Newton’s Law of Motion and Mental Health

I’m no scientist and I don’t remember much about Physics, but I know all about inertia. It is easy for me to get stuck in a rut and I have to really push myself to get motivated. Some days are easier than others, but one thing’s for sure: lying on my couch doesn’t help. Once I get sucked into the couch vortex, I can disappear for hours. One hour leads to another and another. Before I know it, the day is almost over and I accomplished nothing. Then I think of all the things I should have done. Then I feel the guilt and shame and worthlessness. It’s a vicious cycle–the less I do, the worse I feel, and the more negative my thoughts become. So what does this have to do with Newton’s first Law of Motion? Everything.

In a game of dominoes, the dominoes remain still until one topples. When one moves, it causes the next to fall and so on. Bodies are no different. That’s why I need to make sure I get up and move during the day. It doesn’t need to be exercise or anything in particular, but if I don’t force myself to get up, I can easily stay there for a long time. Then the feeling and thoughts get going and soon I’m spiraling down a dark dark hole. However, if I can take one step no matter how small–topple one domino–it will often lead to the next one and I gain momentum.

The tricky part is that unless I have to be somewhere, I tend to stay put. Then I feel even worse for not doing anything when I had the time and the means. I swear working full-time is what kept me sane all those years. The great irony is that my mental illness prevents me from working full-time: I can’t handle the workload or the level of stress I took on before. It’s a constant challenge, but I try to catch it early and set myself in motion, often through the encouragement or accountability by a friend, peer, family member, therapist, etc. Many have told me that having a pet has saved their lives. Their pets give them purpose and force them to get up and walk them, feed them, play with them, and care for them. My pet, a sweet rescue cat named “Cinnamon,” prefers the couch so he isn’t much help in the get-up and get-moving department. He does give me joy, though. Thankfully, I have other things that keep me moving.

Finding ways to build in accountability and maintain a consistent routine can help so much. For me, volunteering and partial programs gave me that structure when I wasn’t able to provide it on my own. I had a specific time and place I needed to be. My therapy appointments and peer support group meetings helped me to get out, even if just for an hour or two. I learned to be gentle with myself and give myself credit for even the small tasks I completed. It feels good to cross something off a list, no matter how small it is. Accomplishing a goal builds momentum and moves energy in the right direction.

I still find myself drawn to the siren song of the couch, but it’s getting easier to steer away toward brighter shores. Sure, there are days I succumb and and crash, but I give myself grace, get back in my ship, and move on.

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