How I learnt to manage anxiety and depression with exercise
Ask my mum, she will tell you I was a hyper active child, I didn’t sleep for years and she signed me up for dance classes to wear me out! Ballet, tap etc I did the lot and hours of it. Most of my childhood up to the age of eighteen was taken up with all sorts of dancing, at sixteen I went to a stage school, dancing all day! I don’t remember feeling anything other than happy and confident as a youngster I definitely showed no signs of anxiety or depression neither did I think I would become an alcoholic, so up to my early twenties I was fine and dandy. I can pinpoint the moment I had my first panic attack, I was on holiday in Majorca and had a moped accident (as we all did on the 90's!). I was sitting in a restaurant a few days later and suddenly came over all shaky, I couldn't breathe properly, I felt sick, I my eye sight became blurred and I felt like I was having a heart attack....I didn't know what it was but for the next few years I would begin to suffer from these attacks especially in certain situations that made me feel trapped, lifts, meetings, planes, work etc etc. Sometimes I would stay in this state of anxiety for weeks at a time, not being able to leave the house.
At the time I went to see a doctor, Gp's were definitely not as knowledgeable about mental
health in 1996 as they are now, he suggested things such as avoiding, drugs, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, I was 24! I obviously ignored all his advice, especially when I discovered that the booze helped me cope with these attacks. At this time I had completely stopped dancing, I wasn't playing any sport or going to the gym, I worked in retail and spent the rest of my time partying. Around me everyone was doing the same, but I didn't realise what a detrimental effect this lifestyle was having on me then and for my future.
Throughout my twenties and into my early thirties I was sporadic with exercise and only went to the gym to be thin! People didn't talk about it being good for mental health, well if they did I didn't hear it. I always felt better when I exercised but it would always be a phase that I would go through and then ditch. With my background in dance I should have been teaching classes or becoming a fitness instructor but I lacked self motivation and belief so I plodded along working in jobs I hated, partying and suffering with my mental health and alcoholism.
It really wasn't until I had my first child and got very ill with post natal depression that I looked into exercise and relaxation as forms of therapy that could work for me, I started running and doing DVD's at home, I noticed after exercising I felt calmer, this is the release of endorphins and dopamine. Of course, being a girl, I also wanted to loose weight but I definitely started to become more into the overall benefits of exercise. After my second child was born, I decided to go to more
classes, join the gym and run, all of these activites helped me manage my anxiety, I saw this so it spurred me on. I set myself some goals, first I ran the local 5K then the 10k and finally the Great South Run which meant lots of training but it got me out with friends and the sense of achievement was amazing.
The turning point for me was training to be an Instructor, I run Spin, Dance and Zumba classes. My personality means I lack discipline especially if I'm feeling depressed, my natural reaction is to stay in bed and hide from the world. Earning a living by exercise keeps me in a routine, which in turn keeps me on a level, no matter how I feel I have to go to class! put a smile on and get on with it 100%. It has definitely kept me sane through some tough times. I know for me the chemicals that are produced during exercise outweigh the anxiety and depression. For myself, I practice yoga, at home or at a local Hot studio, Bikram Yoga can be brutal but there is no where to hide from your feelings and it keeps you in touch with how you are feeling physically and mentally. Time to think and problem solve. However you look at exercise there are only benefits for everyone. All you need to do is choose what you enjoy and stick to it. Push yourself and set goals as this is a great way to boost self esteem and cope with mental health as a whole.