iStock / ronstick
Linh Le
May 25, 2016 2:20 pm

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.

I always plan out my entire workout before I walk in. Even if I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing in the gym, I feel a bit better at least looking like I know what I’m doing, and that’s the illusion I give off when I emphatically move from one exercise to another. My routine is usually 30 minutes on the elliptical followed by 30 minutes on the weight machines. If there’s a machine I’m not sure about, I prepare ahead of time by searching on YouTube for tutorials. Preparation is key to having confidence in the gym.

Reward yourself during your workout.

If there’s a new album you’ve been meaning to listen to, or a new episode you’ve been meaning to watch, save it for your run. The elliptical machine I run on has this nice little shelf that fits my tablet-laptop perfectly. I started watching the anime ERASED, which was an incredibly addictive mystery drama about time travel, serial killings, and friendship. One of the ways I cope when I’m incredibly depressed is watching a good TV show; by only allowing myself to watch the next episode when I work out, I make sure I go down to the gym even on my worst days.

Look cute for the gym.

I don’t endorse wearing foundation while you work out lest you risk clogging your pores, but a little sheer lipstick never hurts. When I’m feeling down, I like wearing makeup to cheer myself up, so why not do it while working out too? I swipe on a light moisturizing lipstick, tie my hair into cute pigtail braids, and lightly fill in my brows. Even though I don’t feel good, at least I’ll look good.

Imagine you’re training for the zombie apocalypse.

I don’t know about you, but I find working out really boring. Other than the occasional dog that walks by the window my trusty elliptical machine faces, I’m bored out of my mind. Some people crave the grind and love knowing that they’re getting stronger and healthier. Imagining that I’m preparing for the (inevitable) zombie apocalypse always does the trick. I need to run faster, to outrun the the highly-evolved zombies. I need to lift more weights, so I can carry gallons of water in one hand while punching scavengers with the other. Trust me, imagining these scenarios will transport you to the end of your workout before you even know it.

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

Ok, I lied about working out on my worst days. Sometimes, I don’t. This might seem counterintuitive, because I started working out in order to take care of my mental health. By that logic, I should be especially motivated on my worst days. But I’d be lying if I said that I was always able to get myself to the gym.

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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