When I was on the crew team in college (rowing for a year, until I was told I was “too short to row varsity,” then coxing for the next 2), our coach had us read The Mental Athlete. I still remember sitting as a team with our eyes closed, mentally “rowing” a race the night before. That book was the first time I heard the theory that the more physical stress your body can handle, the more mental stress it will be able to handle as well.
Fast forward a decade and I was in a therapist’s office in Albuquerque, telling her I really wanted some non-prescription recommendations for treating my anxiety/depression…in addition to any medication we considered. She pulled out her prescription pad and wrote a number of things on it. The very first item was “exercise daily.”
The truth is, when you are depressed, you don’t feel like getting off the couch or going outside. And if you are anxious, you may feel you “don’t have time”…especially during the holidays. But getting regular exercise isn’t just important for your annual physical or to help you fit in your “skinny jeans,” it’s crucial to your mental health.
Exercise boosts your endorphins and burns off stress, so you’ll feel less anxious and more optimistic…and sleep better at night, too. As you build strength and improve your cardiovascular health, you’ll also be building your mental endurance and emotional resilience. Exercise works as a beautifully effective mind-body booster. You can go for a walk alone, rock out to a digital workout at home, or pick a class at the gym and make it a standing commitment. I’ve been a solo exerciser, a member of a sports team, a “go for a run with a buddy” girl, and am currently committed to a heavy-duty weight lifting class 2x/week at my gym…and Jazzercise.
I like my weights class & Jazzercise because 1) I don’t have to decide what I’ll do or when I’ll do it. I go when the class meets and the instructor “bosses” me through everything and I can’t give into my natural laziness. 2) In both classes, the people are friendly and I’ve gotten to know them. Getting a smile or chatting before or after class is an added boost. 3) They’re challenging. I like to work hard and feel a little sore, so I know my body’s changing. 4) The music. Fun club mixes in the weights class and everything you can imagine in Jazzercise…from Sugarland to Iggy Azalea to Train. One instructor told us, “There are only two answers to any question I might ask you: Your Core Muscles (what are you using to lift that leg, when you shake that, etc) or Pitbull!” I counted six songs featuring Pitbull in one Jazzercise set.
When you feel awful, it’s usually the thing you want to do least that will make you feel better. I know from experience, lying on the sofa watching reruns of Saved by the Bell will only make you feel worse. In fact, even lying on the sofa watching something awesome won’t make you feel as good as exercise. You don’t have to feel like doing it. You don’t have to put on your “game face.” You don’t even have to be on time (as long as you don’t mind being the very front directly beside the instructor or so far in the back that you’re almost out of the door). Sometimes just showing up is the win.
Write it on your personal prescription pad and I’ll see you out there!