In accordance with Mental Health Awareness Month, May’s Monthly Challenge—Peaks and Valleys—challenged members to complete at least eight Interval Workouts alongside donations to NAMI (the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization). HIIT intervals are all about give and take — short bursts of more intense effort followed by longer periods of slower, more sustained effort.
Similarly, our lives are also full of peaks and valleys — the ups and downs, and everything in between. There are moments where we have the energy to give our max effort, while other times require slowness and rest. Supporting our mental health follows a parallel path; sometimes we have the motivation to do what it takes to take care. Think: Getting regular movement in, going to therapy, and the variety of techniques that may work for you personally. However, other times, we simply don’t have the same drive.
This waxing and waning is only human, and New York-based mental health professional Justin Spiro knows this all too well. Justin is currently a school social worker at the New York City Department of Education, and serves as a wrestling coach for his school as well. We turned to him for some guidance on how to navigate life’s Peaks and Valleys both this Mental Health Awareness Month and beyond.
Q + A with Justin Spiro, LCSW
Ergatta: What are some relatively low effort tips or strategies for promoting mental health when you’re in a “Valley.”?
Justin: Rome wasn’t built in a day. And starting small is often the way to go. If you’re in a Valley, the whole world could look like Mount Everest! Make one small goal for yourself and stick to it. Committing to a daily workout may seem overwhelming, and therefore you may avoid it. Instead, start with once a week. And make a plan for exactly when you’ll do your exercise, such as right before or after work. Or, if you want to start with a non-exercise goal, make a plan for self-care — reading a book, sunbathing in the park, scheduling a phone call with an old friend!
You’ll be surprised at just how good you’ll feel by taking one small step in the right direction. And then you’ll begin to create a feedback loop in the positive direction! When we work out, our body releases endorphins and other neurotransmitters that give us a “natural high.” Working out begets better mental health, and mental health begets more motivation to work out!
E: What are some more long-term, relatively effortful strategies for promoting mental health for when you’re on a “Peak”?
K: We all must go through Valleys before we can attain and appreciate the Peaks. When you’re feeling good physically and mentally, you can push yourself further. Start working out on a more regular schedule and build up your physical fitness. Be proactive about your mental health, too! Some people like to keep a journal, or at the very least rate their emotions from 1-10 each day as a mini-check in to catch any stressors before they escalate. Meeting with a therapist is always helpful as well. (We need to do more to destigmatize therapy and mental health services!)
Lastly, when you’re really feeling on top of the world, use your positive energy to take on big projects. Looking to renovate your home? Want to get back on the job market? Ride the wave of positivity to get these big life tasks done!
E: Can you describe the connection between physical and mental health?
J: As a school social worker, I see the connection between physical and mental health every day with my students. Getting a bad night’s sleep or skipping breakfast can be the recipe for an emotionally difficult day. Similarly, if you’re feeling down or anxious, your emotions may zap you of physical energy. It can create a vicious feedback loop of poor physical and poor mental health exacerbating each other.
E: What have you found to be successful ways to build mental resilience among your athletes?
J: Whether I’m working with students in my office or on the field, my message is consistent: everything starts from our mindset. Any initiative in life begins with believing in yourself. It doesn’t matter if you’re a rookie high school athlete, an academically struggling student, or a professional adult who hasn’t worked out in decades. As cliché as it sounds, telling yourself “I got this” is the first step.
We hope you can refer back to Justin’s insights as a resource this Mental Health Awareness and beyond. If you or someone you knows needs help, NAMI has a HelpLine that can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.–10 p.m., ET. 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
All content and media on the Ergatta Blog is created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.