I woke up a few hours before my alarm clock was supposed to go off in the morning. My chest was tight, my heart was pounding, my mind was racing. There was zero chance of falling back asleep. How would I get ready for work? How would I get through the day? Then a thought entered my brain: I should go to the gym. I got out of bed, somehow, and put my sneakers on.
“Ultimately, I want exercise to be a part of my life, and not a scramble every time I’m straining at my waist-line,” I wrote at the end of April, and I’m happy to report that I have succeeded. I joined a gym, found a fantastic gym buddy, and have been going to the gym on average two times a week, and never less than once a week. Suddenly, it seems, going to the gym and working out has indeed become a part of my week, and my life. It was easy. I guess I was just ready.
It’s good that my goal was to achieve a healthier lifestyle, and not for the pounds to melt away: because they haven’t. Or, rather, five-ish pounds melted off and then promptly melted back on. I’m exactly where I was at the end of April. Laundry day continues to be depressing because it means that my pants won’t fit for a little while. And frankly, I wonder if I’m actually eating more poorly—in particular, eating more sweets, ever my Achilles’ heel—because I can rationalize it now that I’m regularly going to the gym. (A plan is forming for how I can reinforce healthier habits.)
Still, I’m thrilled with my progress and really do consider joining the gym to be a smash success: it has become a part of my life, and it has given me a potent way to cope with anxiety.
I’ve always naturally been a worrywart, and come from a long line of Hungarians blessed with a temperament for which I believe the technical term is “Ants In The Pants”. There are benefits to being a worrywart with ants in her pants—I’m very considerate, I’m a planner, I’m sensitive to others’ feelings, I try to anticipate and solve problems, I have a lot of energy, I’m simultaneously a morning person and a night owl. This year, however, everyday worrying morphed into huge, crashing waves of anxiety. Fall and winter were terrible. I would be sitting at a Shabbos dinner when my face would suddenly flush, my chest would tighten, and my heart would pound wildly. It felt like my heart was a train that was jumping off the tracks, going crazy. Sometimes I wouldn’t even know what triggered the anxiety. Sometimes I knew, and it was something stupid, but my body was carrying anxiety and was hell-bent on pulling the rest of me through it anyway.
There is a guided meditation on YouTube that I would listen to on the worst mornings, my body so wrecked that I felt I couldn’t even sit up. That helped a little, and the passing of time helped a lot, but the truth is that I haven’t truly shaken anxiety from the year and, every now and then, have a bad morning, afternoon, or evening.
It was perhaps unsurprising that going to the gym would help; I had heard that working out is excellent stress relief. Yet there was something a bit magical about that first moment when, in the middle of feeling anxious one evening, I thought, I should go to the gym. Now I go almost every time I feel anxious, and if I can’t right that moment, I look forward to going as soon as I can. It helped that first night, it helped the morning I woke up hours before my alarm, and I think it really is helping in general to calm me down.
“You look great,” said a friend last week whom I hadn’t seen in over six months. “Really chill and relaxed.”
“You look great,” said my rabbi, whom I also hadn’t seen in a long time. “I like the whole gestalt.”
And I agree.