Dealing with anxiety has been my greatest challenge in life, as it prevents me from doing many of the activities I enjoy. It’s always there, in the background, stopping me from getting out the door, trying new activities and even driving. At my lowest point, I quit my favourite sport (softball), stopped exercising because I was too nervous to go to the gym, and I didn’t leave my house for two weeks. Getting help for my anxiety was the BEST decision I could have made for myself. It took the help of a school counsellor that connected me with resources to get myself out the door and prevent anxiety from controlling my life.
My counsellor recommended I try a program offered through my school’s Athletics Complex called, “I Move My Mood”. Within the program, I was paired with a ‘buddy’ who would meet with me twice per week, and we would exercise together. The girl I was paired with was very nice and confident in the gym. She showed me how to do a bunch of exercises and helped to correct my form (which was one of my biggest barriers to going to the gym). It was through this program that I realized that people weren’t judging me for having the wrong form, or not knowing what I was doing.
After completing the program, I was determined to continue exercising, however I was still terrified to set foot in the gym by myself. A year of trial and error later, I now find myself a regular gym-goer and have overcome the barriers that used to prevent me from going. To overcome my anxiety and begin working out, I will share the 5 main lessons I learned, so you too can overcome anxiety and start exercising.
Lesson #1: Find a buddy or someone to keep you accountable
Social support is no joke. As humans, there is something about the social environment that helps motivate us, keeps us accountable, and makes us feel connected. Throughout my struggles with anxiety, I often find that I socially isolate myself and feel disconnected. Finding one person to encourage and motivate me really helped to get myself out of the house – as my buddy was counting on me. Having someone to talk to also helped me feel that I was socially connected with the world, which helped reduce feelings of loneliness and depression. After the program ended, I found a new buddy to help me feel confident and maintain my accountability (you can check out her blog here).
Lesson #2: Take Baby steps
Celebrate the little accomplishments you make. Maybe getting up and out of bed is the furthest you got today – but that is still a step in the right direction! After the commencement of the program, I still wasn’t 100% confident to go to the gym alone, so I started walking with my mom. Thirty-minute walks turned into 45-minute walks, and I found that an activity as simple as walking made me feel so much better mentally. This then motivated me to start exercising at the gym with my new buddy. Then exercising with my buddy increased my confidence and I began going to the gym alone.
The first time I went to the gym alone was a huge accomplishment for me, as I actually got in the car and drove there! The pride I felt from overcoming this barrier translated to other aspects of my life – as I now don’t feel as anxious driving places. To make myself feel comfortable at the gym, I came prepared with a basic exercise plan that had exercises I was comfortable doing. As I felt more confident in the gym, I decided to try new exercises – the ones I wanted to try for curiosity and for fun! As I continued to try new things, I learned what did and did not work for me. This has lead me to today, where I find myself looking forward to my workouts because I have found exercises that make me feel strong and confident.
Lesson #3: Do the activities you actually enjoy!
Don’t do the exercises or the workouts you think you should do, do the activities you actually enjoy doing! If you love walking – do it! Any change you make to your current routine will make a difference. Working out and getting healthy doesn’t need to be done at the gym – you can get active playing sports, running or exercising at home. If you pick an activity you love, chances are you will not dread doing it, and you will actually be more motivated to stick with it. Do activities that excite you and fill your soul.
This past year, I decided to give synchronized swimming a try, and I joined my school’s novice synchronized swimming team. Not only did I get to participate in swimming (one of my favourite activities), I also got to meet other girls that had similar interests! I had to opportunity to travel with the team to two competitions, and we came in 4th place for our routine at one of the competitions. Not only did I get the physical benefit from swimming, I also branched out and made some awesome social connections, which improved my mood and my confidence.
Lesson #4: Set a goal and track your progress
A goal without a plan is simply a dream. To turn your physical activity goals into reality, it is important that you set goals, come up with a game-plan and track your progress. (For some tips on goal setting, check out my article on Goal Setting here). For me, my goal began small – to exercise twice per week, whether it be going for a walk, going to the gym (with my buddy), or going on a bike ride. I tracked my progress using The Calendar Method. Looking back at each month and seeing that I had exercised twice per week really encouraged me to continue. As I succeeded with my goal and became more confident in going to the gym alone, I eventually changed it to exercising at the gym twice per week, and I began a strength training program. To track my progress, I weighed myself, took progress photos and recorded my reps and sets of each exercise. Even though my body didn’t change based on my weight, I noticed that my progress photos began to look more muscular and the weight of my exercises increased. In the months where I saw very small changes, I tweaked my plan and began focusing on my nutrition to see further progress. Seeing these subtle changes motivated me to continue. (For FREE monthly calendars to track your fitness progress, you can also check them out here)!
Lesson #5: Don’t be so critical on yourself.
It’s important to know that your while you are on your fitness journey, you are going to mess up. You will do an exercise or two with improper form, and there will be days where you feel unmotivated. Instead of being critical on yourself, think about what you would tell your best friend if they were in your situation. When you fail, rather than judge yourself, evaluate yourself. Figure out what when ‘wrong’ and come up with a new game plan. Treat yourself with kindness and support yourself as if you were your own best friend.
Today, I am still making changes to my exercise plan and am still coming up with new activities or exercises that I enjoy doing. Anxiety is hard to deal with, but sometimes just getting yourself out the door is the smallest, yet most life-changing step you can make. I hope these 5 lessons help to motivate you to begin your own fitness journey. I’d love to hear any additional tips you use to overcoming mental health struggles in the comments below.
I hope you have a lovely day!