One of the many reasons people get involved in fitness and training is because they're trying to work through something. Whether it's about something from the past that haunts them to overcome self-esteem issues or using the weights as therapy, physical health has been a way to help people with mental health for decades. Whether it was obvious or unconscious, the effort that goes into training does the brain just as much as it does the muscles.
Trina Clayeux, Ph.D., is CEO of Give an Hour, a nonprofit organization focused on helping patients struggling with various mental health issues. According to its website, Give an Hour's mission is to "develop resilient individuals and communities." They do not offer emergency services, but their efforts have helped numerous people overcome various mental barriers to reach new levels of personal success. In her work, Clayeux, who received her Ph.D. in leadership studies, has seen time and time again that the ties between physical and mental health are profound.
"When you can't control parts of your physical health, your mental health starts to decline. This also works the other way around. When your mental health goes downhill, your physical health is usually right behind it," Clayeux said. Many of the patients that Give an Hour serves are veterans of the United States Armed Forces, and she can attest to the enormity of the problems that can be associated with mental health and the lack of attention that has been given to her.
"I've worked with military personnel for 20 years," Clayeux said. "One of the biggest gaps in support for individuals was that for them there was a complete disconnect from mental health."
Clayeux also shared that the military has been working to close this gap with the transition from active duty to retirement or discharge. It's worth noting that she's not just speaking from a professional point of view. Being the wife of a 26-year veteran herself gave her an advantage when it came to helping other veterans in their professional lives.
"With that came a contiguous view of the importance of physical health that is prevalent in the military and a development that is leading to mental health becoming so normalized."
A misconception that many people have believed is that you have to focus on one before you get the other. Clayeux believes that this is not the case and her experience and knowledge from the field have confirmed these feelings.
"As people in the [military] As a community has connected the dots between physical readiness and mental readiness, you really start to see the synergy of this coming together and how they are interdependent,” she explained. Other forms of validation that can confirm this can be seen in the form of veterans and family members who have shared their stories on M&F such as Melanie Branch, Charles Eggleston, Kionte Storey and Matt Cable. Clayeux himself is also committed to the fit. She has competed in numerous races, including an Ironman and two half Ironmans.
"I've played sports my whole life and every year I learn a new sport," she says. “Paying attention to the process outside of sport was important and helped me. This connectivity has been a huge boost, both mentally and physically.”
Aside from addressing mental health issues that can be traced back to the past, Clayeux hopes athletes, veterans and everyone else will look ahead and focus on physical health and also devote time to the mental health aspect, as injury can happen at any time can. Being mentally prepared can make a huge difference in recovery.
"It helps to be prepared by leaning on a psychologist rather than relying on a site of response," Clayeux suggested. "You can look at it a little differently so that you don't lose sight of both your mental goals and your physical goals."
A need to exercise body and mind
It can be really easy to focus on one practice or game and not pay attention to anything else. While this is great for the physical component, the mental health aspect also needs training and training or performance is a great time for that. Clayeux provided a way to do just that without wasting time from the session you are in.
"When you're physically active, it's a good time to pay attention to your thoughts and feelings," she said. “Watch for signs of emotional well-being associated with this activity. Some of these could be hanging out with friends, feeling more energetic, feeling less stressed, etc.
Clayeux believes this can extend well beyond a veteran's personal self. Focusing on emotional well-being during exercise or activity can have an impact on the immediate community.
"That physical activity and emotional connection can not only improve your well-being, but also affect the people around you."
When it comes to mental health, Give an Hour helps connect veterans and others to a variety of resources that can help them directly in their fields. This includes various programs, counseling and more. While there are options for people who need them, Clayeux believes there is much more that can be done.
"A lot of it is that these mental health providers need access to these populations," she shared. “Each community has its own culture and its own nuance. Even the bodybuilding community has its own ecosystem and language. It's really important that vendors get exposure to that and know what really works in a community.”
tear down obstacles
The biggest obstacle many people, including veterans, face is not knowing what to do. Current military members and veterans are literally being trained to be in peak physical readiness and stay focused on the task at hand while being aware of what could happen. It may not even be a diagnosed mental health condition like PTSD that is holding them back. Many feel that they are not worth improving. To do so would be selfish in their minds. Another point Clayeux wants to emphasize is that not only can they give themselves the grace to focus on self-improvement, it is actually a form of personal responsibility that they should. dr Trina Clayeux believes this can go well beyond the personal you. Focusing on emotional well-being while exercising or being active can have an impact on your immediate community.
“This physical activity and emotional connection can not only improve your well-being, but also affect the people around you. When I'm having a really stressful day, the best things I can do for myself is run or go to the gym. I realize how much better I'm doing when I come back. You have to put the effort into the change or routine.”
How can veterans do this for themselves? They can apply the principles they learned in the ministry to their lives today. PT was a requirement that came with the job of service. dr Trina Clayeux wants veterans to be just as committed to physical and mental well-being now, because she knows it puts them in the best position to be successful for themselves and those they love.
"I do certain things that are non-negotiable, and fitness is one of them. I have seen it in my life and others will see it too, the practice is so important because of the compound effect.”
For more information on Give an Hour or to register as a provider, visit www.giveanhour.org.