Exercise and Anxiety: Social Media and the rise of the super fit.

Social media is a double edged sword for me. I use it every day, and I post quite a lot. I blog (obviously) and a lot of what I blog about and read about and the people I follow are food/fitness professionals making their living through their food and fitness guides. I don’t do that; I am an amateur. While they can be inspirational, and I have learnt a lot through following different people, sometimes they make me anxious and insecure, depressed that I am sitting on the sofa eating mayo that somebody else made, and I forgot to check whether my cashew cheese was grown by organic virgins and whisked under the light of the new moon. Not all fitness/food blogs are like this, but enough that I think they can have a negative impact, if you are that way inclined.

So this is why I sometimes want to punch social media in the face:

  1. Motivational quotes: see my blog on positive mental attitude for a deeper exploration of why positive mental attitude quotes actually really piss me off. But basically when related to exercise I think they can set up more barriers than they break down.
    1. You choose your life. Actually, a lot of the time you don’t. I don’t choose when school decides it is parents’ evening (and when it is supposed to finish at 7 but I am still talking to parents at 8.45), when a student has a melt- down, when my dad died. Seriously! So I didn’t get my work out in today, or yesterday and it won’t fucking happen tomorrow because life. Whoopdedo for the amazing X who chose to turn her life around by doing 20 minutes of HIIT every day and now her life is amazing and as a by-product of changing her body shape she has also become a millionaire with the self-confidence to scale Everest.
    2. If you want it, you will make time. So humans can create time now? Seriously? I read a motivational post about exercises you can add to your daily run to work- see you can fit in some HIIT into your cardio which will make it super effective. My daily run to work? WTAF? How many assumptions in that sentence?
      1. You run to work every day?
      2. You can run to work every day? Well, I can’t. There are no shower facilities where I work, so turning up a hot sweaty beetroot coloured mess and then spending all day worrying if I am going to be nicknamed Miss Smelly by students is not happening. I tried. It didn’t really work. What if you live too far away? You have to drop children off at nursery? You work two jobs?
      3. A lot of these posts come from people who work in the fitness industry. If you work in a gym then forgive me for pointing it out, but of course it is easy to fit a workout into your break. You are ALREADY THERE. When I belonged to the gym, it took at least 20 minutes to get there. Do I have time to get there and do a quick lunch work out? No I do not. Also I am expected to be available throughout my lunch hour, so no go.
    3. They make you feel rubbish about yourself, so why even try? This one explains itself I think.
  2. Photos of fit people looking fit. There is a wealth of articles on this, but basically look at the lighting, the pose, the breathing in, the outtakes you don’t see, the camera angle. However, we often don’t think about those things because look at that person! Look at those abs, muscles, flex. Of course these people have put the hours in, but try it yourself. Flex your leg muscles, point your toes. Oh look, your leg looks different. High heels work on a similar principle- they force you to tense your muscles so your legs give the appearance of being slimmer and more toned. Sometimes these photos might be inspirational, but too often they look unobtainable. Learning theory suggests that we can learn through vicarious reinforcement- seeing someone else achieve what we would like to, however, there are also factors that affect this. If we can’t identify with someone then we are unlikely to see them as a role model. This means posting pictures of your muscular self in a bikini can make it pretty difficult for someone to identify with you. I’ve also noticed that where client journeys are posted, the client looked pretty healthy in the first place, so this means someone who is struggling with even starting to exercise or change their eating patterns can be put off even more
  3. Money: not only do you need time to invest in health and fitness on a regular basis, you also need money. You know which food is cheap? All the food that is verboten- processed white bread, value ham, margarine, biscuits, turkey twizzlers. How guilt inducing must it be to be told that if you feed your children any of the above, you don’t love them enough to care about their health? FUCK OFF! I shop at Aldi and sometimes Asda, very occasionally Waitrose when I am feeling flush. But, as someone living on their own in London, my rent forbids that I can buy grass fed organic beef massaged by Argentinian virgins until it contains extra nutrients. I can buy cheap ass coconut oil from the world foods aisle (it’s cheaper than the coconut oil in the oil aisle because that is made for wanky pricks, rather than normal people who have been using this superfood forever), and I can buy fresh fruit and veg- seriously the Aldi weekly offers are great. Exercise gear! Of course you can go running, you just need some trainers. Well, what if you can’t afford them? Yoga classes? Gym membership? Dumbells? Resistance bands? This might not be something that plagues everybody, but it can be a barrier, and to be made anxious about the fact you can’t afford the time/money to provide home- made protein balls for your kids is something I haven’t got time for.This also goes for kitchen equipment. I’m feeling it. I lost custody of the magimix in my recent breakup. Foolishly I hadn’t thought to ask my parents to spunk £200+ on a mayonnaise maker. Doh! Although I am not entirely to blame- I don’t have parents. Too dark? Maybe. Anyway, I don’t have £200+ knocking about to splurge, nor do I have the £150+ for an insta-pot, or £100 for a decent set of knives. I have one sharp knife in my kitchen, and my diy magimix consists of a bowl and a wooden spoon. So, how many recipes on the fitness food blogs that I follow can I actually make? If I wrote a cook book, it would be about how to make stuff with one knife and a pan. It wouldn’t contain a two page list of what the ‘basic kitchen’ needs. Nor would the recipes contain references to oddly expensive substitutes to make them inaccessible to many.

