The physical benefits of exercise and working out are well documented.
It will come as no surprise to anybody that physical activity and weight resistance exercises can help you lose weight, tone your muscles, lower blood pressure, decrease your risk of diabetes, osteoporosis, and possibly even cancer. But not as much is known or discussed about the mental and emotional benefits of exercise.
I have lived with an anxiety disorder for 25 years, and it is only within the last 5 of those years that I made physical activity a part of my daily life. I didn’t make that choice because I was looking to improve my anxiety – I thought I pretty much had that area of my life handled to the best of my ability. I was really only working out to try to get in shape after having 4 kids in 5 years. But what I discovered was that working out not only had an amazing effect on my body, but on my mind as well. It transformed my sense of how I feel in my own skin in a way that it is hard for me to describe. However, there are some very obvious ways that exercise changed my life, and I want to share them with you in the hopes of motivating you to get more active.
1. Self-Confidence and Positive Attitude
It really is true: When you look good, you feel good.
Working out gives me confidence like I have never had before. I love myself at any size, but when I know I am at a healthier weight with some muscle tone, and my clothes are fitting me better, it makes me stand taller, hold my head a little higher and interact with people with much more ease than I have when I let myself go a little bit.
Exercise also gives me a huge shot of what I call “good mood juice”. It gets my endorphins flowing and greatly improves the rest of my day. I won’t lie. I frequently dread getting out of bed and starting my workout in the morning. But never once have I ever finished a workout and though to myself “I wish I hadn’t done that.” I feel amazing after every single session, without fail.
2. Burning off Extra Adrenaline
Excess adrenaline brought on by stress, mental fatigue, and overthinking can cause us to feel restless, nervous, fidgety, and contribute to racing thoughts. You can burn that adrenaline off just like a car burns gasoline by doing cardiovascular exercise. I know a lot of people struggle with finding the courage to work out when their heart is racing or they are feeling anxious or apprehensive, but if your doctor gives you the “all-clear”, then I encourage you to try going for a run or doing something else to get your heart rate up and tire your muscles out. Pushing yourself toward healthy physical fatigue is a great anecdote for mental fatigue.
The best way to not feel the symptoms of anxiety is to not think about them. Exercise gives you a way to use a different part of your brain and focus on something besides how stressed or nervous you are. Often, when I feel anxiety symptoms arise, I put on my shoes and go for a run outside. It is really difficult to be in a deep-thinking worry mode, when I am pushing myself and feeling the physical sensations of intense activity, and when I am done, I always feel like myself again.
Exercise, especially intense exercise, can be a challenge both physically and mentally. That is why it is so hard to motivate ourselves to do it. Showing up to your workout on a regular basis and pushing yourself to the edge will show you how tough you really are and give you a sense of pride. Kick-boxing, hitting a heavy bag, or weight lifting are all great workouts that can help you spend your inner aggression in a healthy way and leave you feeling like a bad-ass, which isn’t an easy feeling for a lot of us with anxiety to come by. Just remember to take it easy in the early days and gradually increase your intensity over time.
5. Sense of Routine
Having a routine and sticking to it is a comfortable thing for a brain. Incorporating a workout schedule into your daily life and sticking to it establishes a sense of normalcy in your life. And it also holds you accountable to something, which for those who aren’t currently going to school or working, is something you need to push for in your life. We can’t just free float through our days and expect our brains to feel “secure” and grounded. We need consistency. We need activities to show our brain: “This is who I am. This is what I do.”
The human body was meant to be used. I firmly believe that one reason people struggle with insomnia issues so much these days, is that we are using our minds far more than we use our bodies. Over-thinking, worry, and stress can be exhausting but at the same time they can be mentally stimulating, especially to those who are overly sensitized and dealing with excess adrenaline all day. A good workout, on the other hand, especially when done done in the morning, can give you a wonderful positive burst of energy at the end of your workout, help you settle in for an amazing catnap in the afternoon, and at the end of the day those tired muscles not only help you fall asleep faster, but they steer you towards deep, more restful sleep.
Some of my best night’s sleep are on achieved after working out hard earlier in the day and then settling into bed with my Sleepy Time Tea or my MONQ Sleepy Blend Aromatherapy Pen. I’m telling you…its heaven.
7. Peace of Mind
A lot of us with anxiety worry about our health. Exercise helps us to know that we are taking a major steps toward a longer and healthier life. I have a history of cancer in my family and heart disease and this weighs on my mind a lot. It helps me to be able to say to myself “I can’t control a lot of what goes on with my body, but the things I CAN control, including staying physically fit, I AM doing and that gives me a significant edge against illness.”
8. Getting Outdoors
Being indoors all the time, whether at work or at home, can really help keep us in a rut. There is something so liberating about getting outdoors in the wide open spaces of the world and soaking up all the smells and sights and sounds. It is really hard to be in a negative, deep-thinking worry mode when our brains are so engaged in processing all that nature has to offer especially if we are exercising at the same time. Ice skating in the winter is one of my favorite ways to engage in outdoor exercise because the combination of the cold air and sensation of sailing on ice is such a rush. Hiking, jogging, swimming, or engaging in sports with friends are all great ways to exercise outside.
9. Goal Setting
After not working out my entire life, at the age of 40, I started the P90X program.
As some of you may know there are a lot of pushups and pull-ups involved in that program. My first day I could not do one single push up, not one pull up and I could only last through about 5 minutes of each DVD before I had to quit from muscle or cardio exhaustion. I promised myself that I would stick with it and complete the entire program.
The program comes with a calendar and after completing every workout, I would go draw an X through that day and feel such a sense of accomplishment. I felt myself get stronger every day, and eventually, I went from being able to barely even being able to do one pushup and managing only to hang on to my pull up bar for 5 seconds, to doing 10 full pull-ups and 30 pushups at a time. And not only did I complete that first round of P90X. But after that, I completed a round of P90X doubles, which is 2 workouts in one day, morning and night. I got myself in amazing shape and the sense of accomplishment I felt was through the roof. I made up my mind to do that extremely difficult program, and not only did I do it, but then I did it again, twice as much. I don’t work out to that degree now. I never had the goal of being a body builder or an extreme athlete. But I wanted to test myself to see what I was made of, and nothing can ever take that success away from me. I think that is a very cool thing.
You don’t have to set intense goals like mine. Any kind of progress is still progress and does wonders for your self esteem.
10. Socializing/Sense of Community
A lot of us with anxiety live with social phobias and working out gives us a great way to get out of the house and be around other people without having to talk to any of them. What’s better than that? And for those who actually want to talk to other humans, it gives you a great opportunity to strike up conversations with people, or slowly get to know them by seeing them a few days a week. My local gym is right around the corner and its nice knowing I can go there anytime I want and feel a sense of community with the other people there and only be as sociable as I am in the mood to be at that time.
There is a lot that has to take place mentally in order to fully gain control of not only our anxiety disorders, but our lives. But don’t underestimate the importance of using your body as a source of power and spiritual growth. Visit your doctor, find out if you have any limitations you should place on yourself and then push yourself right up to that line. I promise you that if you make physical exercise a consistent part of your daily life, it will transform you.