system and consider the intersection between family, culture, and society. Additionally, I focus on the relationship between spiritual, mental and physical health. As an example, if you notice you are isolating yourself more and not exercising/moving physically, this could be a sign of a mental health concern. Our bodies respond to our emotional experiences and when we are sad, it is harder to motivate ourselves to be active. Other people may avoid exercise because they may be worried that others could be judging them for doing so. In our work together, I focus on helping clients reconnect with their body and let go of assumptions or internal judgments that may be stopping them from leading an active lifestyle. I help clients understand what is driving the symptoms that get in the way of feeling better, both physically and mentally and support them in overcoming these barriers.
Physical activity is also a great way to connect and build a strong relationship with yourself, your children, and your partner. This is especially true when it feels more difficult to talk or express your emotions. Physical activity shifts our brain activity away from frontal lobe reasoning, which is often expressed as arguing/judgment, and into the lower parts of the brain stem. This can increase feelings of attunement and attachment. Positive shared physical activity can help improve communication and trust between individuals. Physical activity helps people communicate in a non-verbal way that can easily be internalized as safe or “being seen.” These shared endorphins create opportunities for lasting memories.
When working with clients who haven’t had much physical activity, we may need to take smaller steps to connect with their environment. For example, in my work with people who are severely depressed, getting outside and connecting with the external environment might be the last thing on their mind. It can feel overwhelming and unrealistic to get out of bed and go out for a run. But we may start small such as taking their dog outside for a walk or even practicing meditation/breathing exercises at a local park. It can be so helpful to take baby steps and get a little bit of physical activity and connection with the outside world. Using the mind and the body together is a faster way to bring pleasure and a more positive experience of life. Positive experiences with one’s own body or with the outside world enhance and deepen the connection between physical and mental health.
Here are some of my favorite baby steps to getting more active:
- If you are feeling self-conscious exercising outside (“will I be judged if I am breathing too hard or sweating?”) it is perfectly fine to work out in your home. Simply do household chores in a more active way – such as vacuuming or folding/putting away laundry to music so you can dance a little in the privacy of your own home. If you enjoy the outdoors but more formal exercise (running, biking) seems daunting, simply expand on what you are already doing. Walk to the grocery store instead of driving, or if you need to drive, park further away. Carry your groceries inside in several trips (rather than sharing the load with a partner). The back and forth between the house and the car with weighted bags can up your heart rate without causing unwarranted anxiety.
- Some clients I have worked with are undergoing or recovering from chronic disease. Others sustained an injury that caused them to have to shift the way they use their body. If you are feeling angry at your body or feel that your body is failing you, focus on engaging in physical activities that you love. Find unique and varied activities that help you discover or stay connected with what you love about your body. Try not to measure success by what you may have been able to do in the past, rather be proud of the steps you are taking today.
- While mindfulness practices (such as meditation and yoga) are proven to reduce anxiety and depression and increase self-acceptance and wellness, many adults have not found a way to integrate this mindfulness into their everyday life. I help clients find techniques that are unique for their personal goals and interests. For example, if the thought of meditation is overwhelming, I expose clients to different types of meditation such as visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, walking meditation, and breathing techniques. This intentional interaction of our bodies with our environment can help us reduce stress and feel more grounded and maintain a more positive view of ourselves.
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Laiblin please call 510.981.1471.