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The Counseling Center

Bearing the Weight – Lifting and Mental Health

By: Matt Whisman, Case Manager & ISSA Certified Personal Trainer

I was asked several months ago to write a few words on my thoughts of exercise used in conjunction with mental health and substance abuse treatment. To be completely honest, it wasn’t until I was recently injured and unable to train that I started to fully understand what lifting weights has done for my mental health.

At one point or another you may have heard of the benefits of exercise, including: weight control, reduced risk of heart disease, and even increased bone density – or maybe it’s more common to recognize the emphasis of improving one’s physical appearance. Whatever it is that gets an individual into the gym, it’s widely acknowledged that their well-being generally increases. 

But I believe in most cases, it’s deeper beneath the surface, especially for people with substance use and mental health disorders. 

In my personal experience with substance abuse, I found myself spending an immense amount of time engaging in something that only caused misery. The better I became at doing this, the more it ruined my life. During this time, I grew accustomed to hearing that familiar voice in my head making a constant mockery of everything I previously valued of myself. 

Once I was lucky enough to be pulled from this cycle, I found myself stuck with only that voice in my head and the realization that I had wasted a lot of time, and what hurt the most was knowing I spent this time doing something that was not fulfilling. So to go even beyond the benefits of exercise, it’s important to acknowledge how much doing something you enjoy can dramatically improve your quality of life. For me this hobby happened to be lifting weights. 

For years I avoided putting forth effort to quit using drugs due to fear. I feared failing, embarrassment, and judgment from people who actually already viewed me as a failure. This same fear kept me paralyzed and resulted in never taking any risks to change my situation. 

In a lot of ways, this same cycle has been played out by many people wanting to start exercising. 

Quite often, I hear people say they would compete (or even train) if they were “strong enough” in comparison to other lifters. This is a peek at the before mentioned fear and how it can affect someone’s confidence to make themselves vulnerable. 

While dealing with injuries, I found myself completely engrossed with training philosophy, and more specifically; how to help other lifters improve and overcome the inevitable aches and pains in the gym. Being a lifter who had a less than stellar response to training, it came naturally to search for solutions to plateaus and keep progressing. 

When I help people with similar issues, my life seems to mean a little more in the moment. Powerlifting is a sport based on self-improvement. You start by wondering what you’re capable of doing, and almost always end up doing things you did not believe you could do. If that doesn’t sound like recovery, I’m not sure what does. 

Life can be unfair, progress seems to be out of our control at times, and the emotions you feel can be very discouraging. Facing all of this is what will set us aside from the ones that expect us to do nothing.

We encourage you to follow us on Facebook and Instagram as we continue to share our thoughts and practices in the business of Mental Healthcare. If you or someone you love is in need of behavioral treatment of any kind–reach us at 740.354.6685 or 24/7 on the Crisis Hotline 740.354.1010.

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The Counseling Center is the region’s leader in behavioral healthcare. Our licensed behavioral and primary healthcare providers employ advanced treatments to help our patients achieve long-term mental and physical health goals. We are leading the way in shaping positive outcomes for mental health, substance use disorder, physical health, and recovery housing.

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