I have never believed that exercise could help my anxiety or depression. I have spent months meditating daily, attended CBT and thrown myself into practicing mindfulness – but for some reason I have never placed any hope on exercise. I have heard all of the success stories, “My sister runs to keep her anxiety away” and “I couldn’t cope with the stress of my job if it wasn’t for the gym” – but I didn’t ever think it would work for me. Maybe it’s because exercise can seem quite unappealing; running on a treadmill in front of loads of people terrified me! What if I was running weirdly or what if I got out of breath really quickly? Anxious thoughts prevented me from giving this a go. However, I recently discovered for myself how beneficial exercise can be and it was almost a fluke. I had no intention of beginning to exercise; I wanted to have some fun with my friend.
In September, I started pole dancing every week for an hour and a half. This form of exercise is quite controversial and has raised a few eyebrows, however, wearing make up was once shameful in society and now it’s almost always preferred! People will always criticise you, no matter what, so you might as well do what you want. I didn’t choose to start pole dancing to exercise, I chose to join the club because I thought it would be a laugh and I think that is very important. If you want to start exercising, you need to find an activity that you will enjoy because forcing yourself to go to spin class when you detest it will most likely be of no benefit.
Week after week, I have seen myself progress. I’ve became stronger, more flexible and whenever you finally get the move you have been struggling with, the feeling of pride is indescribable. It has definitely helped my confidence. I started with absolutely no idea what I was doing and now I have mastered quite a few moves. As the progress can be measured easily (watching your interpretation of a move at the beginning, to see how effortlessly you can perform it now) you receive validation that you are actually doing pretty good. Personally, I would recommend, if you are taking up a new sport in order to help your mental health, that you set a fitness goal. With a fitness goal you will have something to work towards and something that you can achieve and celebrate. If you are focused on improving your fitness it will increase your likelihood of keeping it up. However, if you exercise to become happy, you may give up before you have gave it enough time and you won’t notice the strides you’ve made. A fitness goal could be becoming able to run for half an hour or to be able to bench press 20 kilos. I think where I went wrong with exercising before, was not sticking to a routine because I couldn’t see any results with my mental health and I just didn’t enjoy it.
Depression can cause a loss of interest in things which can make having fun seem like a chore. It is encouraged that those suffering from depression partake in at least one “pleasurable activity” per day, and when I first heard that, I couldn’t think of anything that would make me happy. But now I have a new found passion for pole dancing, and I am luckily doing well battling my depression and enjoy life again. I turned up at my first class extremely anxious but now I can’t wait to go every week – sometimes you need to take a leap of faith and give things a chance. This week, I found myself overwhelmed with work I had to do for University, and for the first time in my life, I felt the urge to exercise to release my stress. That truly surprised me. And today I went to pole class and I had fun whilst exhausting myself, and I returned home tired, happy and, most importantly, stress-free.
Many people find that exercise helps their self-confidence, this may be due to learning new skills or getting their body to an ideal shape. I have noticed, males in particular, becoming a lot more confident as they make progress in the gym. It might seem trivial, but gaining muscle and losing weight can have an incredible effect on their self-esteem. It also brings people together; you can get a chance to socialise in the gym and meet new people, whilst you look after yourself. Exercise has a long list of benefits and since your mental and physical health are intertwined, helping one will be advantageous for the other. It is recommended that you exercise for half an hour, for five days a week, to keep yourself fit and to significantly reduce your risk of Cardiovascular Disease.
In conclusion, exercising can definitely help your mental health. My biggest recommendation is to find something that you enjoy – it could be dancing, playing football or yoga – and you may have to try out a few sports until you find the one for you. Stick with an exercise that you enjoy and eventually you will learn to love it. Pole dancing has taught me the benefits of exercise, whilst building my confidence and generally being a fun activity – I encourage anyone interested to try it because I am so glad I did. As becoming more active is a natural activity, I urge everyone to seriously consider it! It is much less daunting to exercise than to begin a new medication.