mental health · Workouts

Motivation.

Where does motivation come from? There is a scientific explanation for how motivation is created in the brain. The simplest explanation: dopamine’s chemical signal is transmitted from one neuron to the next, depending on the pathway of this transmitting you end up with motivation.

Of course that is not really what we want to read when we are looking for motivation, I think most of all we just want an easy to follow guide that takes us from unmotivated to motivated in a blink. I certainly wish I had more motivation, and that I knew how to keep myself motivated.

When dealing with mental health, especially depressive disorders, motivation is a big thing, or rather a big thing that is lacking. This time of year is always hard for me, for various reasons, and I struggle to find the motivation to do mostly anything. Get out bed is a chore, eat is a chore, being awake is chore.

To try to  battle it I find something to keep me busy, but mostly that ends up feeling like a chore too. It feels like a chore even if it is something I normally like (for example writing these blog posts).

The hardest thing of all is to have motivation to work out. January, for me. I believe that it is best to combat the lack of motivation by trying to press through it. It usually work if I have the will power. If the will power is lacking I usually try to involve other people, to create more pressure to see it through.

When when pressuring yourself it is also important to keep things simple, which is why I have dubbed January Cardio month (for me anyway). The important thing for me in January is that I go to the gym just for a while, even if I only hit the treadmill for 20 minutes. Anything is better than nothing, and if I do not keep it simple I know that I will just stay at home because I can find so many reasons and excuses to skip going to the gym.

Do things you enjoy, maybe do a little extra of the things you like. The selfish stuff. The “shouldn’t do” stuff. And don’t beat yourself up about it. If you feel like taking a 30 minute shower, do it. If you want to eat a box of chocolate, do it, but take ownership of that choice and don’t beat yourself up for it (because you do not want to do things that makes you feel worse).

Make lists. Write down the simplest things like “get out of bed,” “Shower,” “eat dinner” and “go to bed.” Set yourself up for success, so even things like “Tidy up one object,” you can tidy up one thing. The small goals and the check-lists help me through my lowest lows, and I write them by hand (it makes me connect more than typing it digitally). I throw away the list when the day is over, regardless if it is completed or not, because tomorrow is a new day.

Meditate. It might be cliché, but calming your mind does have a positive effect. Even if it is just for a few minutes it can help you feel more in control, more balances and make you more self-aware and open-minded. Spare just 5 minutes at the end of the day, download a free meditation app or get a meditation clip from YouTube and calm your mind for a couple of minutes.

The important thing is to find something that works for you. When you feel like doing nothing, and you keep feeling like that for days, treat yourself, make sure that you also cross something off your to-do-list and make room for quiet reflection.

That is what I do this week: I make lists and I go to the gym and work out even if I don’t feel like it, because I know it will help in the long run.

And I learned for last week, where I forgot to post Friday’s work out so I will add the three HIIT workouts I’ve written below.

Monday: 

5 Rounds for time:

10 Jumping Jacks
10 squats
5 Squat Jumps
10 Press Ups
10 Bear crawl fire-feet
5 Squat jumps

Wednesday

As many rounds as possible in 10 minutes

10 Jumping Jacks
10 squats
5 Squat Jumps
10 Press Ups
20 Bear crawl fire-feet
5 Squat jumps

Friday:

5 Rounds for time:

200 m run (if you have nowhere to run run in place for 250 steps)
10 Squats
10 Pressups
10 Abdominal crunch

Break down of each exercise and variation: 

Jumping Jacks. 

Stand with arms down your side and legs together, jump legs out while bringing hands to over head (or shoulder height depending on your shoulder-flexibility). Jump back to start position.

Squats: 

Stand with your legs hip with apart, face forwards and start the movement through a hinge in your hip before you bend both your hips and knees at the same time down into a squat position where your thighs are parallel to the floor lower. Ensure that keep your knees over your feet (don’t let them sink towards the middle or extend outside the foot). Keep your knees behind your toes.
If you have issues getting down to parallel only squat down as far as you can comfortably get back up. This is important, especially when starting out, depth will come with time and when you build up your flexibility.

