How the gym helped my mental health

Mental illness has been a big part of my life since hitting my teen years. I’ve seen them debilitate people all around me, I’ve seen friends suffer, I’ve seen it break my family’s heart and I’ve seen myself change into an unrecognisable person.

It’s always been an issue, just not one that has been spoken about enough. The recent effort in raising the awareness of mental illnesses and attempting to rid the stigma attached to it is a cause very close to my heart. I am the 1 in 4 people that will suffer with a mental illness in their lifetime and have had some very hard times because of it.

This isn’t a post about what hard times I have been through however, but one on my recovery and one particular coping mechanism that has changed my life. According to the World Health Organization, 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression. There were many things in my life which contributed to my depression, some of which will remain personal, but a part of it was my struggle with self-confidence issues ever since I hit my teenage years. I was never overweight nor very skinny, but my I had lumps and bumps in places I didn’t want them. I was generally unhappy with my life in a manner of aspects and found myself using toxic things as an escape.

At the start of 2016, like a lot of people in the New Year I decided to attempt to join a gym and get into shape. With some fresh Reebok Classics on my feet and motivation in my head I started with after work sessions on a weekday. Feeling like a rooky I stuck to what I knew, treadmills and cross trainers with some mat work for my abs. The gym fever soon kicked in as my friends started to join. One of the best things you can do when going to the gym is to find a partner. It’s the perfect boost to give you the motivation to go if you are meeting someone there, helps with your confidence to have someone with you so you don’t feel so anxious, it helps when you’re doing sets to be able to have breaks between them when you switch over, you always have someone to spot you and help with positioning heavy weights and you have someone to talk to make the workouts go quicker.

During the next 5 months I attended the gym regularly, anywhere between 3-6 times a week. It was our evening routine, instead of gossiping at the pub we would do it whilst squatting. Surprisingly I didn’t notice a significant amount of difference in my physique during this period, I think it was due to being a bit of a gym ‘newb’ and not knowing a whole lot about exercise. I slimmed down a little bit but I think the extra endorphins running through me were the main reason why I started to feel a bit happier every day.

I was stopped in my tracks by a car crash in May that wrote me off from being able to go to the gym for about a month. After that my life had other aspects that were changing, I was finishing my apprenticeship and got a new job, I met my now boyfriend and wanted to spend all my time with him and I just didn’t go back.

I reached the New Year again and having eaten particularly a lot at Christmas and over the past months from my boyfriend Michael feeding me food all the time I decided to stop looking at myself in the mirror and sighing and decided to do something about it. It helped that he too wanted to get into shape so we joined the gym together. Gym2Having a boyfriend that goes to the same gym as you it seemed was even better than a friend. I was with him all the time so we would do almost daily workouts, he is a highly motivated individual so his drive helps keep me on track, although I am only going to the gym to help my self-image, feeling and looking better for my boyfriend is a great incentive.

I started using the resources around me to improve my effectiveness. My aims were to increase the size of my butt, decrease the size of my waist and generally tone up. I researched a whole lot of glute and ab exercises, followed Instagram accounts of fitness girls that post workout videos and used the ‘save’ feature to keep them in an easy to refer to place for when I’m at the gym and looking for inspiration and ensured my technique and form was correct for key exercises such as squats and deadlifts. I’m not a fan of cardio in particular, partly due to my poor cardiovascular fitness and partly due to the boredom of running on a treadmill for half an hour with a very short attention span. I decided not to push myself to do it too much as I don’t want to ever resent going to the gym and knowing I’m not overweight I knew I could get the results I wanted with a higher focus on weight training. I will still jump on the bike or a high inclined treadmill for 15/20 minutes for most sessions but it’s now a way to break up a workout rather than a burden.

I started to see results a lot more this time at the gym, I was getting comments from friends and family saying I had lost weight and looked great; I even had a few messages from girls asking for advice about the gym and diets. I have to admit my diet isn’t regulated at all, I always say I go to the gym to be able to eat what I want. I do drink a lot of water and have cut down my portion sizes but apart from that I keep strictness to my exercise regime instead. Being able to see all the effort I was putting in was paying off made me feel great and massively increased my confidence! Not only this but I had more energy throughout the day, severally reducing the tired side effect from my condition, and making me feel happier and more alert.

Gym3

I can’t exactly remember specifically when I stopped taking my depression/anxiety tablets but it has been at least 6 months and I haven’t looked back. I’m not saying that the gym cured me, there were other aspects involved in my recovery, I am merely preaching the benefits to those out there that may still be struggling and want to try something new.

 

Thanks for reading,

Becky x

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