How to use exercise to overcome abuse and bullying and heal your brain

Most therapists, doctors, and mental health professionals recommend exercise to combat depression and anxiety caused by abuse and bullying. However, at no fault of their own, they rarely offer a specific plan. That is because until now it has not been out there. But that has changed recently. For the first time, we can align exercise routines with mental health issues for recovery. We can align changes to the brain that occur with specific mental health issues with specific movements designed to heal affected brain areas and make people feel better.

In this case, we are focused only on the long-term effects of abuse and bullying on the brain and how to heal the brain using a specific exercise routine. Chronic abuse shrinks or thins out the prefrontal cortex (front brain) and medial temporal cortex (deep, center brain) regions of the brain. This causes long-term emotional, social, and cognitive impairment. People who have been abused face problems that include difficulties planning, making decisions, and moderating social behavior. This causes a lifetime battle with anxiety and depression.

The first thing for anyone who has been victimized by abuse or bullying to understand is that the changes that occurred in your brain were the direct result of what someone else did to you. These changes in your brain are not your fault nor were they under your control. They were natural defense mechanisms. But the good news is that we now know exercise positively affects these same structures (prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) that abuse and bullying hurt. Regular exercise increases the thickness of these thinned brain areas, healing the brain. But, here is the critical point – different exercises affect the brain differently and it has to be a specific type of exercise structured in a specific way to help you. To combat the effects of abuse and bullying we have to use a specific exercise plan. Outlined here is an easy program to help you get started and use for however long you would like. Follow these steps for immediate results that will add up over time.

Step #1: Choose one exercise from the list below

  • Walking, jogging, and/or running
  • Stepping
  • Bicycling
  • Elliptical training

You are probably asking, why these forms of exercise only? The reason is that they are simple, rhythmic exercises that use patterns. The abused brain needs a consistent and predictable environment to heal. Additionally, as we will see later, chaotic and high-intensity exercise produces stress chemicals that actually cause anxiety!

Step #2: Get started

Literally, just start moving. You might be uncomfortable at first. It is normal. Most everyone is, and that is because during the first two minutes of exercise your heart and body are adjusting to the exercise. During this time your brain is beginning to respond to the pattern of walking, jogging, or stepping. Give it 10 minutes and the endorphins or feel good chemicals will kick in making it easier. By 10 minutes the oxygen-rich blood has made its way to your brain. The prefrontal cortex (one of the areas affected by abuse and bullying) relaxes, creating a controlled environment abused brains crave. You’re in the “zone” and need to stay there for about 20 minutes. This is when your brain begins to heal.

Answers to your common questions:

  1. How fast should I go? A moderate, comfortable pace. You should be able to talk, but not hold a detailed, lengthy conversation.
  2. What if I cannot complete 20 minutes at once? Stop, rest, focus on your breathing, and start again. Do not sit down!

Some of the effects of exercise are immediate. Things like the endorphin kick and the increased sense of well-being you can feel right away. You will also feel good for about two hours after exercise because your brain will be getting more blood creating euphoria and a more productive and creative environment. But for the long-term healing to truly take place, you will need to give it three to four weeks of four to five sessions per week of 20 minutes each. And you will have to keep it up. Just as muscles begin to lose mass after 48 hours of last activity, the brain requires constant engagement too.

One final note about exercise for recovery – we have all been told that we have to work out harder and follow difficult routines to see results. That is simply NOT TRUE! In fact, the opposite is true and we have had it wrong about the value of high-intensity exercise and programs that rely on “muscle confusion”. Prolonged high intensity, chaotic exercises that use too many different movements is counterproductive. These forms of popular exercise actually increase anxiety! They stimulate the release of pain and stress chemicals that cause worry. Having said that, that is why simple, rhythmic exercises like cycling are recommended to heal the abused brain. Just get moving – whether you take a walk outside or on a treadmill take that first step to realizing the happiness that you deserve!

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One Trait Successful People Share

“Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone”

 

The one trait successful people have is that they are willing to put up with being uncomfortable to get what they want. Successful people come up with ways to manage the uncertainty that makes them uncomfortable when they start something new and want to turn back.

 

Whether the end goal is a new lifestyle, job change, starting a new business, moving, or going back to school the road to end goal is tough. It can be characterized by self-doubt, regret, financial hardships, loss of social contact, anxiety, and sadness. But the reality is that all change, progress, and exciting things happen to you when you step outside of your comfort zone. That sounds easy enough – step outside of what you are comfortable with and the result will be amazing. However, the reality is somewhat uncomfortable, at least at first.

