Exercise is a valuable part of your mental health toolkit, but it can’t be the only tool. Would you try to build a house using only a hammer? No! You’ll need a miter saw, a level, and a drill — and that’s just to start.
Think of mental health workers as general brain contractors. Yes, a hammer comes in handy, but it’s a small part of a big job. We’ll never suggest you to ignore your physical health, but a gym membership should never require pushing aside your emotional needs.
If you’re on a tight budget, you might even consider choosing therapy over an expensive gym membership. Here’s why having access to a therapist is more important.
You Can Workout Without A Trainer — But You Need a Professional for Therapy
No mental health professional will ever say that exercise isn’t important. But working out your brain is just as important as working out your mind: exercise reduces anxiety and depression and also provides social interaction, encourages self-sufficiency, and serves as a welcome distraction.
But, exercise doesn’t have to cost money. You can run in the park or go on walks with a friend. You can join a recreational sports team that hits a volleyball around once a week, or enjoy the outdoors by hiking in your closest nature preserve.
Therapy, however, requires a professional. Chatting with your friends eases some of your mental load, but an untrained listener won’t be able to point out your faulty logic or teach you new methods for handling stress. There’s a reason therapists deserve fair payment for their services. They’ve spent years studying the brain and can use that knowledge to help you feel better.
Your Therapist Keeps Tabs on You, and Your Progress
Sure, some small, hyper-local gyms will shoot you a text if you’ve missed three weeks in a row. But generally, relying on a gym to improve your mental health is a dicey proposition that requires a lot of discipline.
Like we said: exercise is good for you. But you need a consistent routine to experience the benefits, and establishing that consistent routine while struggling with a mental health disorder can be a challenge. Yes, you’d like to show up every day, but conditions like depression often cause apathy and anhedonia. (That means an inability to feel pleasure — making working out even more difficult.)
A therapist will help you get back on track. Once your mental health is in good shape, setting up a consistent gym routine becomes much simpler.
A Therapist Will Help You During Mental Health Emergencies
For minor mental health issues, like a particularly stressful day or a bout of bad news, exercise may feel like a solution. A long, hard run can be the perfect place to pound out your anxieties and fears. But if you’re truly mentally struggling, a gym membership won’t help you get better in the long run.
A therapist is a lifeline when your mental illness is at its worst. In order to make the best use of that lifeline, you’ll want to work with someone consistently. After all, a therapist who is intimately familiar with the way your specific mental health problem presents can offer help customized uniquely to your situation.
Don’t think of mental health emergencies as just sad days. Mental health emergencies can include self-harm or suicidal ideation, which need an expert’s help. A therapist you trust can help you overcome these challenges.
A Gym Membership Can’t Refer You to a Psychiatrist
Sometimes, you need more than just psychotherapy. If your depression or anxiety lingers or you’re diagnosed with a more severe mental health illness, like bipolar disorder, you may need to investigate pharmaceutical intervention. As great as exercise is, most insurers require a referral in order to talk to a psychiatrist. Your gym membership definitely can’t do that.
Don’t let your need for medication trick you into thinking that you’ve failed. You haven’t! A mental health professional is trained to identify when your needs require additional therapies, like medicine. If you don’t budget to work with a professional therapist, you’ll never know what options may be available to you.
Therapists are trained to see the bigger picture of your mental health. There’s a good chance your therapist will recommend increased physical activity as part of your recovery plan — but that gym membership works in concert with meditation, eating healthy, practicing self-care, self-soothing techniques, and (of course!) regular therapy.