Brian Kennedy

Working on mental wellness is just as important as working on physical fitness

TAMMYE NASH | Managing Editor

Each year as a new year begins, people go about making resolutions, and many of those resolutions center around “getting in shape.” We pledge to get back in the gym and maintain a workout routine, to diet and lose those holiday — COVID pandemic — pounds. But too often, we forget to make mental health and wellness a part of our getting healthy/staying healthy routines.

So this week, we talked with licensed professional counselor Brian Kennedy with Room For Change to get some tips on how to work on our mental fitness as well as our physical fitness as we kickstart 2023.

Dallas Voice: We are just coming out of the holidays, which can be really stressful for everyone and sometimes especially so for LGBTQ folks. What suggestions do you have to help people shake off the holiday blues and get on track for the new year? Brian Kennedy: Having something to look forward to is a great way to shake off the holiday blues and get on track. Spending some time filling out your social calendar and planning events you look forward to can pull you out of a slump. Creating an inventory of what went well for this or past holidays that you’d like to replicate can help you really get a sense of self and what will bring joy in the future.

It’s also important to look at what didn’t work so you can make different choices to guide future activities. If visiting family was a drain, consider shortening the visit or even skipping it next year. Don’t simply continue to do something out of obligation. A holiday is just another day that we attach meaning to. If you choose to not celebrate or decorate in the future, there is no rule that says you have to.

A lot of people make New Year’s resolutions about getting physically fit — going to the gym, dieting, etc. What role does physical fitness play in mental health? While exercise can be beneficial to combatting depression and anxiety, it can often feel like an obligation as we attempt to achieve an aesthetic that we believe has been set by our community. Find out your why. What are you hoping to accomplish?

I don’t usually focus myself or my clients on an unattainable beauty standard or fitness regimen per se, because health comes in many forms and sizes. Movement and what we put into our bodies is important. It has both chemical implications for our mental health plus the accompanied pride that can come with a change in outward appearance.

I often encourage clients to reframe their fitness outlook from an aesthetic outlook to a mentally fit outlook. I work out because it is good for my overall health, not because someone thinks I’m not hot enough.

Taking that a step further, can you suggest a mental fitness “workout regimen” to go along with a person’s physical fitness workout regimen? Similar to doing reps in the gym, doing hard things like confronting people and allowing yourself to explore your painful past becomes easier the more you do it. Doing the things that scare you can build your resilience “muscles.”

It’s okay to start small. It’s unrealistic to walk into a gym and try to lift 500 pounds on your first try; you start with just the bar. In the same way, you can’t take on everything in your history in a single therapy session. There are skills/techniques to be learned. and sometimes you’ll stumble. Failure is not fatal. It’s how we grow. It’s important to start therapy, even if it scares you or you’ve never done it before. Make it part of your 2023 plan.

Set aside time daily to reflect and ask yourself: 1. What went well? 2. What could have gone better and was within my control vs. outside my control? 3. What am I grateful for?

Gratitude is key and can shield you from negativity while boosting self-esteem and performance. Consider starting a gratitude journal or just logging three things that you’re grateful for each day, even if it’s something like a warm cup of coffee.

The Texas Legislature just convened for its 2023 session, and we already have seen lots of measures proposed that target LGBTQ people and our equality. Transgender people, especially trans youth, are really under fire right now. How do we counteract the constant attacks on a personal level? And how do we stay informed without letting ourselves get overwhelmed by the news? I like to remind myself of who we are as a group of people. We have survived much and are a resilient type. We’ve seen this type of discrimination in the past and will continue to see it in the future.

We are a community who has always taken care of our own. My belief is we continue to stand together as a community and support those around us. It’s easy to doom scroll and get overwhelmed. If you have the energy and the resources, which most people do, find one of the agenda items or bills and focus on addressing it. You can’t be passionate and effective with all of the topics and changes that are going on. Centralize what you have to give. Lean heavily on your supports. The attacks can feel very personal, find those that love and support you amidst the politicians. Educate those within your reach and circles.

Read Peter Staley’s Never Silent: ACT UP and My Life In Activism. It’s a good guide to how organizations like ACT UP changed our nation’s stance on HIV/AIDS. Continue to stay connected to friends. Be informed but never panic.

And finally, we all deal with all different kinds of stress every day — from worries about paying bills to the stress of a daily commute on busy highways. How can we tell when that stress is affecting our mental wellness to the point that we should think about seeing a counselor? And if someone finds themselves in a crisis situation, what should they do first? I am biased and think that everyone could benefit from seeing a counselor. It’s important to consider how much you feel/don’t feel like yourself. If you don’t feel like yourself, if you aren’t thinking or behaving in alignment with your personality and values, it’s a good signal that you should talk to someone.

If you are in immediate danger, go to an ER or call 911. If you are currently safe but worry how long you can remain safe, reach out to the local crisis line or give us a call at 214-385-5445. If we can help, we will, or we’ll make sure you are linked with someone who can help. There’s no need to suffer alone.

Brian Kennedy is an LGBTQ-affirming therapist working through Room For Change therapy practice with offices in Garland and at 3710 Rawlins St. in Oak Lawn. Contact him at 214-385-5445.