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How Lack of Physical Mobility Can Affect Mental Health

How often have you been able to go outside this past month? 10 times? 5? Not at all? You and me both.

A few weeks ago I had a flare up of Crohn’s Disease and had to go to the hospital for a few days. Before then, I had been pushing myself to walk at least a couple of times a week, and that felt good, but then I got sick again and any activity went out the window. I felt very out of sorts, lazy, and lethargic. Sure, it wasn’t my fault, but that’s still how I felt. Raise your hand if you’ve felt the same, especially during these uncertain times.

And what’s worse is that I started to feel down and less connected to others. While I did begin to feel better eventually, I still wasn’t up for going for walks. But, as a licensed clinical therapist, I also knew that for my own mental health I needed to find ways to take care of my mental and emotional well-being. I had to practice self-care, taking care of numero uno. I’m no good to anyone else if I’m no good to myself first.

I had to practice self-care, taking care of numero uno. I’m no good to anyone else if I’m no good to myself first.

Here are 5 tips that have helped me even when I’m not feeling physically well enough to exercise, get outside, or move around too much:

1) Meditation: I know that meditation can seem an uncertain activity for many. But it can be done, even if for only 5 minutes a day. For starters, 5 minutes is better than 0 minutes. But even 5 minutes has been shown to improve well-being. And you don’t have to do it alone. I recommend the Mindfulness App for guided meditations. It’s free, right on your phone, and you get to hear a woman with a lovely voice guide you for 5, 10, or however many minutes you prefer, and it includes a list nature sounds that you get to choose. You can also set a timer reminder to help make it a daily practice. In addition, here is a link to a weekly meditation group provided by The Way, Mindfulness Education: Mindfulness Group. It’s every Wednesday at 7 pm and it’s online. Also, it’s free!

2) Writing in a journal. That’s something we can do from anywhere—from bed, the couch, wherever we are. “A journal? I hate writing,” I can hear some of you in the back saying. I get that, I really do. But the thing is, many of us think of school when it comes to writing. That’s not this. This is all about you. Nobody is grading what you’re writing; you’re writing just to write, to express yourself, and I mean that literally— get your thoughts and emotions EX PRESSED, that is, push them outwards rather than keep that stuff trapped inside. Just like with my meditation recommendation, even setting a 5-minute timer is enough.

And then just write… about whatever you want to write about: your day, what’s going on in your life, that it sucks that you feel crummy, that you wish you could go outside, that you’re still not sure about this journaling thing. Write whatever comes to your mind, just put it down to paper like your only job is to act as a stenographer in a courtroom. One extra suggestion, if you find that anything you wrote about brought up some really uncomfortable feelings, thoughts, or memories, please make sure to talk to someone, a professional if you can. If you need help with making that connection, Invisible Me Warriors is here!

So just write without filtering, and whether you choose to read what you write or not is up to you, but then just move on with your day. You can write on paper, your laptop, or your phone (if you have the quick fingers). If you’re more the creative type (which I’m not), you can express in journaling through more artistic means like doodling or drawings or writing music or poetry. It’s your mind, your imagination, you have the power.

3) Chair Yoga: Yes, chair yoga. Yoga doesn’t just have to be for the physically gifted. It’s for all of us. And some pretty creative people have worked to create more physically accessible ways to include yoga in our lives. Instead of going into more detail, here’s a link to chair yoga hosted by IMW: Chair Yoga

4) Consider a new hobby or book you’ve wanted to read… something that has nothing to do with work or any responsibilities. Back in early October of 2019, coming up on Halloween, and knowing I would be visiting my brother in California for a week, I went to Barnes & Noble to pick out some books to read. I was in the Horror spirit so I bought a short book on ghost stories. I also grabbed a few other books on fantasy and other fiction. I realized that I had not read a book that was just for me, just pure fiction for the fun of it, in years. I eventually read the stack of books I bought and have since begun reading The Wheel of Time which is 14 books long. I’m still on Book 3, but it’s a lovely escape, something just for me. What might that thing be for you?

5) Join a support group. Invisible Me Warriors has a monthly support group for those struggling with chronic health challenges. In addition to this monthly support group, they have numerous other online events to help connect those of us who are limited physically and want to connect with others who understand. We are not alone. None of us need to feel that we are. Try to take advantage of the resources that are available.

So, these are 5 tips to help you improve your mental and emotional well-being if it is difficult-- even if it’s impossible-- to get much physical activity in your life. There is more available at our fingertips than ever before. I invite you to look at at least one of these 5 tips and try it. We may not be able to always control how we feel or the range of activities we can engage in, but we are certainly not helpless, never that. So which activity will you give a try?

Neil Wolfson, MEd, LCSW

IMW Board Member

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