Squat Jump: 

Same as above but when you press up from the squat you jump up to full body extension (you can reach overhead if your like or let arms remain where they are). If you have a bench available you can swap this exercise for box jumps where you jump up and down from the bench (remember to stand up straight on top of the bench), this will make the exercise harder.

Press up/ Push up: 

Lay down on the floor with face down. In order to find the ideal position for your  hands stretch your arms out over your head and then slide them down, starting with the elbow, until your hands are in line with your shoulders.
Depending on your strength you’d probably like to either press up, keeping your body straight keeping shoulders, hips, knees and ankles in line.

Or you can press up from the knees, keeping shoulder’s, hips and knees in line. If that is too heavy you can also do a box press up by pulling your knees closer to your hands.
You can also do press up against the wall, or a steady table, this will make the movement easier to do.

Bear crawl fire-feet

Get down on all fours so that you form a box with your body, keep your feet apart so that your knees are directly under your hips, leaving your knees at a 90 degree angle. Stand up on your toes so that the knees aren’t in contact with t he floor. Hands should be directly under your shoulders, chest should be upright and shoulders detracted. Keep your hands in contact with the ground, but quickly lift one and one foot from the ground as if running in place, try to keep the rest of your body as still as possible.
If my description is too complicated, there is a video of the exercise over at bodybuilding.com.

Ab crunch:

Lay down on your back, press your lower back down enough so you can fit one finger between you and the floor. Put your arms on your thighs. Then lift your shoulders up from the floor, sliding your arms up until your fingertips touches your knee. Ensure you are keeping your neck neutral by pretending to ball between your chin and the top of your chest.
To make the exercise harder you can move you arms to cross on your chest, place your hands or placing your hands by your ears (then make sure you are not pulling on your head with your hands as you lift your shoulders form the floor).

If you want you can post your time and rounds in the comments.

Below I have attached one of my favourite guided meditations:

fitness · Workouts

New Year. New you?

I’m going to be honest and say that I am of that group of people who think of new years resolutions as a big load of bollocks. The concept of new year resolutions is great, but most of the time you just end up making some grand gesture that is supposed to last the whole year and you are burned out by February or March. Most new years resolutions fail because they a too broad or too unrealistic, which makes the resolutions of: “I am going to eat only healthy food this year,” or “I’m going to exercise everyday this year.”

Given my view my next few blog posts are going to seem a little hypocritical, but I am a believer in change and I believe that we all can benefit from changing for the better. And I know that when struggling with extra challenges such as a mental health disorder, change is extra hard. So based on the fact that anything is better than nothing, I will be posting a low-bar, no equipment needed, work outs three times a week for the next 4 weeks. Each week I will device a blog post with an update, I will aim to have it up by Sunday, but it might sometimes end up not being up until Monday. The work outs will be posted on the Instagram page on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. the weekly blog post will be updated to contain each work out on the respective day.

All the work outs will be as intense or as easy as you want to make them as I am basing them on the HIIT-principle (High Intensity Interval training). If you need the work out to be harder, go faster, if you need to ease up go slower. None of the work outs should take more than a maximum of 20 minutes, most of them will probably be done in 10. They are short enough that if you already are following a training program you can just slap it onto the end of your program before you cool down to get some variation, and they are short enough so that time won’t be an easy excuse. Absolutely no equipment will be necessary, not even a chair, in order to ensure that everyone do them from the comfort of their living room. Though I would recommend the use of a stopwatch function on your phone or computer, so that you can monitor your progress.

My challenge to you this second week of January is to do these simple work outs three times a week and then that is all you need to do. Working out in itself is a great anti depressant, and even a short period of exercise will help elevate a heavy mood and increase your wellbeing. Even if these work outs only takes 10 minutes or 15 minutes,  any number of minutes is better than 0 minutes.