So, I am occasionally left feeling anxious, but more often angry when I read posts full of assumptions about other people’s lives and how much choice we have available to us. I decided yesterday, if you want to be a bit more active- go for a walk. It might not be 5 rounds of HIIT in a gym in a £50 pair of yoga tights and designer sports bra, but you can do it in clothes you already own, and it is definitely more active than sitting on the sofa. If you’ve got time of course.

Disclaimer: I know this says more about me than the people I am angry with.

Exercise and Anxiety: My experiences.

Disclaimer 1: This bit isn’t really that funny. I have suffered from severe anxiety and depression, been diagnosed, had cbt and now I mainly function without it overwhelming me as it has in the past, although I still get moments of almost uncontrollable panic, I am better at realising what is going and dealing with it early, using my cbt tricks. It doesn’t just affect my exercise- I sometimes have difficulty in crowds if I can’t see an easy way out (and being seriously short this can happen quite a lot), and sometimes it just looms up in a kind of everything about tomorrow is going to be awful so let’s stay awake all night worrying about, or that let’s worry about everything that you have ever done in the history of time. Because that’s helpful, wishing you could change the past. Top tip- it’s not.

But this post is specifically about how it affects my exercise. Exercise is a great stress reliever- I know that, but it can also be a great stress inducer, and telling yourself to get motivated, be consistent and start a brand new day blah blah positive mental attitude blah blah you choose how you see your day blah blah blah. Well, yeah, this post isn’t about that. Although I will talk about what I do to get myself out the door, here is the disclaimer (number 2 if you are counting). It doesn’t always work for me, it might not work for you. But, I want to normalise this, I want to say it is ok, and if some days you don’t exercise and you stay on the sofa eating cake and drinking gin watching re-runs of the Golden Girls, then not only is that ok, it’s a fucking awesome day. Balance! Fuck yeah!

Disclaimer 3: there will be swearing.

Performance anxiety: This little bastard attacks me in several forms.

  1. Firstly, it whispers in my ear, you won’t be able to do it you know.

I whisper back, But I’ve done this shit before, I ran 4 miles last week, I can run two this week.

Pause. Louder, yeah, but you spent the weekend drinking wine and eating like you are carrying octuplets, plus, you exercised yesterday and your muscles will hurt and you will have to stop and walk after 500m and that is SO EMBARRASSING.

Me: But nobody will know I have only run 500m. Wait, what if they have been walking up the road behind me. PANIC!

How I try solve this problem: I decide that I will only run 500m, and if I decide I can’t go on, I will stop. At least I had a go. If I have to reduce this to 200m, 100m, stepping outside the front door. That’s what I do. At no point should you try to solve this problem with wine or food, at least until you have definitely decided you are not leaving the house.

