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Working Out for Your Sanity

My anxiety and depression started early in life. Partly due to genetics but also because of family conflict around me. I was also that awkward and annoying kid that didn’t have a strong group of friends to lean on. My main coping tool for many years was to isolate myself. I did this in both healthy (reading books) and unhealthy (watching way too much TV) ways. And my way to isolate was to lead a pretty sedentary life where weight gain was unavoidable… or so I convinced myself. People (mostly my thin and healthy weighted family) would tell me I should exercise because I was getting too heavy, but I always had an excuse for why I couldn’t… “I don’t have time”… I’m too tired”… “I have asthma so I can’t really work out”… etc. I’m not sure my family believed my excuses but I did a great job of convincing myself that exercise was not the thing for me!

During my senior year of high school my mood was so low I decided to try antidepressants. Medication (specifically Paxil) was a godsend for my mood. It was however not a godsend for my body image. The weight gain was drastic and I eventually pushed past the 200lb mark while taking Paxil. And I was still making the same excuses for why I couldn’t work out. My new excuse now was that I was too heavy to work out!

It’s hard to pinpoint when things changed for me… maybe it was getting older and caring more about my health… maybe it was all the critical statements my family and my brain would tell me about how fat I had gotten… maybe it was that I learned how to challenge my negative thoughts using cognitive behavior therapy and make an actual plan to lose weight… maybe it was getting off the antidepressants because other parts of my life had come together… maybe it was my desire to shop for cuter clothes because I cared more about my appearance… maybe it was a combination of all these things. In my mid-20’s, I finally decided let’s give this workout thing a chance.

I joined a gym. At first I stuck to a few elliptical machines that seemed uncomplicated but would get me moving. I avoided the treadmills like a plague! My excuse there was “I can’t run like that”. What’s interesting is that I was still using my isolation tactic at the gym. I would only go during times when there weren’t many people and I would never take a class. I thought I was fat and that other people would think to themselves “Who’s she kidding?” Slowly, I started to see a difference in my weight and it felt good. This “good” feeling helped me reevaluate my thoughts about needing to work out in isolation. I started to take classes and actually talk to other people while at the gym. And guess what… the other people were supportive and not secretly calling me a “fat idiot” behind my back. More weight started to come off and the gym became a semi-regular part of my life.

As much as I enjoyed losing weight, I only saw working out as a physically healthy thing for me to do. It wasn’t until I went through a divorce that I realized it was also saving my sanity. As I’m sure everyone knows, divorce sucks. It doesn’t matter if you are the one doing the leaving or if it’s your partner leaving you, divorce is one of the most emotionally painful things a person can go through. I was lucky that I had friends to support me but I also needed to support my own emotional well-being during that time and going to the gym was my medicine. My semi-regular workout became my almost daily workouts. I spent more time at the gym, I parked my car farther from my office to walk more, and I took steps over using elevators. I also would dance myself silly with friends multiple nights of the week in Fells Point! Working out truly helped me stay sane during a very trying time.

It’s been years since my divorce and working out has continued to be a regular thing in my life. I even challenged my thoughts that I am not a runner and picked up running (not a lot of running, but better than not at all!). My weight continues to fluctuate into realms that concern me at times, but working out is so much more than me trying to lose weight. I work out to feel both physically and mentally healthy.

I encourage all my clients to find their own way to work out as a coping tool to improve mood and reduce stress. It doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you try to stay active a few times per week. For some people (like myself), it can be a gradual process. And that’s OK. For people who have issues with depression and anxiety, thinking about being active can seem overwhelming…. That’s why you don’t need to do everything 110%. Too often when we tell ourselves that it’s all or nothing and then we do nothing because it’s so much easier. Find your own balance when it comes to working out and just… try. You may not like it at first (believe me, I know!), but your sanity will thank you.

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