So with no further ado I will be posting Monday’s work out below:

Complete 5 rounds of:
10 Squats
10 Press ups
10 Ab crunches

Break down of each exercise and variation: 

Squats: 

Stand with your legs hip with apart, face forwards and start the movement through a hinge in your hip before you bend both your hips and knees at the same time down into a squat position where your thighs are parallel to the floor lower. Ensure that keep your knees over your feet (don’t let them sink towards the middle or extend outside the foot). Keep your knees behind your toes.
If you have issues getting down to parallel only squat down as far as you can comfortably get back up. This is important, especially when starting out, depth will come with time and when you build up your flexibility.

Press up/ Push up: 

Lay down on the floor with face down. In order to find the ideal position for your  hands stretch your arms out over your head and then slide them down, starting with the elbow, until your hands are in line with your shoulders.
Depending on your strength you’d probably like to either press up, keeping your body straight keeping shoulders, hips, knees and ankles in line.

Or you can press up from the knees, keeping shoulder’s, hips and knees in line. If that is too heavy you can also do a box press up by pulling your knees closer to your hands.
You can also do press up against the wall, or a steady table, this will make the movement easier to do.

Ab crunch:

Lay down on your back, press your lower back down enough so you can fit one finger between you and the floor. Put your arms on your thighs. Then lift your shoulders up from the floor, sliding your arms up until your fingertips touches your knee. Ensure you are keeping your neck neutral by pretending to ball between your chin and the top of your chest.
To make the exercise harder you can move you arms to cross on your chest, place your hands or placing your hands by your ears (then make sure you are not pulling on your head with your hands as you lift your shoulders form the floor).

If you want you can post your time in the comments.

mental health

Practising self-care that actually works.

In September I wrote that I was aiming to write one post a month, obviously that did not happen, regardless how much I meant to be committed. There is not really any excuse, only an explanation: I have been busy practising self-care through one of my hardest periods this year. Which up until this working, I had no idea that it was actually working up until last weekend.

My happiness has always been anchored to other people or even things (like my FitBit). Or maybe rather whether or not I can catch on to someone else’s wave and stay afloat on their life raft. Most of the time I would not even be aware that I was doing it until it was  way to late.

That is a receipt for disaster every time, and a vicious circle, spiralling out of control so fast. It is also unfair, because no one should ever be solely responsible for someone else’s happiness, it is straining on any kind of relationship you try to forge. So for the better part of a year I have been practising being my own anchor, because the circle can only go one way.

The hard thing is, that there is no one-size fits all route to wellness and happiness. I used to read through all these self-help books, I did hypnotherapy, CBT. I tried listening to these wellness or happiness gurus whatever you might call them. I have read The Secret a million times, Later I tried making lists of things I am grateful for and I tried crying hysterically by myself trying to make it all come out. But the truth is that for any of these things to work, you actually need to have a fundamental shift within yourself. A shift which for me was entirely on a subconscious level.

Below I will write somethings that worked and seems to be working for me, I do not claim that these will work for everyone but it is was I think is affecting my mood and help me to better anchor myself.

So winding back a couple of months, I was at the height of being miserable, again. It was the sort of bottomless feeling of giving up on everything. A place where the sole act of breathing became a chore. When I was swimming there in the bottomless black sea of nothing but numbness I started to have a look around my current state of being and I made some decisions. First I decided to make lists of things I wanted to have done, I love lists and ticking things off them. So I put the most pedestrian things into my phone’s reminder app:

  • Re-Fill water bowl for the cats
  • Go to bed before 23:00
  • Play with the cats
  • Make dinner 2 times this week
  • Smile
  • Don’t eat bread
  • Do laundry

It was just every day things that I wanted to have done, tagged to dates and times I wanted to have them done by. And I still do this. I do not think I was aware of it at the time, but ticking off my self-given chores gave me a sense of accomplishment, which gradually helped to lift my mood.

