Have you ever had anxiety? Most of us have. There is a lot of information online today about ways to cope with anxiety yet so many of us are walking around trying to push it down, ignore it, wish it away, drink and/or medicate it away. As we all know, none of these methods work and if they do in the short term, anxiety always comes back, often stronger than before.
Working out is one of those top listed ways to cope with anxiety as if we are exercising the demons. While exercise is a tactic I swear by because of the endless benefits it offers, I do not advocate solely on exercise as a cure all.
There is no question that after almost any type of exercise, I am always glad I participated, but I believe that for well rounded health, exercise is only just a single part of the health wheel.
I used to use exercise as an escape. I remember after one particularly hard break up, I repeatedly rode my bike for hours because I was having so much anxiety and fear. I remember riding one Saturday for 7 straight hours. The anxiety I was having was telling me I had to move; moving was less agony than sitting there and contemplating the pain of the enormous loss I was feeling.
At that time, my anxiety was more of a panic attack than just general anxiety. I didn't have the skills to address my feelings and exercise was my life and nothing about this seemed unhealthy to me at that time. I exercised when I was happy and when I was sad; it was something I knew, something that could keep me busy and something that could mask my unrelenting pain from others.
The pain intensified for me when I had nothing to preoccupy my mind. Exercise, for me, was the same band-aid alcohol/drugs are for others trying to cope. In this way, pushing it down or trying to escape the feelings of anxiety make sense; who willingly wants to feel more pain? Although I was fit, I was unhappy inside and with each year I found myself hoping for something different. I thought that we somehow figured it out when we got older. I realized that this wasn't happening and the older I got, the more unenlightened older people seemed to me, with the exception of a few.
It eventually became clear to me that my anxiety wasn't going to fade with age. I began reading books, working with therapists and coaches, going to seminars, practicing meditation, journaling, sitting still and really letting the emotion come through.
Through all of this I have come to realize that my anxiety peaks and is most scary and persistent when I allow my mind to make it bigger than what it really is. For example, the breakup got my mind to start spinning this incredible tale about how I will never find love, how I will always be alone, etc. It failed to acknowledge the gift it gave me; breaking up with him was what had to happen for me to begin self exploration. It was so painful for so many months that it forced me to finally do something different. I had to face the projection I was putting on him. I needed to understand what was happening that caused me to feel such crippling anxiety and fear.
There is a reason so few people practice self exploration. It is hard and almost impossible without someone guiding you through personal obstacles you face but with practice and a good coach guiding you, the light begins to shine through.
Becoming more introspective didn't prevent me from feeling pain or anxiety again, it just gave me a different perspective which changed the way I experience obstacles I face. I have since experienced other breakups and disappointments but my reaction to them is like that of a different person. I take things much less personally and I see with clarity that everything has a lesson in it; that life isn't against me. What if obstacles are the little sting needed to redirect attention and focus? Since pain gets our attention, what if all the pain we experience is for our greater good?
If we keep stuffing it down by ignoring and escaping, what really is the point of it all? If we feel and understand what is really trying to get our attention, then can we experience more calm when dealing with hard life issues?
My experience is yes, we can. My life isn't a cakewalk but it isn't a ball of panicked anxiety anymore either. I now look for the lesson or needed redirection in my pain. Nothing in life has any meaning expect for the meaning we give it, so I choose to get the lesson and see it as only that, a lesson, not as a punishment.
In my quest to encourage moms to impress upon their children a physically healthy lifestyle, I believe equally in the importance of showing children the gift or lesson that must be taken from life's inevitable pain. When we see it as a gift or a lesson that will ultimately help us if realized and used, does it seem as painful? I would answer no to this question as I have done some of the most bold things and grown the most after hard times like breakups that I would have never done had I had the (perceived) security of my (insecure) relationship.
We are all conditioned beings (by our families, environments, and cultures), so when thinking of starting your own family, remember the impression your parents had on you. By becoming more self aware, more conscious, more healthy, you automatically, without trying, impress those same habits on your children, giving them the best self regulating tools there are.
With 40% of American women meeting the criteria for being obese, understanding the impact of obesity on pregnancy is critical. The biggest takeaway from this read should be how obesity is not only threatening to mom but also to baby and continues to have lasting effects on your child.
