What Exercise Means to Me These Days

I recently hit a mental plateau with my exercise routine. Maybe I’m approaching a physical plateau as well, who knows. Anywho, I’ve long sought out exercise as a way to blow off steam, reduce stress, and center myself amidst the demands of school, work, and life in general. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach to exercise, I think it’s set me up for failure in a very specific way: I’ve come to expect too much from it.

When I first fell in love with formal exercise, it loved me right back. I started out with a fairly well-balanced mixture of running, HIIT workouts, and lower-intensity heavy lifting. These workouts always did the trick in terms of relieving any stress and anxiety I was experiencing. I had no specific mindfulness practice to speak of, and I certainly wasn’t meditating or journaling at the time. And even if I was aware of these techniques, I don’t think I would have needed them per se, because exercise was the only reprieve I needed.

However, it’s recently become brutally clear that this is no longer the case. Even when I move my body regularly throughout a typical week, I find that I’m still stressed at the end of the day and still feeling anxiety in the pit of my stomach. Long gone are the days when I feel that I can leave all of my problems at the gym or on the running trail. These days, they still linger.

And it’s only after some recent reflecting that I understand why. My hypothesis is that back in the day, exercise successfully served as my physical AND mental/emotional outlet because the complexity of my life was relatively low. At that time, I had an incredibly narrow field of concerns and worries that could plague me on a daily basis. I was mostly preoccupied with getting good grades and acquiring a boyfriend. I wasn’t working a job and trying to figure out how to save and invest my money and overall striving to be a semi-functioning adult. Working out was my solace because my life was pretty simple. Now, things are a bit more complex. And with complexity comes the need to iterate.

Currently, I am experimenting with how I can effectively gain that extra bit of emotional and mental well-being that I no longer receive from exercise alone. At this time, that looks like journaling a few times a week, meditating in the mornings when I have time to do so, and committing to carving out time for myself to attend yoga classes. Yoga has been an incredibly addition to my mental and emotional toolbox–I cannot speak highly enough of the many benefits of a regular yoga practice. In my experience, the most important lesson it continues to teach me is that I have all that I need inside of me–as I am, I am capable of doing great things, and I have the power to perceive myself as worthy of love, regardless of circumstance.

But I’m getting off topic–so what’s the moral of this story? That odds are, as life becomes more complex, it becomes increasingly necessary to diversify the ways in which we care for the various facets of our well-being. So tell me–have you noticed a similar change in your own relationship to exercise? How are you compensating for the missing pieces of emotional and mental wellness that working out sometimes leaves behind?

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