Fitness and Anxiety

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When I was first put on anti-anxiety medication, I noticed an alarming weight gain happening. So, I decided to do something about it and went to a nearby gym. This turned out to be a bad idea for someone suffering from anxiety and who was terrified of socializing. However, it was an adventure.

I will call this gym “The Gym”. It was one of those typical gyms with lots of very fit people posing for each other in tight spandex. There were a lot of scary people I call iron monkeys. You know the type. They spend half the day at the gym growling into a mirror while they pose. Sometimes they growl at each other which I was pretty convinced was a mating ritual but never had the nerve to ask about. These were very large people and the term, iron monkeys, was kept very carefully to myself.

Mostly what I noticed about The Gym was the men and women posing for each other. This was another mating ritual whose complexity eluded me. Apparently the goal was to go on a piece of equipment designed to show you off to maximum benefit. The stepper and elliptical were the best for this display. One woman even told me she did her real workout at home, she simply went there to meet people.

So, The Gym was an experiment that quickly imploded on me.

Recently I started getting back into fitness again. I’m diabetic so losing weight is a priority. I’m not very good at it but I’m trying. I had the option of going to The Gym again but that left me on the floor in a panic attack so I quickly discarded that idea. Instead, I make use of the equipment in my building in the evenings so I know there’s little chance of being disturbed. I was asked to join a fitness class but, again, that filled me with anxiety.

So, what’s an introverted anxiety-ridden girl to do? Here’s some ideas;

  1. Get some private training time. I got to get some one on one training with the Primary Care Network with a kinesthesiologist. We built a program designed for my needs.
  2. Get some music to listen to during your workout. I find that putting headphones on serves two purposes; it shuts out the outside world and people tend to not bother me. Of course, having good music to listen to during a workout helps your rhythm which is always good.
  3. Do your workout during the downtime. Go to the gym when its slow. This might mean going during the early morning or late evening. Fewer people means less anxiety. It also means more access to the equipment
  4. Get outside. Running is free. There are organizations who can show you the fundamentals of running. Biking is another way to go or even walking. Take the kids to the park and play tag. Going outside is a great way to get some exercise while enjoying the fresh air. There are plenty of outdoor exercises you can do with a bit of imagination.
  5. Remember to breathe. The other people at the gym are there for their own reasons. When you think anxiety is becoming overwhelming, just step outside for a moment and breathe. It’s okay to take a moment to yourself.

Fitness is important to a healthy body and healthy mind. Those of us who suffer from anxiety have a few challenges to overcome but with some help and creative thinking, we can do it.

Exercise and the Crazy Person

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Two subjects I often write about are anxiety and exercise. However, I’ve never written about them together and how they interact. Recently, I got a glimpse into how my mind affects my fitness routine and vice versa. It was a moment of awakening for me and it occurred to me that not many people think about the connection. I’ve never talked with a fitness trainer who takes mental illness into consideration. Why should they? One is body and the other is mind, right? Yet there is a bigger connection between the two than you might think.

As a child, and then into my teen years, I enjoyed being physical. I was always moving and going. I swam competitively, biked almost everywhere I wanted to go and loved walking for hours. Like other teens, I went rollerskating every chance I got which worked out to be three or four times a week. It kept the darkness at bay.

My home life as a child was less than ideal. I was the victim of psychological and emotional abuse on an almost daily basis in a family that believed any physical touch was sexual in nature. I didn’t learn how to hug until I was 17 years old. There was a very dark nature to my being that often manifested in thoughts of suicide. I even came very close to trying to commit suicide a couple of times.

I firmly believe that the only reason I’m alive now is because I was so physically active. I didn’t know it then but the activity helped keep the worst of it at bay. Looking back, when things got really rough (like the time my sister grounded me for a year for saying no to her), I took to physical activity. It was a way of pushing everything aside and focusing on the moment.

When I had to take care of my parents, I didn’t have time to go out and exercise like I wanted. I couldn’t just get up and leave for a few hours to get away. As a result, those are some of the blackest years I’ve known. I never want to go back to that.

Recently, though, I started exercising again and I’ve noticed something that should be apparent to anyone. If I’m in the middle of an anxiety attack and go exercise, the attack stops or recedes to a manageable point. Go endorphins! Yes, endorphins kicking in is a temporary measure but it’s enough of a breathing space to give me room to quiet the attack. You cannot imagine how wonderful that is. Just to have that moment’s peace is amazing.