  1. Other people can see my performance and know exactly how far and how fast I have run.

This comes from using running apps. Now I know running apps are useful, I like to know how far and fast I have run- sometimes it explains why I am breathing like an asthmatic pug in a pea souper, other times it explains why I danced through my run like a lamb frolicking in a field of cocaine (both usually related to running very fast or very slow). But, it tells people what you did. Admittedly, I added some friends, but I am not entirely comfortable with it, and sometimes I find it difficult to either start, or indeed stop a run. I know that today was a slow recovery run, but what will it look like to everybody else?

How I try to solve this problem: Not adding to the app. Ha! What a fucking brilliant solution! But how do I know how far and how fast I have run. Sneakily I know that distance of a couple of loops near my house, and my phone has a timer. Job done. Of course then I worry that people will think I haven’t been running at all… the solution to this is to remember nobody else really gives a fuck about your running, they are too busy worrying about their own. Seriously, the only conversations I have ever really had with other runners goes like this:

Runner 1: I ran two miles today.

Runner 2: That’s awesome! I haven’t been running in like….ages!/ That’s awesome. I went running this week too. What are you thinking of doing next?

Runner 1: I haven’t been running for ages.

Runner 2: Yeah, that happens sometimes.

Appearance anxiety: I worry I look like a dick (figuratively not litereally). I worry I look fat. I worry all my wobbly bits are bouncing out of control like a bouncy castle who just discovered house music and ecstasy.

Yeah, all of those. Sometimes all at once. As soon as I start any form of exercise I immediately turn as bright red as a beetroot blushing as badly as though it just got burned. Seriously, I have had gym people come and ask if I am ok when warming up on the treadmill. Looking like you are about to have a heart attack from the start of every workout to about an hour afterwards is not a good look, but it is one I have perfected.

How I try to solve this problem: Well, sometimes I wear baggier gym clothes. You are not going to catch me prancing around in one of those bras with the 18 straps woven together in some sort of complicated pattern. My sports bras are not there to be pretty, they are not going to be seen. They are there to one job and one job only and that job? Keep my tits immobile during all and any exercises. If you can do your thing in a Victoria’s secrets bra and be comfortable then please do. If you want to go jogging half naked, nude with your bits swinging free, that is up to you (although the police might object). For me, I’ll stick to the gym clothes I feel comfortable in because those are the ones that get me out of the house. Also avoid group exercise at all costs- I mean face your fears if you like, but for me group classes? I’d rather remove my own eyeballs with a rusty spoon.

It’s also worth remembering, most people won’t notice. And if they do, what are they going to say? And if they do say anything, then they have a serious fucking problem and you may drop a heavy weight on their toe, and apologise sweetly by stamping on said toe.

Falling over anxiety: This might be quite an individual thing, I don’t know. But I have a fear of falling over, which combines performance anxiety with appearance anxiety i.e. I can’t do it, and I’ll look like a dick. Plus, it will probably hurt. Falling over has only ever actually occurred to me while I have been wearing high heels, drinking wine, and not paying attention to the existence of kerbs because I am far too busy being witty and interesting. When I have fallen over, I have been embarrassed (despite the wine), muttering something about it being so undignified. Friends generously refrain from pointing out that loud witch like cackling at my own wit, is not the epitome of dignity. But… it has never happened to me while out running. Still, I watch for kerbs and potholes and possible tripping hazards like a hawk, and there isn’t much else I can do.

Slug anxiety: This I am pretty sure is totally individual. I panic at the sight of slugs. Yeah I know they move at about 2 millimetres an hour and are unlikely to develop the motivation, physical prowess and mental acuity to launch themselves at my face and slime all over me, but so what? Once I got one stuck on my hand and I couldn’t get it off. My dad ‘helpfully’ found this hilarious, rather than terrifying. Terrifying is the most appropriate emotional response, just in case you were wondering.

How I solve this problem: Accept that most of my run will resemble a gazelle pronking as I avoid those slimy little shitbags with their weird antennary eyes, rather than the graceful lope of co-ordinated human being.

Lucky this only happens when it has been raining. Unlucky I live in England.