I have struggled with my mental health for years. For a long time I have battled anxiety and extremely low moods, impacting my confidence, motivation and social life. I gave up any hobby I had a long time ago and so I found myself with a lot of time to sit around by myself. I was on a downward spiral. What with this and University work, I found my self-esteem at an all time low and my stress levels at an all time high. I began weight training about 5 months ago. I had been on and off going to the gym for years but struggled with motivation and found it difficult to go on my own. With a lot of support and persuasion I gave it a go. It had often been recommended to me to try as a supplement to other treatment I was receiving. I didn’t have a lot of faith. I associated the gym with pain, failure and a lot of sweat. Not exactly what I’d call a helpful combination. I decided to give it a go. It took a long time for me to pluck up the courage to start but people were really supportive and if something was going to make me feel even the tiniest bit better, it was worth pushing myself out of my comfort zone to give it a go. I’ll be honest, I really hated it at first. It was just another thing for me to be anxious about and, when I couldn’t lift what I wanted to or I struggled with form, I felt like I had failed. Without support from friends I met in the gym, I would have given up, but I stuck with it. It was a challenge but the more I went the better and more confident I was getting. I was starting to feel stronger and seeing results. I was more motivated and had more energy to get through the day, something that I’d really been struggling with since starting at University. I was sleeping better at night and I had made new friends.
I decided to start an Instagram dedicated to tracking my fitness journey. It was mainly just for me at first and I kept it a secret from everyone. Slowly, I started to tell more people and found myself part of an incredibly active and support fitness community. People laughed and judged me, but most have been support and encouraged me on my journey. I never really had much good to say about social media when it came to my mental health, but now I feel supported and have something to focus on that is mine. I am honest, I don’t want to be something that I am not and I talk about the bad as well as the good.
There are lots of scientific reasons why exercise is supposed to improve your mental wellbeing but it has been so much more than that for me. The opportunity to meet new people and get out of the house is a benefit that I never anticipated
Exercise has certainly not solved my struggle with mental health entirely and it has not been the only factor. Alongside exercise, I have been receiving a lot of professional support in order to deal with my mental health problems. Many times I have simply being told to ‘go for a walk’ or ‘get some fresh air’ to help me to feel better and so I know how patronising and dangerous undermining or even trivialising mental health issues can be and therefore this is not an attempt at saying exercise can cure any mental health problem. However, I truly believe that, since starting weight training, I have seen some improvements. I am more focused, motivated and confident in myself. It gives me a few hours a day where I am something to focus on for me, allowing me to take my mind off my anxieties, even if only for a short while. I hope that one day I will not need a distraction and that I will no longer struggle with anxiety and low moods, however, for now, the gym is giving me a bit of time each day where I am not my mental health issues. I am strong, I am capable and I am confident. And for that, I am very grateful.