There are still challenges. Going to an exercise class fills me with dread and the thought of going to a gym is enough to make me want to wet my panties. Ideally, I would like to see someone try to tailor exercise to help with mental illness. For example, if someone has bipolar disorder, is yoga the best or perhaps martial arts? For someone with schizophrenia, is running a good idea or swimming? I think exercising is a good first step. Now, I think we need to take it a step further and start to tailor programs to help those who suffer from mental illness.

11 Minutes on the Elliptical

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When I first started my fitness quest, I could do exactly five minutes on the treadmill and two minutes on the elliptical. I was fairly certain that the elliptical was designed by the Marquis de Sade and that it had a personal vendetta to get me. I could barely do my exercises on one round (called a “rep”, apparently. I’m getting good at this) and I did the easy exercises. That was six months ago.

Okay, so it’s only been six months and I won’t admit to skipping the odd workout in favor of pizza and a movie. After all, watching movies is hard work. Most weeks I exercise six days out of seven and I can now do two reps of exercises. That wicked ol’ elliptical is my bitch now. I do 11 minutes on her. At once! I can hear the song “Eye of the Tiger” going through my head now.

However, I’m not patient. I’ve lost 10 pounds since starting and there are days when I’m discouraged. Okay, so pizza doesn’t help but that’s only once a month so I think the fat angels can give me a pass on that one. There are days when I want to keep watching “House” reruns (admit it, Hugh Laurie is HOT!) and crocheting.

About once a month I give myself a free size pass. It’s my naughty day and I feel deliciously bad doing it. The rest of the week, it’s every six out of seven days with Sundays off. I don’t do crap on Sundays unless sex is involved. Don’t judge me.

I have to admit that exercising has had one benefit I didn’t bargain on; if I exercise during an anxiety attack, I calm down considerably. I hadn’t counted on that although I suppose it makes sense. Endorphins coursing through my brain is a far better mood lifter than any psych med. Fewer side effects, too. Endorphins don’t make me want to stand on a clock tower somewhere.

Okay, so I haven’t started really losing weight yet. Part of me wants to push myself as hard as I can but I realize that’s a stupid mistake. All that will get me is pulled muscles and a fanatical hatred of exercise. So, with my friends and Gideon Emery cheering me on I give myself a push as often as I can. That means I get to 11 minutes on the elliptical. Next goal; 12 minutes.

Fitness Ideal; Where Is It?

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Weight Scale

Weight Scale

Okay. So a few weeks ago I started a fitness program. At the same time I gave up my weight scale, preferring to focus on becoming physically fit. However, I discovered a problem. The damn thing’s like crack. I’m addicted to that number and find myself eyeballing scales in Walmart like a smack addict eying a needle.

After only three weeks, I find that I need some kind of number to reassure me that what I’m doing has me on the right track. I need that reassurance that I’m doing it right. Part of it is a leftover from that abused little girl who tried desperately to be perfect. Part of it is the anxiety. Either way, I find myself needing that number and I want to get rid of that.

So why give up the scale completely? After all, if I’m getting fit it stands to reason that I’ll lose weight. Right? Isn’t that a good thing?

It has to do with body image and shedding preconceived ideas. The scale keeps me tied to what someone else thinks I should be or should look like. It keeps me focused on being a certain size or certain weight and if I’m going to be fit I need to move away from that. So long as I’m focused on weight I’m not focused on becoming fit and that’s where I need to be to be comfortable in my own skin.

So many people give me advice on how to be better physically. Eat less and exercise. Lose weight. Get surgery. Cut your hair. Grow it long. Paint your nails. Wear makeup. There’s so much advice that it’s hard to know where to turn next. So I have to find a direction and go that way. The direction I’ve chosen is towards becoming fit but that does not mean watching the scale. There is a misconception that thin equals fit or that fat equals unhealthy. Fit goes beyond size. I’ve met football players who top the scales at 300+ pounds and are more fit than those half their size. I’ve met ballet dancers who are so slight they look like they could snap in half in a good wind that are so physically fit they give marathon runners a run for their money. So, size does not equal fit.

However, I’m addicted to that scale. I need a number to make me feel safe. As a diabetic, I have a number that rules my life; my sugar count.

I admit I’m a bit lazy in taking my sugar count. I hate that number because it’s never where I want it to be. So, I thought I could satisfy my number craving by taking care of my diabetes. Now I try to take my sugar count regularly and, as the number hits the ideal range, I begin to realize that I’m going in the direction I want to be. I still eye that scale, though. It will always be there but I don’t need it like I did.

Yes, my fitness program has just started but I’m getting to where I want to be. I’m not a slave to the weight scale and every day I’m getting closer to my sugar count target. I still have a long way to go, though, but that’s all right. One step at a time.

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