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.