Doctors recommend that obese women lose weight before becoming pregnant. Obese women are 35% less likely to become pregnant, and for those who do become pregnant, there is an increased risk of stillborn births by 2x the rate of normal weight women.
Obese mothers additionally are at increased risk for complications during pregnancy; examples include, increased risk of miscarriage, c-sections, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and sleep apnea. Babies born to obese mothers are more likely to become obese as children and as adults, suffer from neural tube defects, and be premature. In the U.S., being obese has officially become a marker for a high-risk pregnancy (MSU, 2009).
Extra weight makes the body's use of insulin much harder. With elevated blood sugar and insulin levels, this can cause the baby to put on excess weight, which may cause the baby to be too big to enter the birth canal. Preeclampsia is the leading cause of deaths for both mom and baby. Preeclampsia can cause damage to a pregnant woman's liver, kidneys, and brain; babies can have low birth weight, premature delivery, and placental abruption (separation of the placenta). If the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus, the baby can be deprived of oxygen and nutrients, which makes this a medical emergency.
While all of this is very serious and very scary, the good news is, moms do have the power to take control of their weight and health before becoming pregnant. Additionally, women can begin exercising at any point during their pregnancy with the okay from their doctor, even if they have never worked out before. It doesn't have to be very strenuous, and can actually be a lot of fun, especially when making it part of healthy family planning.
If you have struggled with weight related issues, you know how emotionally taxing it can be so taking a stand and embracing your health with your baby in mind will help you stay the course! Investing in your health will be the gift that keeps on giving to both you and your little one.
Most of us have a general sense of whether or not we live a healthy lifestyle if we are being honest with ourselves. Although in most cases, my go to tactic would not be to use fear to motivate, in this argument I will favor using fear for three important reasons:
1.) In college I didn't go to the dentist. After graduating I got my first full time job ever at Equinox. I went to the dentist for the first time on my own as an adult. Bam! I had 10 tiny cavities. The dentist explained that if I didn't start flossing that I would continue to have more. Not only was it expensive, but it scared the hell out of me. Guess who now flosses every single night. I cannot go to bed without flossing and if I have to for some reason, I feel very uncomfortable.
2.) My grandmother smoked for many years as a young woman into her 40's. One day she had her chest x-rayed during a visit to the doctor. The doctor made it a point to show her what her lungs looked like next to the lungs of a non-smoker. She never touched another cigarette again and to this day tells everyone she knows about how much she regrets smoking.
3.) My dad had severe chest pains a couple of weeks before he died of heart disease (at age 38). It scared him so he went to the doctor. The doctor explained that he had high blood pressure and needed to eat healthier, lose weight, and stop smoking. Unfortunately, the extent of the damage was too great and he died.
All three of these stories have made a drastic impact on my life and I carry them with me. To be clear, I do not think fear works when we are just generally told or are warned, "this could happen if..."
I believe that if everyone, including those of us who believe we are "healthy", were to have a series of tests performed that showed us how much plaque has built up in our arteries, along with videos of how hard our heart is working while not exercising compared to a truly healthy heart, pictures of our fat resting above our abdominal muscles, bone density scans showing us how osteoporosis is deteriorating our skeleton slowly, along with a computer generated picture of what we would look like at age 70 if we continue to neglect our health compared with one of how we would look if we took our health and fitness seriously, that the impact of such tests would be an incredible motivator.
With that said, most of us do not have any idea of what is going on underneath our skin until something goes wrong. Sometimes the fear of something can keep us on the straight and narrow. I know it sounds crazy, but if I eat unhealthy food for too many days in a row I start to feel tightness in my chest. I do not doubt that I have fantom chest pains b/c I have had an EKG that showed me how incredibly low my chances are of dying from a heart attack, but heart disease runs wild on my dad's side of the family and because I lost him at such a young age, I know that fear is unconsciously keeping me on my toes.
I think it is a great idea for people looking for a little boost in motivation to have a comprehensive physical done where your cholesterol, body fat percentage, blood pressure, resting heart rate, weight, and any other standard tests are taken and then compare your numbers with a healthy person's numbers. If you did this every year and saw your numbers declining or inclining, what impact do you think this would have on you if any at all?
Julia Broome is passionate about health, nutrition and exercise. She is most excited about educating women on the short and long term impact of exercise and proper nutrition on pregnant women and their baby.