I started to try to make things nice for myself. I purchased a lot of tea candles, votives and fragrant candles and I lit them, even if I was alone watching TV in my living-room. Just to create some god ol’ “hygge.” I purchased lots of tea, because I really like the idea of drinking tea in a candlelit room (turns out I do not like tea very much). And I even purchased myself flowers (turns out Lilies does not smell anything like most lily-fragrances will have you belive).

Making food has always been something I cannot be bothered with making if I am just making it for myself. But I started to make my own food, turns out I can make a great chicken curry and that even I can make gravy that does not lump. Not to mention that homemade food does taste much better than most of the bland takeaways you find around (I am not saying there are no good takeaways, but most of them are the same bland food in my opinion).

Over the summer I also finally signed up for that PT-course, which I completed in October/November. Which brings me to my next point: a change of scenery. I am not suggesting that you book a one-way trip to Australia or go on a crazy adventure. What I am suggesting is that you give yourself a break. For me it was the PT course. Even if it was highly intensive and compact course, it was a breath of fresh air. I was out of my normal 8-5 work environment. I did not have a single headache for those two weeks, I talked to new people and got a fresh input. It even kicked me back to the gym which I had been avoiding for the last 3 months prior to the course due to my mental exhaustion and lack of motivation which sprung on at the end of summer.

The course also gave me a new and bigger sense of accomplishment, because I have always been doubting my own abilities in all kinds of matters. I am a great student, I am good at acquiring new knowledge, understand it and put it to use. But, when push comes to show I usually bail out or I panic and fail, or I leave everything to the last-minute and screw everything up for myself, exams has always been the absolute worst for my nerves. This time I managed to pass all my exams with no fuss, no panicking (until after I turned in the exam at least) and on the first try because I did not make a half-assed attempt (like I often do to sabotage myself because I am too scared of not being good enough so I bail on the reading all together). It was a great win for me.

More recently I have started something I have always thought of as rather stupid. I have started to keep a journal, which I write in everyday. It is not like I list everything I did every day or write down a thousand things I am grateful for. What I try to do, is to write down anything I experienced as positive during the day. Sometimes it might just be one sentence, other days I can fill in paragraphs, depending on the day. The key is that I only write down anything I perceive as a positive event or train of thought. It was an Idea I got from listening to Introducing Happiness from Audible as one of the “exercises” they give are similar. The thought behind it is to try to remember the positive events and let the negative fade into the background. I started it as a silly experiment following listening to the Audible Podcast, but it is actually very giving or soothing now that I have adapted the suggested exercise to something that suits me. And I keep on doing it.

That leads me to the big finale where I for the first time could answer a pedestrian question “How are you?” with “I am fine.” For once I actually recognised that I was actually happy, and hardly recognise or trust. Which leads me to why it has taken me 7 days to compose this text, because I needed to be sure it was not the start of mania. So far, I feel safe about it.

So I think the message from me here is, that you need to find something that works for you. In order to find your inner calm or happiness, you need to do things that bring you joy.

Recommended reading, if you are interested: 

  • Introduction to happiness (Podcast on Audible.co.uk)
  • The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor
  • No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline by Brian Tracy
  • The Master Key System by Charles F. Haanel
  • The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
  • The Power by Rhonda Byrne
  • Wallace D. Wattles Premium Collection (You can get the 9 books in One Volumes)
mental health · Uncategorized

Recommitting

I opened this blog as spur of the moment thing, believing I would take the world by storm (or something like it). Things did not go as planned, my mania did not last (like it never does) and the blog died. I tried to write several blog posts, but none of them felt right and life got in the way.

The thing is, I have not being having a great time lately. Last summer my normal summer high did not come until august, when it was almost time for my regular “low” period to set in. It sort of carried over to this year, and I try my best to keep my schedule but I fail terribly and my gym-life suffered for it (Though I did mange to get a Gym Instructor certification over the summer).

