World Mental Health Day is October 10 every year. While it may not be the most obvious correlation, many people use exercise as a means of managing their mental health, and more still are managing their mental health through fitness without even being aware of it! If you’ve ever felt that lump in your throat during a run or experienced anger bubbling to the surface while weight lifting you aren’t the only one, and there are many reasons for this unexpected phenomenon!
Our bodies hold wells of tension. You may carry the stress of the day in your shoulders, anger in your jaw, sadness in your back or any other place as a means to defend yourself against pain and negativity. When you enter into an activity to physically relax or release these muscles, those hidden emotions may flood to the surface. The most common exercise modality to see this in is any mind-body practice, such as Yoga and meditation. These practices encourage us to turn our attention inward and reflect. You may tap into something you’ve pushed deep down when you release your lower back, frustration during an inversion may bring up tears, or you may be filled with emotion just by listening to the soothing music and instructor’s voice during the only 30 minutes of the day that you get to slow down and take time for yourself.
It isn’t just mind-body means of exercise that can trigger an emotional response. High intensity workouts such as jogging or running are interpreted as stressors by your body. In an effort to neutralize or balance that stress, you may naturally start crying, despite not feeling emotional, just as you would from anything else in your day that was causing you stress1. As a form of exercise, running can be completely exhausting. When we are depleted of energy the resulting exhaustion can make your brain less inhibited, making room for whatever emotions need to come to the surface2. Doctors hypothesize that “[e]xercise can stimulate neurotransmitter activity in the brain, which may lead to increased emotional intensity3.” These chemicals, dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, fluctuate with exercise, which could leave you feeling enthusiastic, joyful, even euphoric3! These heightened emotions may also leave you feeling more ecstatic or disappointed after your performance depending on your desired outcome. What may be a mere 30 second decrease in your PR time could leave you wiping away tears that you didn’t expect to shed. Conversely, setting a new record could have you dancing in the streets from the overflow of dopamine, our reward chemical.
Whether you consider yourself someone who is connected to their emotions or not, physical activity has a way of bringing unexpected feelings to the surface. Be it through Yoga, running, lifting, swimming, or any other modality, if you find yourself crying, celebrating, or raging during physical activity you are not abnormal, and you are not alone.