I woke up early to my alarm this morning – which is not unusual for me, even on a Sunday.
(Did you know that on your iPhone, you can rename your alarm to whatever you want and you can also set it to be a song from your music library? I was so excited when I discovered this. Here’s mine – don’t judge.)
I’m up very early during the week, but I don’t always set an alarm on the weekend unless I have morning plans. Today I didn’t have plans, but I had a lot of things I needed to get done today and I knew for certain that I wouldn’t get any of them done if I didn’t make time to work out first.
I am a daily exerciser and a whole-hearted proponent of exercise of any kind. I believe that movement is powerful, and I think that people should do something every day that is challenging enough to leave them pleasantly tired and at least a little bit sweaty. I am always trying to get my friends and my family to work out with me, and sometimes they throw things at me. But sometimes they say yes! (I love when they say yes.)
Please don’t stop reading here because you think I’m a smug, self-righteous bitch.
I understand that this might come across as sanctimonious, and that’s not my intent at all. I don’t push exercise out of concern for other people’s physical health or to help them lose weight, although those are obvious benefits. It’s not about looking good, either, though of course that’s a huge reason why we work out – vanity is a great motivator! But that stuff really isn’t any of my business, and I’m truly not concerned at all about other people’s bodies. I choose to spend my time thinking about other things, like where do frogs go in the winter and what the fuck am I doing with my life. You know, the usual.
Instead, I promote exercise because of its massive impact on mental health. Yes, this is a claim that can be supported with research, but here I’m speaking solely from my own personal experience. Exercise helps un-fuck my head. For those of us who battle depression and/or anxiety disorders, we need all the help we can get here. For me, the combination of medical treatment and daily exercise has vastly improved my self-confidence, energy levels, and overall mental well-being.
Simply put, a workout often means the difference between me holding it all together and me absolutely losing my shit. I need it. I needed it today, badly.
Winter is a rough season for me – I don’t do well with cold temperatures or lots of darkness, and in New England, we have an abundance of both. December is especially challenging because of the overwhelming pressure to be enjoying what is obviously The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. There is something about Christmastime that seems to lead to heightened expectations and unrealistic standards. If you’re not relishing every moment of the season while wearing a Santa hat, baking cookies and singing along to (dreadful) Christmas carols, you aren’t doing Christmas right and you must be a horrible Grinch.
And I don’t think I am a Grinch, really. I enjoy the spirit of this holiday and I love giving gifts, spending time with people I love, and seeing people in moments of genuine happiness. But there’s just something about the month-long, slow and steady build-up of massive over-consumption and compulsory joy that leaves me feeling blue and horribly empty. On top of that, I tend to fall into a period of excessive self-reflection at Christmastime – which is totally shitty, totally useless, and totally my own fault – and start judging myself even more than I usually do. I create stories about how everyone else’s holidays are perfect and magical, and in which there is something irreparably wrong with me for not being filled with holiday spirit. I see smiling husbands, wives and kids together chopping down their perfect Christmas trees and feel a twinge of … something … like, that’s what I would be doing if I were normal and part of a “real” family. (And if I were a Mom. That hurts to write.) And no one’s ever said that to me – all of that judgment comes from that nasty voice I have inside.
(It makes me so angry that that voice still has so much power over me.)
Yesterday, I had an experience that left me in a giant funk for the rest of the day and I went to sleep knowing I needed to work it out if I wanted Sunday to be any better. And the most reliable tool I’ve ever found for silencing that voice, and emptying some of the garbage from my head, is exercise.
Today, it didn’t take long. I didn’t have much time, and it was REALLY COLD OUTSIDE*, so I threw on my headphones and put in 30 good minutes on the treadmill, and followed it up with some core work and stretching. It was a good session – challenging, but not brutal – and exactly what my body needed after several days of high-intensity workouts. Most importantly, today’s workout was fueled entirely by anger. I literally woke up pissed off. I ate breakfast meanly, dressed grumpily, and sported a massive bitchface as I threw my hair into a messy ponytail and drove to the gym.
I was angry at the world and hated everyone. Just kidding. I was really only angry with myself. Angry that I had let the holiday stress affect me so much. Angry about having a brain that seems to be wired for anxiety, fear, and doubt. Angry at the ever-present voice that tells me that there is something wrong with me and that I’m not loveable, or good enough. Angry that I create these ridiculous stories in which perfect families in matching reindeer sweaters are off having perfect, magical holidays, and where everyone is full of eggnog and holiday cheer – except for me. Angry because I know that’s total self-absorbed bullshit I create in my own head that only sends me deeper into the funk. Angry that, despite the work I’ve been doing to improve myself, I still have all of these feelings and am sometimes controlled by them.
For 45 minutes, I channeled all of that rage into physical energy. I used it to push myself to move faster and to work harder – to push the incline up another notch, to cover another tenth of a mile, to hold the plank for 10 seconds more. With every movement, I envisioned all of the negative feelings leaving my body, bit by bit with each exhale and each drop of sweat. And when I was finished, I was lighter. My mind had cleared and my mood had lifted, just as I knew it would. Once more, my efforts had bought me a dose a confidence, and some precious moments of peace.
And this is why I’ll always suggest a run, or a hike, yoga, or a boxing class. This is why I spend ungodly amounts of money on workout gear and running shoes. This is why I will wake up early, even on Sundays, even in December when it is cold and dark outside, and even when Christmas is coming and I have a million things to do.
Fact: Exercise is magic.