 

When you do something like leave the stable job you dislike to pursue your life dream it is hard. Exiting a job, even voluntarily, is emotionally grueling. It is frightening. It causes anxiety, and can even cause you to question your identity. Job separation, regardless of the events surrounding it, causes discomfort.

 

The reason is that discomfort or uneasiness happens when you have two or more conflicting thoughts. For example, there is a conflict between the need to separate from a miserable job to realize your life goal to be a nurse versus the need for stable income, belongingness, and identity. In another example, if you want to move to a new city you might find that you have conflict between the familiar and safe versus the risk of the new people and places. Change is scary. Unfamiliar faces and new responsibilities are unnerving. However, if all of us abandoned all changes immediately, because we were not comfortable right off the bat progress would be impossible.

 

The key is to manage the discomfort now so you can be in a better place a year down the road. So, how do we handle the discomfort now to get what we want in the future? First off,

 

“Don’t Call it a Dream, Call it a Plan”

 

  1. State what you want clearly in one sentence. Don’t over think it. Just write it down.
  2. Develop a plan. Dreams are business plans put into action.
  3. Exercise regularly. Exercise helps you handle uncertainty. It manages anxiety and eases depression. It increases your self-confidence and self-esteem. The bottom line is this: people who work out make more money than people who do not. People that exercise tend to be leaders. They also express greater overall life satisfaction – probably because they use exercise to handle the discomfort that comes with change, progress, and goal achievement.
  4. Celebrate the small victories. Relish in the daily victories. At the end of each week, document your achievements.
  5. Acknowledge your defeats. Accept responsibility. Figure out why they happened, and state what you learned from them. Make the necessary changes in your plan. Move on. Rumination or sitting around thinking about what happened will get you nowhere.
  6. Seek out the right social support. Surround yourself with people that can help you achieve your goal, have similar lifestyles or jobs, and support you to change.
  7. Minimize expenses. Successful people manage money well. When you are starting a new venture the last thing you need is a ton of bills piling up. Cut out unnecessary expenses. You will be amazed by how liberating it is!
  8. Remind yourself why you are pursuing the dream and making the change. You will second guess yourself. When you do state plainly why you want to pursue the goal, and revisit why your were not fully satisfied with you prior life.

 

Change is uncomfortable, but it is a part of success. Successful people tolerate the discomfort and manage it knowing that it will not last forever and there is a reward at the end.

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FOCUS: Getting There from Here

Jennifer, a freelance financial advisor and a single mom with a six-month-old infant, could barely scrape together the money to cover her monthly living expenses. Looking back on that time, she says, “It was me against the world, with only a computer as my weapon”. Overwhelmed with anxiety and worry she put her head down and pumped out proposals for contract work with local businesses. Within 10 weeks she had signed up $10,000 worth of assignments. 20 months later she took a full-time job with her biggest client, pulling down a $100,000 a year salary.

 

Jennifer got SMART. She set Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-defined long-term goals for herself: a $100,000 salary in her chosen profession within 20 months. To hit her long-term goal, she set a number of micro goals: send out 10 proposals over the next 10 days, make sure I have lined up enough work to keep me busy for 20 hours every work week.  You can do the same and here’s how.

 

Step #1: Learn how to set micro goals

The first thing to notice about Jenn’s story is it spans a year and a half in few statements. To attain the end job and income you want, or any other goal, you have to take small steps that add up to one giant leap. The key is to focus on micro goals. What are those? Micro goals are tiny goals that add up to a big life change. For example, research has shown that people who set long-term goals for weight loss are not successful with exercise. They don’t stick with it. The reason is that they cannot see results quickly enough to motivate them to continue. However, people who set micro goals or what are termed process goals are successful both short and long term with exercise. Process goals are short term, immediately based goals. For example, a process goal is “I will make five sales calls in the next two hours.” Successfully finishing that task makes you feel accomplished. It makes you feel as though you set a goal and reached it. By doing so, your mind is primed for success and you have taken one small step to big change. You might not get any new clients out of the cold calls, but you built your confidence and introduced yourself. The ability to set and execute micro goals leads to greater chances of success than simply stating large, elusive ill-defined goals.

 

Step #2: Get SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-defined)

Set Specific Goals

                A specific goal is stated in one simple sentence like “I want to earn my college degree in biology.” In contrast, I want to work in the medical field is not specific enough.

