Anxiety · Gym · Physical Health · Self-Care · Social Anxiety

Braving the gym

I almost let my anxiety run me out of the gym without working out this afternoon. But first, a little backstory.

First, I HATE GYMS. I think they are awful. I’ve yet to meet a gym that I felt comfortable at. So many people I don’t know, so much spandex, I sweat profusely, so much…everything. Did I mention I once passed out in my college gym while on a treadmill and broke my nose? I absolutely hate gyms. However, desperate times call for desperate measures. Over the summer I started jogging again both to lose some weight (the Freshman 15 is nothing compared to the Ph.D. 40) and to help with my stress level. I completed the Couch to 5K plan and kept up the jogging for 2-3X/week through the first couple weeks of the Fall semester.

Then, as usual when I’m stressed, my exercise (and self-care) inevitably trailed off until I wasn’t exercising at all. There was weight gain. I’m talking the kind of weight gain that keeps you from wearing 85% of your clothing (at this point, I’ve only got 4 outfits I can wear to work). I was eating sweets every day and using the drive thru with too much frequency. In addition to not looking great, I felt gross and uncomfortable in my clothes. I kept telling myself that when classes ended I would get back to jogging and yoga. Not surprisingly, when classes ended a few weeks ago, I did not start jogging (it’s cold!) or doing yoga at home.

I have a professional conference I’m presenting some of my research at in Washington, D.C. in mid-January. My first one so of course I’m anxious about the whole thing. It’s a requirement for school. Adding to that anxiety is concern (terror) about whether I’m going to have anything appropriate to wear. All my “professional” clothing is too tight. I don’t mean a little snug, I mean that it looks borderline obscene and rips if I try to sit down. I’m really strapped for cash, shelling out for this conference already added over $1000 to my credit card, so I really can’t afford to go out and buy a suit in a larger size.

That’s how I ended up with a gym membership. I knew I wouldn’t be able to make myself start jogging in the cold weather. So, I joined Planet Fitness because they are the least expensive gym in town (see above comment about lack of funds) and I’m desperate to lose weight so I can fit into my clothing. I broke down and did that on Friday (today is Monday). I’ve been each day since Friday (except Saturday – we helped a friend move which counted as my daily workout). The first couple of days weren’t too bad – I managed to find times that the gym was relatively empty. The physical set up is not great for me – I wish there was a set of stairs that didn’t require me to walk across an open floor to get to the second floor– the workout equipment on the second floor is less intimidating.

Today was very unpleasant. It was a bad day at work. I went to the gym as planned, changed into my workout clothes, and looked in the mirror (MISTAKE). I realized that, what was an appropriate workout shirt to wear outside in the August heat, showed more of my body than I was comfortable with now that I was inside of a building with a bunch of people I didn’t know. I wanted to put my regular clothes back on and run out of there. I almost did. It took me several minutes to convince myself to walk about of the locking room. The walk to the stairs was so uncomfortable – I felt that everyone was staring and judging me. Logically I know that most of the people in that gym didn’t give a flying **** about me or my clothing, but it felt as though they were all looking in my direction.

I managed to make it up the stairs and onto an elliptical machine in the corner. Which was fine until ten minutes later when two women started using other machines near me. I heard them and almost stopped my workout and ran back to the locker room. The idea of them being so close when I was feeling vulnerable because of my clothing and crappy day was a lot to handle. I didn’t fully do my cool down because I was so eager to get out of there. I called my sister before I left the locker room, so I didn’t have to make eye contact or interact with anyone on my way out.

So, obviously today was not a pleasant experience for me. However, I want to try to identify some positives in the situation to lessen the memory of my anxiety

1. Despite my mind and my body telling me to run away, I did not. Yay for
me!

2. I managed to walk across the open space to access the stairs to the
second floor…twice. Despite my fear and discomfort.

3. I was able to continue using the machine when surprised by other gym
patrons. My anxiety was present but did not prevent me from
accomplishing my goal.

Tomorrow, the real test comes. After such an unpleasant experience, will my anxiety convince me to skip tomorrow’s workout? It will be a battle between my desire for health and my desire to not be around people. Who will win?

