• Brianna K. Edwards, LMHC, RPT

3 Mental Health Lessons Kickboxing Has Taught Me

Ah, endorphins.

If you’ve spent any amount of time running, working out, or participating in physical exercise, you know first-hand how wonderful those happy chemicals (endorphins) are. The gains for mental health are significant. (Before I go on, I must add the disclaimer to consult your doctor before you engage in any vigorous physical activity.)

With the now almost 4 months of ambiguity we’ve been living in due to COVID-19 and other U.S./world events, our mental health NEEDS support. With many cooped up at home, physical activity has been limited, contributing to difficulty sleeping, restlessness, increased anxiety – the list goes on! However, there's more benefit to working out than just endorphins.

Here are 3 MENTAL HEALTH LESSONS I’ve recently learned through kickboxing (my workout of choice):

1. MINDFULNESS - We live on autopilot, going through our day preoccupied with many thoughts and activities simultaneously. In the counseling world, we call this dissociation. Many people dissociate on the daily and don’t even realize it. For example: Have you ever driven a familiar route from home to the grocery store, arrive, and don’t even remember how you got there? You may have been thinking of a bothersome conversation you just had, or your unending to-do list, or maybe you were just plain exhausted. Yep. You dissociated. :) Well, full confession: I’m guilty of this while I’m working out. It’s easy to get distracted by the sore, relentless ache in my muscles, or noticing the progress of those around me. But when I focus on the present, being mindful of each punch, kick and breath, I do SO MUCH BETTER with my performance AND get a better workout. It takes intentionality to bring ourselves into the moment and choose to stay there – whether that’s playing with our kids, running errands, or in my case, working out. In the midst of your busy schedule or the anxiety swirling within, how can you slow yourself down and be present with yourself and those around you?

TIP: Practice mindfulness by noticing 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you’re touching, 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you taste.

“Wherever you are, be all there.” -Jim Elliot

2. ENDURANCE – I’m not going to lie -- there is a part of me that wants to give up. It’s always easier to quit, to forget the end-goal, to forget the endorphins. When I’m waiting for that timer to beep, I have a choice to stop in the middle of a round OR push through until the end. This endurance is more than physical stamina, it’s mental and emotional stamina, too. Exercise helps us discipline our minds, bodies, and emotions, to keep going when we feel and believe: “I can’t handle it” or “I can’t do it” (I find these to be the most common negative beliefs my clients have). In life, when we feel beat down with thoughts of inadequacy, anxiety or failure (just to name a few), don’t we need that mental endurance to keep going? To not succumb to our feelings and the way they seek to drown us? To CHOOSE to face our pain and difficulties, the things we want to avoid, in order to reach the peace, healing, and happiness we desire?

TIP: Come up with a 1 sentence mantra that encourages you. Put it on a sticky note in places where you can see it and speak that mantra OUTLOUD to yourself daily!

3. REST – By the end of the week, my body feels like jello. My muscles NEED to recover in order to get stronger and perform again next week. There is a time to push through (such as when I’m enduring the seemingly ENDLESS 3-minute round) and there is a time to rest. To recover. Our bodies and brains are not designed to go without rest. We WILL burn out, causing greater problems than what we originally started with. How can you incorporate mental, emotional and physical rest into your busy schedule? I like to ask myself the question: “If I died today, would this matter?” It can help gauge what’s important for today and what can wait. Rest is especially important during this time of uncertainty due to COVID-19, as many people have been living in a frequent state of hyper-vigilance and stress.

TIP: Start small. Find the thing that re-charges you, and do that (even if just for 15 minutes). Build from there. Give yourself permission to unplug from the world. There is always tomorrow to get your list done.