Exercise for Anxiety
Cooling Our Inner Heat Naturally
Newsweek says anti-depressants may not work for many of us ... might as well try exercise!
I promised you last time we'd look at each of the seven self-care maintenance steps I've learned can keep us healthy and thriving. This seven-step recipe is the fruit of nearly 30 years of experience in the low-tech, high-touch healing biz.
Exercise is Step #1.
When I'm not completely snowed with work I try to get out every morning for a brisk 30 minute power walk up and down the low hills in my neighborhood. I charge up those hills as fast as I can without running. I find my days are much more focused and productive when I do ... especially when I'm going through stressful times.
And who isn't these days?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine stress is said to be a form of inner "heat." Heat thins blood, the home of spirit ... and leaves spirit agitated and restless, like someone living in a home with broken windows and a leaking roof. Heat causes skin breakouts and rashes. It disturbs our sleep. Left to its own devices heat has a tendency to rise. Tempers flare. Angry words rise up and spill out; we get aggressive verbally, professionally, sexually . Our colloquialism "hot-blooded" describes this pretty well. If we internalize the heat it can leave us depressed and anxious.
It was interesting to see that the February 8 issue of Newsweek reported on the controversy swirling around the use of anti-depressants in our society today. Americans are the most medicated folks in the world. And now here comes a new study showing most patients on anti-depressants don't get any more benefit than they would from a sugar pill. Seriously depressed individuals seem to get a mood boost ... but most of the patients on anti-depressants suffer from milder forms of malaise, and for them the pills don't seem to do much, according to the study.
(As a side note ... I've learned from experience that alcohol and SSRI anti-depressants don't mix well at all. Booze impedes the liver's processing of serotonin breakdown by-products. The behavior that results is angry, paranoid ... little things get blown up into crises. Innocent events get interpreted as attacks. If you or someone you know is doing this ... get in touch.)
So what does all this have to do with exercise?
If we get our hearts pumping and our lungs breathing deeply for 15-20 minutes a day, not only do we keep our arteries flexible and our blood pressure lower, our muscles stronger and our energy higher, but we also clear our minds. Some say brisk exercise is one of the best generators of endorphins, the same natural opiates that the body produces when it gets acupuncture. Endorphins are natural mood elevators and ... remember ... stress hormones age us rapidly. So when I take my morning power walk I'm doing myself at least two favors ... I'll get more done that day, and I'll get old more slowly, too.
In terms of Chinese medicine I'm cooling the heat. Breathing deeply builds yin, and strong yin helps us sleep better, helps our minds and spirits stay calm. Most of us in modern society are full of heat from the toxins in our air, food, water and surroundings. We're full of heat because we push ourselves too hard, too long. We're full of heat because our most important relationships can be so challenging these days.
So I've long told my yin-deficient, heat-addled patients that the best thing they can do for themselves ... at least as good as anything I can do for them ... is to find a hill nearby and take a good brisk walk up it every day. Maybe you should join us?