How to Plan Your Workout When Your Mind and Body Are All Over the Place

Health Information Relationships

Shauna Harrison Ph.D.

There’s no question that so much is continuing to happen around us. I don’t know about you, but I find myself vacillating between hope, joy, and energy one day, and anxiety, loneliness, and despair on another. And it’s extra fun on the days that activate all those emotions hour by hour, isn’t it?

The most consistent word I can come up with to describe how I feel is: scattered. I feel mentally, emotionally, and physically scattered. Sometimes I’m drained, sometimes I’m energized. Sometimes I don’t know how I am feeling or who I am. In times like this, my emotional savior has always been movement; my physical savior has always been a number of recovery modalities. But figuring out which to lean on when everything feels all over the place is a bit trickier.

Throughout my time in fitness, I’ve discovered how important it is to really listen to your body and not to push yourself into exercise or activity that would only be more of a stressor. It’s also super important to check in with your mental health to figure out what will soothe your soul. Right now, amid a global pandemic, an all-enveloping news feed, and an incredibly polarizing political and social divisiveness, listening to your entire being is even more imperative. So how do you disentangle all of this and figure out what you really need?

What I’ve discovered is, you have to redefine what it means to listen to yourself. Stop. Look. Listen. Feel. And keep listening and keep feeling until you’ve really taken a full, honest inventory of your needs. An essential part of this involves letting go of that little voice in our head telling us what we should be doing based on things like set plans, expectations, or societal pressures. We need to learn to ignore that voice and instead allow our actual physical, mental, and emotional needs to dictate our actions.

After years of leaning on movement to help me work through grief, identity crises, breakups, degrees, repressed trauma, and all the other ups and downs life throws at us, I’ve found that there are a handful of recurring scenarios that tend to appear during these times, where I want to move my body but am feeling too scattered to know what’s best in the moment. Here’s what I’ve found to work best for me in each of these moods.

1. Working out when I’m mentally beat, but want to move

In this scenario, I’m mentally exhausted or emotionally spent, but my body is craving movement. Think back-to-back Zoom meetings, hours of being glued to election news, or an emotionally draining phone call. My body needs to move, but my mind is distracted—I might feel frustrated, upset, sad, or annoyed. When this occurs, here’s some workout tips I keep in mind for working out when stressed:


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