What I’ve learned since I started exercising for my mental health

I’ve never been a fan of exercise. I don’t find pleasure in working up a good sweat. I don’t want to be skinnier or have more muscles. I was the nerd that would much rather play games, watch a movie, or read a book than play a sport. In fact, my parents have tried to put me in soccer. Apparently, they gave up after one season because I was just that terrible of a player; I didn’t care, I had more time to read.

I finally found motivation to exercise when my depression and anxiety, mental health issues I’d been dealing with for years. started to hinder my personal and professional life. This got especially bad after getting a new job and moving in with my boyfriend a few months ago. I’d get into fights with my boyfriend over a misheard phrase that would last the whole night. I’d be unproductive on work days. And as much as I loved being a remote worker, never leaving my house except to buy groceries and hang out with friends once in awhile was putting me into quite a slump. I knew something had to change. Before considering therapy or medication, I wanted to evaluate easier and cheaper methods to get myself feeling better. I realized that one of those methods was exercise; I’ve heard this advice given before and have read some research that says exercise isn’t just good for you physically, but mentally too, so I thought I’d give it a try. The only problem was that I was too scared at first to go.

My anxiety would go haywire as I was headed to the gym, imagining people pointing and laughing at me for not knowing how to use a machine. The first time I saw someone already in the gym before I entered, I turned around and walked right back to my apartment with my sweaty little red Gatorade in hand. It’s hard working out when your body won’t let you. Sometimes I’m just too tired to get out of bed, much less lift weights; other times I’m too anxious to work out because I’m afraid someone might judge me for breathing too heavily when I run. However, over these past couple months, I’ve come up with some ways to push myself to go on even my worst days.

Have a game plan.

Reward yourself during your workout.

Look cute for the gym.

Imagine you’re training for the zombie apocalypse.

Know that if you don’t work out, it’s okay.

Sometimes I don’t work out for days at a time, but it’s okay. Because in the meantime, I’m doing everything else I can to cope. On some days, the best I can do is get out of bed and that’s just as much worth celebrating as beating my mile time while going for a run. What matters ultimately in the end is that you’re moving forward, taking care of yourself, and trying your best.

I know that this might not work for everybody, but in my situation it did. It isn’t just the actual hormonal and physical benefits that have been great, it’s also the time I get to dedicate to myself. It’s a moment where I feel that my body, mind, and I are all in sync rather than against each other. At my lowest points, I feel like they’re always at odds and on some days now I don’t even remember what that’s like. I still have bad days, even weeks. But when I work out I remember to appreciate my body, and all that it does and can do for me.

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