For only a short 3 weeks I have been regularly going to the gym however for what feels like the longest five years I’ve had anxiety and panic attacks. Before I get into the relationship of exercise and mental health for me, it’s best to first say that I think anxiety can mean different things to different people. Some people may get anxious because of money, or maybe their job, a relationship or even just by being around people. This anxiety can then manifest in different ways; maybe through panic attacks or their weight and more. Therefore, with the broad spectrum of anxiety in mind, I hope you read this with the understanding that this is simply my personal experience.
Since I was a kid I was a lazy little sh*t. If we had to go anywhere as a family my initial response would be: ‘do we have to walk?’. So, going to the gym was never a thought of something I’d actually enjoy to do. I thought going to the gym was for girls who wanted to get a ‘summer body’ and the thought of being around people fitter than me honestly intimidated me. But I had heard that exercising can help manage anxiety and at this point I had been having a panic attacks almost every night for two months straight. I would literally wake up in the middle of the night, covered in sweat, my mind racing, completely unable to move and breathe. I’d try anything.
When I first walked into the gym to sign up I made it clear to the guys that would do my workout programme that I didn’t want to lose weight (as my weight had already plummeted recently) and that I was doing it to try to help relieve my anxiety. I think by going in with my intentions completely certain, I wasn’t overwhelmed by what exercise to do, which machine to use and what classes to go to- I’d just do whatever felt best. I mean there’s times I’ve gone to the gym, used the elliptical machine for 2o minutes and then showered and got on with the rest of my day. But even those 20 minutes of working out helped instil a different, better mindset.
If you really think about it, running forward and keeping going takes a certain way of thinking. You can’t second guess yourself or have any doubt, you’ve got to tell yourself that you can do it, to keep going, just five minutes more, don’t give up, keep moving forward. It’s in that exact frame of mind that you’ve crushed your own anxiety. The anxiety that once consumed you isn’t in power at all. Now, do that for a few minutes each day and I honestly believe you will see an outstanding change in the way you think. After only two weeks of regularly going to the gym, I didn’t have one panic attack.
Now I know that you could just say to go for a run instead of paying for the gym and you’d have the same result, but this is where I think it boils down to personal preference. For me, anxiety is a ‘got to got to got to’ mentality. So, by being out the house, around other people, but working hard at something for myself I can achieve the productivity that I like in an environment that suits me. I love it because in a gym you could easily have small talk with someone so you don’t feel on your own, but at the same time you’re there to take care of you not to make friends. It’s a perfect balance.
I would really love if more people understood the connection between physical and mental health so that a person saying they’re going to the gym isn’t just seen as them wanting to look good. You don’t have to be a perfect bikini babe to be fit and the strongest person in the gym isn’t whoever lifts the heaviest weight. It’s about taking care of yourself for only you.