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.

Self-Care

Keeping It Together – Even When You Don’t Want To

I received some sad news this morning. A former client passed away over the weekend and the funeral is tomorrow. They left the agency several months ago because they needed a higher level of care. This is the second former client who has died in the last 30 days. Losing clients (even if they’re former, you will always think of them as your client) is never easy. As a social worker I’m privileged to be involved in intimate details of people’s lives. I wouldn’t be in this line of work if I didn’t care deeply about those I work with. A professional hazard is that you will inevitably lose each client – many will recover and move on (YAY), some will drop out and you’ll never hear from them again, and some will die before their time.

I work with individuals diagnosed with serious mental illness. They are vulnerable to homelessness, abuse, poverty, lack of access to nutritious food, unhealthy lifestyle habits (smoking, lack of exercise due to illness or because of fatigue from medications), etc. People with these diagnoses tend to die about 25 years sooner than the general population. This means that the death of a client in their 40s or 50s is not unusual.

One of the things that has made the deaths of the two clients this month so difficult is that I needed to support my staff and other clients with the grieving process while I also grieve. Today was a difficult day. First stop this morning was to tell the other clients and answer their questions to help them start to process their grief. The next job was notifying all the staff who worked with this person and supporting any of them who needed to talk. In addition, there was my regular workload. All of this had to happen while I was feeling quite sad and somewhat guilty that I hadn’t followed up with the former resident and visited them in the nursing home the way I intended.

I think that all of us, at some point in our daily lives, have needed to keep our own reactions in check in order to make sure thing get taken care of. Sometimes this must be done daily. So how do we keep it together when all we want to do is fall apart? Here are my suggestions:

  • Acknowledge your feelings – To the best of your ability in your situation acknowledge that you’re not feeling 100%. Depending on what’s been going on, a simple “I’m not at my best today” may be helpful. If you don’t feel comfortable saying this in your work environment then at least acknowledge it to yourself. Give yourself a break if you find that you’re not working as quickly or as accurately as usual. We all have off days. You are human, you’re allowed to not be perfect.

 

  • Talk it out – If you have someone you trust at work then go to them and ask if you can share some of your thoughts. Be mindful when choosing who to help you process thoughts or feeling. For example, I wouldn’t go to one of the staff I supervised to talk about feeling sad at the loss of this client because I’m supposed to be the one supporting them. I’m honest with staff about my feelings – I can tell them that I feel sad about the death of the former client but for a deeper exploration of my feelings I seek out either a supervisor or someone else in the company that I don’t supervise.

 

  • Set aside time to fully experience your emotions – I learned this from a former supervisor who specialized in treating other therapists. It is very useful when sitting with a client who is sharing tragic or horrifying personal details. If you’re in a situation where you can’t react the way you really want to (cry, scream, curse), then make yourself a promise. Identify a time later that day when you can react the way you want to and tell yourself that you can put those thoughts and feelings on hold until that time. The trick to this is that when the identified time comes, you MUST keep the promise you made to yourself and allow yourself to think whatever sad, negative, irrational thoughts that you ignored earlier. If you promise yourself a time to react, put your feelings on hold, and later don’t give yourself what you promised then you stifle your emotions which will impede healing or coping with whatever is going on. I find this one helpful when I have intrusive sad or anxious thoughts that are keeping me from doing my work. Once I tell myself I’m going to deal with those thoughts later in the day I’m able to refocus on what I need to do.

 

  • Take care of yourself – When you are struggling it is crucial to take good physical care of yourself. Your mind is already going through a lot, don’t make it also have to deal with a body that feels unhealthy. You may have the urge to eat ¾ of the birthday cake in the break room left over from yesterday’s celebration (been there, done that), but try to keep yourself to a regular-sized piece. Drink lots of water and minimize your caffeine intake. If possible, take a short walk during a lunch break. Eat whole fruits and vegetables. Try doing some gentle stretching.

As always, some (or none!) of my suggestions may be helpful or effective in your situation. I can only share the things that help me. I would love to hear ways other people make it through their day when it’s an extra struggle?

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!

Self-Care · Social Anxiety

Online Yoga

So I don’t have much time today. It was a beast of a day at work (more on that later) and the end of the semester is next week so I’m swamped with paper writing.

I wanted to share a resource with you that has really helped me in the past! I go through phases (wish I could keep them up consistently) where I take really good care of my body and mind. Part of that is doing regular yoga. Please don’t envision me twisting myself into a pretzel, I’m seriously not that flexible!

Through trial and error I have found that I don’t care for group yoga classes. Some people find them to be wonderful, supportive environments. That’s just not me. First, there’s the social anxiety aspect of exercising in front of others. Second, it turns out that I’m more competitive than I realized and group yoga makes me angry because I get competitive but I’m not very good at yoga so I get frustrated at most of the class being better than I am. Not exactly a recipe for relaxation. Third, it can be expensive! I’m a social worker (one of the lowest paid degrees) with massive student debt and no foreseeable way to pay it off. I’d hope for lottery winnings but can’t bring myself to spend the money on something so statistically unlikely. I can’t afford $10-13 dollars a week for a yoga class (or a private class that is much more expensive)!

Luckily for me, I discovered the world of online yoga classes and videos! Many of them are free on youtube. I like free. I like that I can do them at home with only my pets watching me. Just do a search for yoga classes. Everyone has their own personality so if you don’t like the first one you try, look at a couple of other instructors to see if they are a better fit.

My favorite youtube channel is Yoga with Adriene. The instructor is pretty down to earth and aims to make yoga less intimidating. She’s got some great videos focused on yoga to decrease anxiety (yay!). She has put together some really neat 30-day series of yoga practices. I completed one last summer and I really liked it. She’s also got a good variety in the duration of her videos – some under 20 minutes, others around an hour.

If you chose a more lucrative career than I did you can also check out her website http://yogawithadriene.com/ where she offers collections of classes in specific areas (ex – prenatal) for a fee. I think she also offers a monthly membership with access to more videos than are available on the youtube channel.

What is the most important thing is that you find what works for you. My sister hates yoga but finds relaxation in group boxing classes (which sounds awful to me but she loves them). If yoga’s not your thing then don’t force it. But if you haven’t given it a try or want to get back into it then hit up the world of online yoga.