My anxiety started somewhere in middle school. After my family and I moved, I started school in a new country with a language that I didn’t really speak. While middle school is probably torturous enough on its own, imagine entering it at a point where everybody knew each other since kindergarten and you are the only new student in 6 years. Without speaking a single word of English… NOT FUN. All of this happened way before I started working out and understanding how it can relieve anxiety.
The joys of living with anxiety
Ever since those glorious middle school days, I have struggled with keeping my anxiety in check. It was the worst when it came to doing something new, meeting new people, or speaking to strangers in general. Even if I did manage to open up my mouth and speak audible words, most of the time I would be horrified by the very obvious heat rushing into my face making me look like a tomato has come alive. So I quickly returned to keeping quiet. It would take me hours to fall asleep because my anxious thoughts would bounce between all the embarrassing moments that occurred that same day and all the horrendous events happening the next day that could involve talking to other people.
Safe to say that standing in front of a crowd that included more than 2 people and speaking to them, was my worst nightmare. And yet, to everyone’s surprise (mostly my own) I became a group fitness instructor; teaching classes to over 50 people and having so much fun while doing it! Don’t get me wrong, the first few classes were NERVE WRECKING, almost to the point where I wanted to quit. I didn’t, and I’m glad I stuck with it. So how did I go from a living, breathing tomato to instructing a class full of people anxiety-free? I started lifting weights.
How did I get into lifting?
I got a job at the front desk in a fitness studio and got a free membership, which I figured I should make use of. I was completely new to lifting so – shocker – I was anxious about trying it out.
There were times when the gym was basically empty so I kept track of those times and planned my workouts then. I would pick out equipment I was comfortable with, plan a workout from start to finish, put on a fire playlist, and just go for it. It took 4 months until I finally reached a point where I didn’t need to program every single step of the workout.
As I was going through the changes, moving up in weight, and feeling comfortable with lifting, I realized that my anxiety at night was decreasing. I was also able to talk with more and more people coming into the gym while I was lifting. Working out was actually helping me to relieve my anxiety.
Facing my anxiety head on
It didn’t happen overnight, but the regular workouts helped me relieve stress and build confidence in my own body. I could feel my anxiety slowly decrease and I loved it. My new goal was to figure out how to actively work against it. I started taking group fitness classes every week to expose myself to other people while doing something that now felt comfortable to me (working out). And over time I started feeling comfortable enough to start conversations with the person next to me. Eventually working out, in a class or on my own, became my outlet. Even now, whenever I feel overwhelmed by my anxiety I go and workout to relieve my stress and emotions. Most of the time I feel more relaxed and more clear by the time that I finish the workout.
Lessons I’ve learned
By no means I’m saying that my anxiety has gone away through fitness and working out. However, I do feel like it has helped me understand what I can do to help relieve it. It definitely has helped me feel more confident in my own body and its abilities, but I think the most important lesson I learned was to tune into my body and listen to what it needs.
To summarize, I have listed some of the things that have helped me so far:
- Finding a weekly routine that includes regular workouts
- Making a detailed plan for workouts inside the gym with equipment that I knew how to use
- Listening to my body & taking a break or doing a workout when needed
- Bringing a friend to the gym to feel more comfortable
- Facing my anxiety & challenging it in little ways by doing something that puts me out of my comfort zone
Don’t limit yourself
It can be difficult going through life living with anxiety, but don’t let that limit you. It might require extra effort, and it might take some time to get to where you want to go, but don’t give up. As I said before, I NEVER thought I’d be able to be on a mic in front of people and feel confident speaking to them. I also never thought that this newfound confidence would carry over into other aspects of my life, but I didn’t look at that specific end result. I looked at the little, individual steps I can take to work towards reducing my anxiety in specific aspects of my life. The outcome positively surprised me. So don’t get intimidated by the overall goal you want to achieve, but instead focus on the little steps you can take to alleviate some of the anxiety in your day-to-day living.