Hello! Welcome to my second post in the small series I’m writing on “things you can do indoors to feel better” (based on the fact that many of us are stuck in quarantine). This time I’m focusing on exercise.
If you are struggling with anxiety, or any other aspect of your mental health, it’s well worth taking some time to look at how much you’re exercising. Of course, it isn’t going to solve everything, but so many studies support the beneficial effects of exercise. If you want to know more about the benefits of fitness, I really recommend listening to Rhiannon Lambert’s Food for Thought podcast – in particular an episode called “Transforming Mental Health with Fitness”. FYI I listen to this on Spotify, but it’s available on other platforms as well.
Below I have written about 6 of the psychological benefits I’ve experienced from increasing my physical activity, and then 6 different ways you can do it at home (FYI – these are especially relevant for those who, like me, are not naturally “sporty”, or are just struggling with motivation at the moment).
Psychological Benefits of Exercise
The obvious benefits, which are discussed often, are reduced levels of anxiety and depression. But I’m going to list below some of the more specific benefits I experience – which, in turn, reduce my anxiety levels and improve my mood.
1. Increased self esteem
I feel better about how I look even after one workout (which in itself doesn’t make much difference, but it completely changes the way I see myself – I can go from feeling really unattractive to attractive after just one workout). It makes me feel like I’m strong, pretty and healthy. It improves my posture and gives me more of a ‘glow’. It has also made me realise how much more I can achieve than I thought I could.
2. Increased ability to cope with suffering
I don’t want to compare the suffering you experience when exercising to the suffering caused by anxiety or depression, but pushing myself with exercise has helped me get more ‘comfortable’ with feeling uncomfortable. I naturally like to be in my comfort zone, and part of my experiences with anxiety have involved me desperately trying to escape from the discomfort of anxiety. Exercising has taught me to not run away from something just because it doesn’t feel good.
3. Better mind-body connection
Exercising has taught me how linked my body and mind are, and how I can improve the way I feel mentally using physical movement. I have noticed this particularly from practicing yoga. There have been moments after a yoga session where I genuinely feel I am in bliss, where my mind has gone completely quiet.
4. Increased self respect
When you persevere to do something really difficult, and come through it, it makes you feel really proud. During times when I haven’t exercised, I felt ashamed of myself and envious of others. Each time I do something really physically challenging, I feel that I’m a better person, and that feeling stays with me day to day.
5. Reduced fear of having a fast heart beat
As an anxiety sufferer, feeling my heart beat very quickly (as well as sweating and feeling short of breath) is something I generally associate with being anxious or panicking. It doesn’t help that I also have a heart condition (SVT), which sometimes causes my heart to beat extremely quickly, and means I have to go to A&E. Exercise (particularly cardio) has helped me get used to the feeling of my heart beating fast so it isn’t as scary – and doesn’t always mean I’m about to die!
6. Increased happiness
This one is more general. I honestly feel so much happier when I’m exercising regularly. And that’s not just from doing a work out – it’s from being physically active throughout each day: going for walks, cleaning, etc. I find it preventative for my mental health, in that it protects me from the moods and anxiety levels I might experience when I’m not active.
Ways to Exercise Indoors
1. Avoid lying around for too long
Ideally you really want to avoid lying around on the sofa all day, every day (although, of course, there is no danger in doing this once in a while)! On the whole, it makes you feel sluggish, lazy and de-motivated. It will no doubt lower your self esteem. I find that the less I do, the less I want to do, and this ends up making me feel really down. Also, the less I do, the harder it becomes to do anything, which can really reduce my self esteem. Try to aim to just be active day to day – walk around the house, get dressed, cook – do anything that gets you moving. The more you move, the easier things become.
2. Exercise “accidentally”
Moving on nicely from the last point – a great way of avoiding lying around too much, and increasing your physical activity without even realising, is to exercise “accidentally”. Doing tasks and hobbies that involve movement is such an important way to exercise. It’s the way that we exercise most of the time. It’s also great because you get the benefit of exercise, with the by-product of achieving something. Perhaps cooking a meal from scratch, cleaning (a great one – can be quite physically demanding), tidying, gardening. All of these activities get you up and burning energy.
3. Exercise to music
If you enjoy music (who doesn’t?) then get it involved when you’re exercising! This should be easy enough if you’re exercising at home. I think you end up doing way more when you’re listening to music because you get into a rhythm and the music (as long as you enjoy it) carries you through mentally. Create a playlist of music that motivates you and helps you feel upbeat – put it on in the background while you clean, dance or do a HIIT. Chances are you’ll move more and for longer.
4. Try out yoga
Yoga is a great form of exercise that you can do at home, and it’s really beneficial if you suffer from anxiety. It helps you to learn proper breathing techniques, and how to detach yourself from your thoughts and mental chatter. All of this while toning and strengthening your body. There are so many amazing teachers online (look on YouTube), and there are classes or beginners if it’s new to you.
5. High intensity work outs
If you feel you can, try and fit in some exercise which really increases your heart rate. If you need to do this indoors, there are tonnes of online resources for high intensity work outs (many of which you don’t need any equipment for). Some of them only require you to do 15 to 20 minutes, but the benefits are amazing.
6. Have an exercise routine
The way to really benefit (both physically AND mentally) from exercise is to keep it up. Like anything, if you only do it for a day or a week, it isn’t going to do much for you in the long run. It needs to be a lifestyle choice. The best way to keep up with exercise is to have some kind of routine – maybe write out a list of what you will do on each day of the week. Obviously you can mix it up so that it doesn’t get boring, but with no plan at all it can be so easy just to “not bother”.
Thank you so much for taking your time to read this post. Overall, I really wanted to express how beneficial it can be for your mental health to be physically active, and not just by saying “it reduces anxiety and depression”, but by sharing my experiences of how this actually works. Please leave a comment if you have any thoughts or questions, and share with others who might find it helpful!
Instagram – @chlo.flower