Set Measurable Goals

                A measurable goal is something that you can define and measure your progress in concrete terms over time like “I want to lose 10 pounds in 10 weeks.” You will have to lose one pound per week which is doable and easily measured on the scale. An example of a goal you cannot measure is “I want to tone up.” We cannot measure “toning up”.

Set Attainable Goals

                An attainable goal is a goal that can be attained like “I want to purchase a new TV in six months. I will save $125.00/month to do so.” That is easily done. In contrast, I want to enjoy space travel soon is not attainable for most us.

Set Realistic Goals

                If you live in Hawaii and plan to be there for a while setting the goal of being an elite level downhill skier probably won’t work out well, but if you say “I want to learn how to surf within the next two months” that is realistic for you.

Set Time-defined Goals

                The single most important aspect of goal-setting is setting time limits and sticking to them! For example, to finish a Bachelor’s degree in four years most degree plans have you take an average of 12 hours or four courses per term for four years straight. Concrete time stamps are a good thing for reaching goals. They impose time management and time limits on you.

With the New Year quickly approaching most people will be setting goals. Make sure that yours are SMART and include micro goals to motivate you along the way.

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Fitness Professionals: Solve psychological mismatch and see your business explode!

Rule #1: Clients want to connect.

People want to connect to each another. We are social. But the fitness industry is not using that to our advantage. Instead, we are over intellectualizing and under emotionalizing, and we have lost contact with the general public. Estimates place us reaching only 12% – 20% of our communities while 70% of Americans are overweight or obese. The psychological mismatch between fitness professionals and the general public is a factor reason. There is a mismatch between our expectations, goals, and values and theirs. What we see as important the general public does not. What we see as interesting they do not. What we see as motivating factors they do not.

The problem is that we rely on a connection with the general public for income. We have to figure out what the sources of mismatch are between us and them and how to solve the problem.

Common Mismatch Sources

Unreachable goals: Goals that we cannot reach because they are unrealistic. The fitness industry perpetuates unreachable goals! How many times have you seen staff promise unrealistic ‘weight loss’?

Rumination: people tend to go over and over things in their head. The thoughts of ‘what-if, should have, and would have’ drive people to depression and anxiety. If someone failed with fitness in the past, they are playing it like a broken record. It is a significant source of stress and an emotional roadblock to success that you must overcome. If you can solve this problem, a client will stay with you.

Emotional Toxins: people show up in gyms with toxic thoughts about fitness, gyms, and staff. You have to retrain their thinking about fitness and how-to change their lifestyle without them being aware.

Align Expectations, Goals, and Reality

Over my 30 years academic and field career the number one problem that I have seen trainers struggling with is setting realistic goals and then alignment of those goals with the sessions and program. This is the number one most important skill a trainer must have, and it is the number one source of mismatch. Goals must reflect the client, not you. Ill-conceived goals and poor goal alignment will cause disconnection between you and your client faster than anything else you can do. This workshop will show you step-by-step how to establish goals and align them to connect you to your client.

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Get Free College Courses Now!

You can get an education for free nowadays. Online education is set up for you to have access to learn what you need quickly and effectively, and free in most cases. It is set up to help you avoid long degree plans, going for exactly what content you want, and as the buyer deciding if you find the product worth buying (after, not before you go through the course). It is fair. It is ethical. It is brilliant, and I will show you exactly where to go to get it and how.

Although there a numerous sources for free, legitimate education let’s start with my favorite, Coursera. Coursera, www.coursera.com, is an education technology (ED TECH for short) company that offers massive online offered courses (MOOCs). Coursera offers MOOCs to the world for free through most major US universities. Founded by two Stanford computer sciences professors, Coursera and the idea behind it have grown into a monster, global industry. When I interviewed with Coursera in early spring of 2016 they had around 160 million unique users.

Now, your first thought, if you were like me, is how do they make money? The answer is quite simple: they sell optional certificates of completion. They allow you to decide if you want to purchase the course credit for a fee ranging from $49.00 to $79.00. The benefit to you of purchasing the completion certificate is that it shows employers you finished all of the course work and passed. The great thing is that you can do this at any time during or after the course. If you opt of purchasing the completion certificate, you simply take the course for free, get the knowledge you want, and move on.

Although I am most familiar with Coursera, it is not the only ED TECH offering massive online education or MOOCs to the world for free or a deeply discounted price. For now, I recommend exploring Coursera and next post I will share five more ED TECHS with different options with you.

Until next time,

~ Dr. Amy

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