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?
Often times people give up on weight loss programs because there is a sense of little or no control of results. Even with the odds against us, there are a select few who manage to take complete control of their weight and health. Instead of understanding how and why they achieved success, they are usually envied and the internal story of why it won't work for you starts spinning constantly inside your mind. Although it may seem counterintuitive, pregnancy is a fantabulous opportunity to take full control of your and your child's health.
Charles Duhigg states in his book titled Smarter, Faster, Better, "Figure out how this task is connected to something you care about. Explain to yourself why this chore will help you get closer to a meaningful goal. Explain why this matters and then you'll find it easier to start."
If you connect the importance of working out to the health of your unborn child, this can help in making decisions around your health and fitness in a deliberate way easier. Envision a stronger, healthier, leaner child with a parent (you) who is strong, is a healthy weight, feels good in their clothes, and is happier. Then envision the opposite, declining strength, weight gain, muscle and bone degeneration, increased risk for heart disease, etc.
Duhigg explains that seeing the bigger goal can help us to take action now. In our instant gratification culture, this practice can be challenging, but perhaps not as difficult when considering the health of your unborn child. The placenta, which is a temporary organ, transfers oxygen and nutrients from mom to baby. The demands of regular exercise cause the placenta to grow larger, making it better at delivering oxygen and nutrients to the baby. Exercise makes your baby stronger and leaner.
No better time to start exposing your child to physical activity. Natalie Digate Muth, MD, reported, "Few behaviors more significantly influence child health than physical activity," in an article titled, To Grow Healthier, Happier Adults, Raise Fit Kids. Waiting till your child has a weight or health issue to begin an active lifestyle is a huge disservice and is less likely to become a regular part of your child's life.
Exercising while pregnant is highly beneficial and encouraged by ACOG. Exercise has multiple benefits for mom and baby. There are certain guidelines to follow so working with a professional who is certified in pre/post-natal fitness instruction is important. If given the go ahead by your doctor, you can begin an exercise program, even if you are starting when pregnant.
If you are a woman who has struggled with losing weight and/or committing to an exercise program, pregnancy is a prime opportunity to consider how you will address weight and health issues with your child. Set your new baby up with good health right away with the added bonus of improving your health and fitness too!
When most of us sign up for a new diet or exercise routine that promises losing 10 or more pounds, we get excited and think, "YES! This is going to work for me this time. I am determined and tired of being fat." The problem is, when you hear a friend, a coworker, or even yourself say, "I'm on a diet", it is mentioned and thought of as if it were a temporary thing.
If you reach or get close to reaching your goal weight then the carrot is yours. This is the most dangerous time because we have thought of the diet as temporary, a way to reach our goal, and as something that isn't pleasant and has an end date.
BAM! Chances are, you gain all the weight back and then some, only to feel like a failure and try again with some other diet or routine. Why do we keep doing this to ourselves?
We were brought up on a rewards and punishment system and have tried to apply the same motivational system to induce weight loss. Rising obesity rates annually should show us that this way isn't working!
Intrinsic motivation is the best guarantee for success in any endeavor, not just weight loss. Quick fixes are probably something you will regret later on. For instance, a girlfriend of mine, her mother took a popular weight loss pill many years ago and it caused a valve in her heart to deteriorate; she now has the valve of a cow and was told that eventually it will need to be replaced. Nothing short of scary!
This is a great example of why you shouldn't just take or do something just because it is for sale. The FDA doesn't monitor most supplements, which means manufactures can add whatever they want, which can cause harm and death in extreme cases.
The moral here is to get tons of information; information about yourself, your body, your mind. Learn why you are unconsciously holding onto the weight, because we all choose what activities we participate in and what we eat. Learn what triggers you to eat unhealthy food; are you using food as a coping strategy? Have a coach guide you in seeing what is really the problem, because the "magic" diet is 1000% NOT the answer and never will be.
It is no secret we need to exercise. Dieting alone isn't good enough for overall health. Exercise builds healthy bones, muscles, organs, and is great for preventing a whole host of diseases. Many people think all they need to do is diet and exercise. So what does a comprehensive health program look like?
Fitness professionals are beginning to incorporate behavior change tactics into their programs. Mindfulness is being interweaved into fitness classes and practices. It is great that collectively, as professionals, we are acknowledging that diet and exercise alone are not cutting it for most.
A complete health program should include, good nutrition, adequate sleep (varies for each individual), stretching, self myofascial release, hydration, and rest between workouts. Beyond these, which are now pretty well understood by most fitness professionals, the deeper elements of the unconscious mind must be understood beyond just behavior change tactics. Without this critical component, the battle will always be uphill. An inside-out approach is the most effective and is the only way to achieve lasting results with greater ease.
To give an example, if you believe it is hard to lose weight and get fit and that it is a punishment that you have to take extreme measures to achieve those goals, then the chances are that you won't sustain any progress you have made. In fact, often times people end up putting back on the weight they lost plus more. The process is very defeating and leaves many feeling hopeless that there is any chance of success following any program.
Comprehensive health is preventative health and devoting an appropriate amount of time, energy, and focus into each facet naturally brings harmony and balance to all areas of you life; not just physical health.
It is easy to get into a groove of endlessly going through your to-do list day after day without considering what it is you really want. We are all conditioned from an early age to get a good job that will pay the bills. Many times we aren't considering what we want, and instead are only focused on staying afloat. Survival instincts are great and we need them but the whole point of our existence is not solely for survival. If you have a desire for something, such as a healthy body and weight, that longing doesn't come from a survival point of view. Therefore, if we want it, we have the capacity to have it; it is a matter of tapping into that higher knowledge.
It has been said that the path to success isn't a perfectly straight line. There are curves, ups and downs, and obstacles that we must face along the way. It often feels like the scariest thing we could ever imagine to take on and having faith that it all works out for our growth and development isn't always easy.
With that said, the path not clearly defined is less traveled for a reason and basically that internal voice to have what you deserve has to be loud enough for you to begin taking steps. I have heard it takes 10 years to become an over night success. It is easy to look at someone else and devise a very convincing story of how and why they have what they have and why you don't and never will have it.
Coming out of the mental fog you have been "surviving" in for all of these years is a step by step process. Resistance will come up and is part of the process; seeing everything as an opportunity for growth, and thereby another stepping stone on your journey, is a change in perspective that will help you stay the path. In the beginning, it is tempting and easy to turn around and slide right back into old patterns. If those patterns are making you miserable enough to want real change in your life then your unconscious mind will lead you to where you need to start. "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."
Julia Broome is passionate about health and exercise but is most excited about educating women concerning the short and long term impact of exercise on pregnant women and their baby.