However, I have sat myself down and had a talk with myself, and I have decided to give this site one more go, and commit to it. My commitment might be minimal, but it is a start. The commitment I made to myself is that I will try to the best of my ability to write one blog post a month. So let us see how September goes.

Keep taking it one lift at a time.

fitness · mental health

Sacrificing my social life for the gym.

 

 

I had an interesting conversation related to working out, wellness and the absurd amount of alcohol that seems normal for people to consume. It might have much to do with where I live, but the favorite pastime of my colleagues might be getting hammered at the bar, or the party or the other party, or the thing that doesn’t really have anything to do with alcohol but we still drink.

Of course I am in no way implying that my life is filled with alcoholics,  because I am sure that these are 100% working, functional adults.

I completely get that going out, having fun with friends, drinking, partying and dancing is great. It is fun. It is social. It is friendly. And it is nothing wrong with it. Speaking from my own experience through, I have an awful time managing my mood swings if I go out drinking. First thing: I am not supposed to touch alcohol with the prescription pills I am taking, second; alcohol is a depressant and me being prone to depression it is not a good combination. Therefore, I have found a different outlet for me to be social, out of the house and alcohol free; the gym.

The gym brings me back to topic. During the discussion it was mentioned that one might not want to sacrifice their social life to go to the gym. This had me thinking, and I can understand that a lot of people would feel like that. Being me, I slightly overdo it, maybe, heading to the gym sometimes 7 days a week. It doesn’t have to be like that, you don’t have to do what I do. To be honest I am trying my best to write to encourage you to go to the gym, but I tend to get off track.

Getting to the gym is actually the easy part. Signing up and paying for a membership is easy. The hard part is to keep going. To come back. The hard part is to go to the gym, even though you have to walk half a mile in the rain. When you are at the gym, it is actually rather easy, you do not have to do much, and if you are just starting out anything is better than nothing.

Here are some generic tips for how to keep going to the gym: 

  • When you are starting out, have a goal to go to the gym fewer times than you think you can handle. If you think you can go four times a week, let it be a success if you go two times a week. Don’t burn the candle in both ends by deciding to go everyday right away.
  • Chose a gym with classes, look through their classes and sign up for something that sounds fun. If you are signed up for a class you are more likely to go, plus classes lasts for a specific time you will know you do not have to stay longer than planned.
  • Get yourself a program. You do not have to get a personal trainer, but have a look on the internet, find a program you like, tweak it if you need to. Having a program or a plan will help you to get to the gym.
  • Do things you think are fun at the gym, when you are starting out. If you do not like running, don’t force yourself to run, lift some weights instead. If you do not like lifting weights, run or row or do what makes a gym session tolerable to you.
  • If you have the money for it, get yourself a personal trainer. A few years back when I was first starting out, I got myself a personal trainer and it is one of the best investments I have done for my health. When you choose a personal trainer, make sure to get one who enjoy what they do, sound enthusiastic about training and listen to what you want out of your gym sessions. Get a trainer who can help you reach your goals but also one that keep your goals realistic.
  • Get a measuring band and start taking body measurements, it is more accurate than checking your weight all the time.
  • Keep it short. A full body-workout does not need to take more than 45 minutes

Hopefully these tips will help someone somewhere.

The gym, despite what a lot of people believe, is a social space. After going for a while, the other regulars will recognize and acknowledge you. Not long after it will be normal for you to strike up conversations with people you see there regularly, especially if you are weightlifting because you have to rest between sets no matter how strong you get.

And strictly speaking, if you do not want to, you don’t have to go more than 2 – 3 times a week. I know that 2-3 hours a week might seem like a huge sacrifice to some. I get that you might have to pass that bear or skip that dinner outing, but we are talking about as little as 2% of your weekly waking hours (given that you are a perfect person who sleeps perfectly 8 hours every night. Can you really say that 2% of your time, is sacrificing your social live rather than investing in your health and well-being?

