It’s easier to exercise when you’re happy, when life is zooming along, when you feel fulfilled and appreciated. But when life kicks you in the teeth? It’s harder to motivate yourself, but that’s exactly when you will benefit the most mentally if you can get to the gym or the trail or the mat or wherever you can get the movement and community that has the golden potential to restore your soul.
What I’ve learned over many years and tears is this: movement is never more important than when your heart is breaking. Why? Because getting in motion can accelerate your return to happiness, if you can manage it.
Ok, “fine” you say, but how to do that? How to make yourself get out of bed or off the couch or out of the bar when all you want to do is eat or drink or sleep or just forget the rest of the world exists?
It’s not easy, and there is no one fixed path to success. Sometimes you prod yourself, and sometimes you need friends or family to prod you. I remember one of my clients saying her son was depressed over a break-up with a girlfriend. This mom suggested he try CrossFit, but he begged off. One day, she shoved her laptop at her son, open to a blogpost by me.
“Please start reading her work,” she said to her son. “Just start reading. And then you can decide if you want to go to her gym.”
He read, and then he came to the gym. Life got better. He needed a push off the couch, but he got there. And that brings me to a couple of pointers on how to get yourself to movement in tough times:
That’s the first step, and you’ve already accomplished it. (Go, you!) Seriously, though, it’s important to be aware of your own attitude and how to improve it. Put good thoughts in your head. Browse the “Mindset” and “Exercise” categories on Eat to Perform, read pretty much anything on my site (Words With Lisbeth), tap into the essays of Dr. George Sheehan (the late author of “Running and Being”), and check out books like “Resilience” by Eric Greitens. Books, blogposts, even positive Instagram messages: they all help to put you in a “I can get through this” frame of mind.
Listen to what you’re listening to. Stop with the dirges. Sure, if your heart’s been broken, it’s great to listen to Adele. (Okay, it’s great to listen to Adele anytime.) So, do that. But then it might be time to tell Adele to shut up, because you need to get on with your life. It’s like turning on peppy music in your house when you’re down. You might not be feeling it, but soon enough you’ll find yourself bopping across your kitchen, your heart a little lighter because you feel the beat. Some people call this “Fake it until you make it” but I prefer to just think of it as opening the shades so the sunlight can warm my bones.
If you think about a run, do it. If your bike looks good, jump on it! If you say you’re going to hit a 4:30 class, do that. Be sitting in your car at 4:20 in the parking lot so you don’t have the excuse of running late. Listen to that last Adele song, wipe your tears away, and walk in. Don’t chicken out. You need this. Give it to yourself.
Cry, if you need to.
Even if that’s in the middle of the workout, in the warm-up, after your run, or when the coach says, “How are you?” I’ve done all of these things. Tears come on their schedule, not ours.
Once, my young son experienced a frightening head injury at a water park. I stayed calm through all the blood and screaming, “pressure on the wound”, the ambulance ride, the plastic surgeon’s arrival, and the stitches. When I returned home and parked my car in the driveway, my kind and unaware neighbor asked, “How was your day?” I promptly turned into a bawling mess. Sometimes, that happens. Go with it. You weren’t made to be stoic all the time, not even you Yankees in the crowd. If the tear faucet comes on, so what. Let it flow a while before you turn it off. #noshame
My mom is 87 and spends most of her day in a wheelchair because life and a few medical conditions and a lack of muscle caught up with her. She’s got a great attitude, but she would be thrilled if she could still walk and do things for herself. Don’t just be grateful for your ability to move, use it. What you do now is building your future—and possibly deciding whether you end up in a care facility or live out your days at home. Movement is THAT important. Use it and appreciate it.
Get outside if you can.
I love lifting the barbell, and I love to shoot hoops on an indoor court, but I also find that nature is amazing in its ability to reorient your thoughts. Movement outside is like a super-charge that is not available elsewhere. So, hit the gym, but take time also to walk or run or bike or ice skate on a pond or whatever you can do that enables you to take fresh air deep into your lungs. Remember “breathe in the good, breathe out the bad”? That shit’s true, and the outside will help you realize that. As Patrice Vecchione writes in “Step into Nature”: “Take your sorrow outdoors and watch it change.”
So, get moving when you don’t feel like moving, even if it’s just for a short walk. Movement is not a substitute for mental health help (nothing is) and it’s not the only thing that will help your outlook, but movement can be an important component to feeling better. We often overlook it. I once received an email from a woman that simply read, “Thank you for your blogpost. My dad died this week and I didn’t know how I could go on. But I read your words, and I dragged myself to the gym. And somewhere there, in the middle of the bars and the sweat, my heart felt lighter for the first time in days.”
Go make your heart lighter, if you can. Big hugs, my friends. We’re all in this together.
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