Most people are familiar with the feeling of anxiety. There is a lot of information online about ways to cope with it yet so many of us are trying to push it down, ignore it, wish it away, drink and/or medicate it away. Even if this feels good in the short term, anxiety always comes back, often stronger than before.
Exercise is one of the top listed ways to cope with anxiety as if we are exercising the demons. While working out is a tactic I swear by because of the endless benefits it offers, I do not advocate solely on working out 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, it’s only a single part of the equation.
I used to use exercise as an escape. I remember after one particularly hard breakup, I rode my bike for hours because I had so much anxiety and fear. I remember riding one Saturday for seven straight hours. The anxiety I had was telling me I needed to move; activity 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 it could mask my unrelenting pain from others. Although I was fit, I was unhappy and with each year I found myself hoping for something different. I thought that I would somehow figure it out as I got older.
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 emotions be known. 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 a situation 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. I 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 I was forced to finally do something different.
There is a reason so few people practice self-exploration. It’s 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 have since had other breakups and disappointments but my reaction to them is different. 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 understand what is really trying to get our attention, life’s issues aren’t as painful. Nothing in life has any meaning or power expect for the meaning and power we give it.
I encourage moms to impress upon their children the importance of 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 seen as a gift or lesson that will ultimately help us, we can take back the power. Everyone is a conditioned being (by families, environments, and cultures), so when thinking of starting your own family, remember the impression your parents had on you. By being more self-aware, more conscious,and more healthy, you automatically, without trying, impress those same habits on your children, giving them the best self-regulating tools there are.