Speaking for myself, the hours I spend at the gym, give me so much that I am willing to give much more of my time. Going to the gym helps me keep my mood under control, it helps me keep my eating in check, it helps my social life and it benefits my health. My gym sessions is my investment in me.

mental health · Workouts

Recovering from recovery days

Weightlifting is a crutch I cling to, for better and for worse. However recovery days are a necessary evil, and my serotonin level drops without daily exercise.

I had a hard work out regime last week which ended with me needing a recovery day. Normally I work on a three split program which means a recovery day is not necessary because each muscle group gets two days recovery while I work other parts of my body. However, in a length of time, even if I change-up the exercises, this regime gets repugnant and I hit a plateau. This is why I chose to do the 4000 reps in 4 days program even though I knew I would need at least one recovery day afterwards.

Thursday was my last day on this hellfire program and Friday was my recovery day. I planned to have one recovery day it turned into three, because I simply lost the motivation to go back to the gym.

My serotonin levels were not stimulated on Friday which meant an immediate drop i my mood and Saturday was even worse but I just could not bring myself to go back to the gym.

When you have bipolar disorder, routine is everything. I have learned this over the last couple of years, but I still mess up because I feel like I am better. Routine puts an order to everything, I go to work at the same time, I go to the gym after work and I go to sleep at the same time. I skip one of them and all three gets messed up.

This means that on Saturday since I had not been to the gym in two days, I struggled to get to sleep at a reasonable time, which meant that on the time I am usually at the gym on Sunday I was still sleeping. When I woke up on Sunday I just did not see any reason to go to the gym, because it was in mu obsessive mind “Too late.” Weekends are troublesome to me anyhow, because I only work some weekends, and I have a weekend schedule: I go to the gym by 12 pm at the very latest. This makes sure I get up in the morning, the earlier the better.

Luckily today was Monday and everything resets: I go to work in the morning, I bring my bag with me and I hit the gym. I am back on track. I wish it was as easy as it sounds, but I almost did not go to the gym today because I was still feeling a constantly low mood which comes with my persisting depressive episode.

Now after working out, I already feel better, and I will go to the gym again tomorrow taking it one lift at a time.

Workouts

4000 Lifts in 4 days – day 3 & 4

I am officially done, and tomorrow will be a well deserved rest day. 4000 lifts in 4 days is completely doable, and my body is 100% fatigued from this. Not a single joint is pain-free (soreness) and today was the hardest day of all with single joint movements at 50% of 10 rep max.

I have enjoyed these days at the gym, they have been hard and I have the weak point in all my lifts so I know how to work from here. My lower back and shoulders were the losers in this challenge. The important part is that I got through it and it felt like it gave my heart quite a pump as well (the beginning of each set felt more like cardio than anything).

Will I be doing this routine again?

At this point my answer is no, this was hell, but ask me again in four months or next time I hit a plateau and I am sure this routine would be helpful to kick my muscles into action again.

Tomorrow I will have a good rest and then I will keep going, one lift at a time.

Workouts

4000 Lifts in 4 days – day 2

It is my second day in following a hundreds program for four days and I must say I was surprisingly sore from yesterday. Today I focused mostly on single joint movements doing one giant set of 100 reps of each exercise.

Today’s workout consisted of:

  • Machine Flys
  • Seated leg curl
  • Diverging pulldown (I know I said single joint movements, but I wanted to)
  • Leg extension
  • Straight arm pulldown
  • Dumbbell shrug
  • Machine row
  • Rear Delt fly
  • Triceps press
  • Cable bicepcurl

Usually I am not a big fan of machines, but they were necessary to make today’s workout. Even though today was a “light day” with lighter weights than yesterday, I am already sore, every joint is sore and no matter how much foam-rolling I have done post-workout today the soreness stays put.

Hopefully the soreness will fade some by a good nights sleep. I am halfway in this program and I really want to complete it. But I will continue to take this one lift at a time.