As always, ending on happy doggie note. Check out the picture of the pup above. He’s so sweet when he sleeps.

Physical Health · Self-Care · Social Anxiety

Summer Self-Care Plan

The past couple of weeks have been a roller coaster for me and my family. First there was the usual end of semester research papers to write. By the time my last paper is turned in, I am drained of mental and physical energy for at least a week. Several days after finishing my last research paper, my father experienced some health problems and spent 5 days in the hospital. The icing on the stress and anxiety cake was a bedbug scare at one of our programs at work. This series of stressful events left me in need of some serious self-care!

Over the past 6 months my self-care has gone down the drain. I became out of shape because all I did was work, study (sooo much sitting and staring at screens), and stress eat (so much stress eating). Now that it’s summer I’m determined to get back to feeling healthy again. My summer plan has 3 components:

  • Increase the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables I eat each day, preferably from my vegetable garden
  • Practice home yoga (Yoga with Adriene!) two times each week, a minimum of 30 minutes per session
  • Complete 8-week Couch to 5K training program

I discovered the Couch to 5K around 10 years ago and I have completed the program several times. It is basically what it sounds like – it takes you from “couch potato” to running a 5K through a series of run/walk intervals that gradually increase until you are able to run a 5K (3.1 miles). There are two different ways to do the program – time or distance.

  •  Time: You will run your interval based on a fixed amount of time (90 seconds, 3 minutes, etc). This means that your distance will    depend on your running speed. If you’re a slow runner (like me – I call what I do running but honestly, it’s more of a slow-to-medium speed jog) then you will probably not be running a full 5K in the 30 minutes that the program trains you for.
  • Distance: You will run your interval based on a fixed distance (1/8 mile, ½ mile, etc). This means that the time it takes to complete each interval depends on your speed. If you choose this route you may find that you take longer to complete each interval than is projected by the program.

I choose to run for time. I find it easier to bargain with myself (when I’m tired and want to stop) if I’m aiming for an amount of time. It’s easier to convince myself to keep my legs moving for a specific amount of time, even if it means my speed is super slow. I figure that as long as I’m technically moving (even at a snail’s pace) it counts as exercise.

If you decide to try the Couch to 5K, I recommend downloading one of the many Couch to 5K apps available in iOS or android. If you do not have a smartphone or don’t like exercising with one, you can print out the training program here and use a watch to time your intervals. I prefer to use an app because it provides a voice prompt that tells you when to run and when to walk. There a multiple apps to choose from. Just a heads up – some of them are only free for the first 2 weeks of running and then require an upgrade to access the remainder of the training program. If you’re like me and prefer to keep your apps free then you can download the C25K app from Zen Labs. There is an upgrade option but you can still access the entire basic training program with the free version.

C25K is an acceptable app – I won’t lie and say that it’s the prettiest one out there to use. The free version has ads which can be annoying and the app is a little clunky. It is persistent about prompting you to post everything to social media, something I see no reason to do. But, if that’s your thing then it’ll let you show your progress to your friends. It also lets you access your music library from the app. Alternately, you can use a different music app if you don’t want to listen to your library. I use Rock My Run (the free version, of course) and I love it!

I don’t run on sidewalks because it makes my social anxiety act up and I get distracted thinking about whether the people in cars are judging me (it’s not a pretty picture when I’m running – lots of sweat, bright red face, I probably look like I’m about to collapse). There is a park that I’ve been exercising and playing in since I was a child. It’s not very big – the running trail is only a mile so I end up making multiple laps.

The others I see in the park are mostly older people taking their dogs out for a leisurely stroll. Occasionally there is a little league baseball game in the park and I alter my running path. The steepest part of the path goes by the baseball bleachers and I don’t enjoy dodging parents and younger siblings during the hardest part of the run. The park does have a great swinging bench on top of one of the hills that looks over the park and the nearby houses, I like to sit there after my run is over and enjoy the view for a few minutes before I leave the park.

I’m happy to report that in the past week I have managed to run (ok, more like jog/walk) twice and have done yoga twice. I’m aiming to go for another “run” tomorrow. Wish me luck!