Let’s get physical – The Joy of Mindful Exercise

By Dr. Chloe Paidoussis Mitchell

As a Grief and Trauma Psychologist, I compassionately and empathically guide clients through adjustment and recovery. My work is hugely meaningful to me and in order to cope I must prioritize my own psychological wellbeing. If I don’t, I will collapse with burnout and fatigue having depleted all my energy resources and psychologically shutting down.

I have had to recognize that life’s juggling act is stressful and it matters that I find a resilient way to handle the challenges. I am also Mum to 2, a wife, a daughter, a friend and a sister all of which keeps me busy. So securing my psychological wellbeing is of paramount importance to me.

How many of you are running on a psychological empty?

Most people have to juggle work, commuting, childcare, housework, finances, whilst also nurturing significant other halves, friendships, elderly parents, and handling academic, emotional, social, health and practical needs of their children. It is impossible to avoid stressing about fitting it all in, doing a good enough job and providing adequately to meet everyone’s practical, social and emotional needs.

How do we super parents cope?

Some of you may be single parents, others may be divorced, and some will be widowed. Men and women alike, we are all stretched and coping with a crazy busy life.

UK National statistics suggest that we are in the midst of a Mental Health epidemic with 1 in 4 diagnosed with a Mental Health Condition, with depression and anxiety figures soaring. This is hardly a surprise is it?

This is where Exercise comes in. It is incredibly important as it helps us to protect our physical and psychological health too.

Countless studies (in health psychology, sports psychology and psychiatry) show that when you exercise regularly there are multiple health and psychological benefits. What are these?

The Neuroscience 

Exercise is a Positive Health behavior and by actively engaging with it you send your unconscious mind a very clear message: your wellbeing (both physically and psychologically) is a priority to you. This is important because your brain is wired to believe you (always) and it will therefore do everything it can to prove you right.

In its attempt to do so it releases happy hormones and positive chemicals such as dopamine, adrenalin, serotonin, oxytocin – and with exercise your natural endorphins flow. The result is you feel happier, positive and more energized throughout the day.

People who exercise with a balanced, compassionate attitude to themselves really feel that they are practicing good self-care and this is an excellent antidote to any emerging mental health difficulty.

There is loads of evidence from neuropsychology that shows how exercise – especially mindful movement – activates those areas of the brain which control negative thinking and feelings of stress, anxiety, panic and depression.

It is therefore very clear that when you exercise, you reduce feelings associated with all of these and for anyone coping with a Mental Healthy condition (like Depression and Anxiety) this really helps with recovery.

What does Psychology show? 

Multiple psychological studies have shown that regular exercise reduces cynical thinking, improves cognitive function and memory, increases creativity, improves sex and sleep, fights off fatigue and inertia, boosts problem solving skills and more importantly leads to a sense of having a better quality of life.

It also helps to boost your auto immune system, reducing feelings of depression, anxiety, panic and stress. It improves body perception, and reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness. Overall exercise really helps to build self-esteem and inner confidence and resilience.

Did you know that people who exercise regularly report feeling more resilient and more able to respond and cope psychologically with mental and emotional challenges in life?

What kind of exercise should you do? 

Focus on exercise that you enjoy. What it is doesn’t matter. What is important is that you feel motivated to commit to it regularly. All exercise has similar benefits. Even a little bit of a walk each day offers benefits.

You are more likely to succeed at committing to a good exercise regime if you have a good group to exercise with.

So think about
(a) what your exercise of choice is and

(b) who you would most enjoy exercising with (this could be your preferred instructor, gym, team or group of friends).

Then plan to include it in your week. Evidence shows that even those who only exercise on the weekend, experience huge benefits. Obviously if you manage to exercise for 30mins a day this is really good for you.

Mindful Exercise Benefits – The case for Pilates  

My exercise of choice is Pilates. I have been really fortunate to connect with Nicki of niix (www.niix.fit) who is an excellent Pilates & fitness instructor. Through her positive mental attitude and clear instruction she has really helped me invest in my exercise regime.

Pilates is a whole mind-body-spirit fitness approach and it is adaptable to any fitness level. With Pilates the focus is on core strength, tone, flexibility and body-mind awareness. It is not about muscle build up and bulk.

I feel that when I do Pilates I am building psychological resistance to my busy stressful life and with a better body posture and stronger body & core, I actually feel stronger psychologically and think stronger in the mind.

The more I practice each movement, the more I realize that I can invest my full attention to the whole of the movement. This allows me to feel more centered in myself and more able to extend my concentration and precisely control breathing and flow of movement. What has worked for me is the philosophy underpinning Nix’s approach, the energy of the studio and our partnership in exercise.

What would work for you?

As well as a psychologist, I am also a Wellbeing Coach and I often help people overcome their blocks to psychological wellbeing. In my consultations with “stuck” clients we discover how to invest in psychological health and practice good self-care. Hopefully this blog post has offered you some really useful insight into a significant aspect of this.

Thank you for reading it. I know it was a long one! Now get exercising.

If you want, reach out. Both Nicki from niix and I would be delighted to support you.

With lots of positive energy and love,




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