Which comes first — healthy body or healthy mind?

The two go hand in hand, but which comes first?

Is it the chicken or the egg?

OK, that might be a stretch …

I think there are two ways to look at it. One, physical fitness kind of requires a certain amount of mental fitness. If you are depressed, for example, it probably is going to be hard to motivate yourself to exercise, which means you might not be so physically fit. You might drink too much or smoke too much or whatever; drown your sorrows in unhealthy eating. Your physical health suffers, making you feel worse mentally. A vicious cycle.

Being physically unfit can be depressing in itself. You get to a certain point, gain too much weight, feel sluggish, tired. You give up.

On the other hand, feeling better physically can lead to feeling better mentally.

See what I mean?

It’s a conundrum, ain’t it?

Here’s what I think:

You need both.

Five years ago, when I was depressed and overweight and had no real hope of climbing out of the muck I swam in day to day, it took an encouraging friend to shake me out of it. With his help, I found a new purpose, which happened to be pole vaulting. I have something inside that loves to be athletic, to run and jump and be active. When I tried vaulting for the first time, I wasn’t any good at it, but I was hooked from the very beginning.

One thing led to another. I kept at it and started getting in shape; started improving. I started feeling better mentally and physically at the same time. Life was good for a long time.

Then the beginning of this year, something happened.

I woke up one morning with a feeling of … impending doom is the only way I can describe it. My chest was really tight. My heart was pounding in my chest, and I could barely breathe. I couldn’t catch my breath at all, no matter how much I tried to relax. Something was telling me I had to get out of bed — NOW!!!

This panic attack (as I discovered what it was later) lasted from about 7 a.m. to 3 in the afternoon that day. Scared the crap out of me. I’ve had heart palpitations off and on over the years that lasted for short periods of time, and even had myself checked a couple years ago by a cardiac guy, so I was thinking maybe something had gone seriously wrong.

These panic attacks kept coming, mostly in the morning but also at other times of the day, although they didn’t last nearly as long as that first one. I did a bunch of research and made an appointment with a doctor, but by the time I got on a conference call with the doc, I had figured out what was causing my anxiety disorder, and I had found a solution that was working.

First thing, it occurred to me that the past two years were much more stressful and having more effect on me than I realized. There was the start of the damn pandemic in 2020, which changed everything. A major life event. Stress. Then I retired from teaching school after 18 years. Second major life event. Stress. Then my father died after a long illness. Major life event. Stress. Then my nephew went missing (and later turned up dead). Major life event. Stress.

All those things combined finally took their toll, I think is what happened, and wham!!!

Something had to give.

One thing that turned the tide was a conversation with a friend who told me about a morning routine he practices every day. He said the quality of his life depends on it. I was desperate, so I decided to try and start a new morning routine of my own.

Instead of getting up, brushing my teeth, grabbing a cup of coffee and plopping down in front of my laptop, I started listening to positive mindset messages on YouTube. I started journaling, writing down my thoughts and three things I was grateful for, and doing a meditation.

It started working right away.

Today is Day 64 of my new routine and here is how it has evolved:

As soon as I wake up in the morning, I reach back behind me on the headboard and grab my phone. Turn it on and immediately put on a spiritual message. The guy I listen to is controversial and I completely understand that, but his messages resonate with me. Something I discovered listening to him is that everything all these motivational, positive-thinking gurus talk about is in the Bible. I never realized that before.

So the guy I listen to is Joel Osteen, the megachurch guy in Houston, my hometown.

I don’t really care if he is a zillionaire and lives in a big-ass mansion. That’s really none of my business, and it doesn’t change the fact that his messages have helped me a lot. He helps a lot of people, and what’s so wrong with that?

So I listen to one of Joel’s messages, then I put on some “happy music.” I literally Google the phrase “happy music” and turn it up all the way while I take care of morning bathroom duties, brush my teeth and take a shower. I even snap my fingers, dance around a little sometimes, and say, “Today’s going to be a great day!” a few times in the shower.

Then I go in and make my coffee, sit on the couch, grab my journal, and put on some sort of positive-thinking message. Believe it or not, Oprah is someone I enjoy listening to. She has a bunch of good stuff on YouTube. So does the comedian Steve Harvey, and Kevin Hart. There are tons of positive, inspirational talks you can find. So I listen to one or two of those while I write in my journal, then I find a 10-minute or so meditation.

After all that, I start my day.

No more anxiety or panic attacks. My mindset is turning more and more positive every day.

I don’t procrastinate like I used to.

One of my mentors says, “Do what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to do it.”

I’ve always been good at making plans and commitments, then backing out at the last minute, for no good reason other than I didn’t feel like it. Putting things off until tomorrow or whenever.

That shit causes stress and anxiety.

If you’re having trouble with stress, anxiety, depression, procrastinating … think about trying a new positive-based morning routine.

It really works.