By Kirk S. Johnson, M.A., LPC, LAC, NCC

Do as I say, not as I do. Therapists are human and we struggle with a lot of the same things our clients come to us with. Do as I say, not as I do. I was tired of telling my clients how important physical health is and how it relates so much to our overall well-being.

All through graduate school, we potential therapists were constantly reminded how important self-care is. Yet each year after grad school I put on an extra ten pounds. My self-care was watching late night TV and eating ice cream. How can I tell my clients to go for a walk, garden, join a yoga class, take up jogging, if my biggest run was to the fridge and back?

Well, last year I decided not to be a hypocrite and to start following my own advice, and I started exercising. I began to feel a tremendous amount of balance, peace, and overall increase in self-worth. Guess what, this just doesn’t apply to me, it applies to everyone.

Countless studies have shown the positive effects of certain neurotransmitters and exercise. Neurotransmitters communicate between nerve cells (called neurons) and the body. The neurons control thought and movement. They talk to each other by releasing and accepting calcium and potassium. Neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine (called monoamines) affect the calcium and potassium by exciting them and determining how much of the chemicals are released and accepted.

Why should we pay attention to serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine? Why are these three important? They affect our mood. There are many other neurotransmitters that communicate with our body, but these are very important to mood, “self-care,” and overall mental, physical, and emotional well-being.

Research has shown the numerous benefits to exercise and movement. I threw out the word movement because so many people hate the word exercise. Movement can be anything that gets us moving, preferably something we enjoy.  A quick side note: random acts of kindness affect the same neurotransmitters in a positive way. The benefits of these neurotransmitters being fired are: reduced brain diseases, reduced treatment of anxiety and depression, better mental clarity, sense of well-being, weight loss, stress reduction, less addiction treatment, better sex, ease of digestion, enhanced immune system, decrease of heart disease, and more. You all know these many benefits just like I do, so why not do it?

Change is hard, and I will write more about change specifically at a later date, but for now I will let you in on a little secret that works for me and numerous clients. It’s called the 5 minute rule. You just say to yourself I am going to do this task, assignment, whatever for 5 minutes. Heck, anyone can do something for 5 measly minutes.  What usually happens is that once we start doing something for 5 minutes we end up doing it for a longer period of time. The deal is, all you have to do is 5 minutes. If you’re done after 5 minutes, fine. You did it. Try it again tomorrow and the next day and next. Pretty soon you will have formed a healthy habit of self-care.

Some days will be 3 steps forward and 5 back, but others will be better. Be compassionate and patient with yourself, move and have fun, and it will affect all aspects of your life. I’m going to put down my sandwich and go for a hike with a friend and my dogs.

What changes have you made that have worked for you?

Kirk Johnson is a licensed professional counselor and addictions counselor at Maria Droste Counseling Center. He also has a treatment center in Black Hawk, CO and teaches at Regis University. His passion is helping people realize their full potential.