In 2015-16, stress was the cause of 45% of sick days in the UK. We are a nation of over-worked, over-stressed maniacs who feel guilty for calling in sick and pressure ourselves to do more, be more, work more, have more. We are constantly engaging in some form of physical or mental activity. But when do we take time to truly recharge? When I look at my Facebook news feed, I see a million posts about friends who are running marathons, backpacking through Asia, starting their own companies and basically taking over the world. But when do people ever post, “Hungover as f*ck in bed binge-watching Netflix and chowing down on a Domino’s pizza.” Never. Because that would be perceived as lazy, pointless, a waste of time, kind of gross and not aligned with the #winning , #wellness , #success culture that permeates society today. This article by the Guardian is pretty cynical but the core message rings true; we need to redefine wellness and stop aiming for perfection in every aspect of our lives. God forbid someone should be cynical in this age of endless, forced, false optimism!
One of my all-time favourite authors is Augusten Burroughs. He writes memoirs and stories about his life; a life which was by no means ‘ordinary.’ Only one of his many novels is fiction and it’s called Sellevision; a hilarious novel about a TV home shopping network. Picture a woman with too much hairspray, hot pink lipstick and prescription painkillers obsessing over the sales of a Cath Kidston apron to the audience of bored housewives who spend their days shopping via their television (this is the image that my brain creates when I think of this book). Anyway, the latest book released by Augusten is called, “This Is How” and of course, I bought the e-book the day it was released. Unlike his memoirs, this perhaps falls into the category of “Self-Help.” There is one part of ‘This Is How’ that gave me a real moment of clarity. Augusten explains that positive affirmations (i.e. I am great. I am successful. I am worthy of love.) work on people with average or high self-esteem. However, when someone with low self-esteem repeats the same positive affirmations in times of distress or failure, they have the opposite intended effect. Put simply, if you don’t have very high self-esteem, there are certain situations where positive affirmations may actually make you feel worse rather than better. You feel bad for feeling bad. Sound familiar? We all have days when shit hits the fan; we just don’t all talk about it.
Rather than standing in front of a shiny mirror, telling myself that “I am great, I am successful, I am worthy of love,” then crying over a bottle of Chardonnay, I prefer to take time to mentally process my set-backs and release any stresses or frustrations at the gym. Channelling my pent-up negative energy into a physical workout is an effective coping mechanism for me and I’m building a better body while I do it. When I don’t eat chocolate after the gym that is… hehe. Anyone who runs will know that running is one of the best ways to either (A) clear your head and escape from your thoughts, or (B) think things through and process your thoughts. When I’ve had an awful day at work or a personal set-back, my running shoes have saved me a lot of anguish and the gym has been my sanctuary. During some of the most stressful times of my life, I would go to the gym (sometimes in tears…), work my butt off, and leave feeling much more relaxed and at peace with whatever was going on in my life. Let’s add in the huge benefit that you are so tired on the days you work out, you sleep like a rock.
So, next time you’re feeling stressed, anxious or over-worked, stop what you’re doing or thinking and go get some exercise. You may find your moment of clarity while out on a run. You may find that channelling your stress into a physical workout helps ease the pressure and pain in your mind. Physical activity is good for your mental health. The body and mind are not separate; they are one. Know that when you’re working out, you’re feeding your body, mind and soul. And don’t fo
rget to take time to rest, without feeling guilty about doing it. Everyone has a ‘Duvet Day’ or a ‘Netflix and Chill’ evening, even if they don’t post it on Facebook. So do it, enjoy it and think about how well-rested you’ll feel the next day. Check out Karen at Good Clean Chow who is exploring the world of Natural Movement (think: crawling like a bear, leaping like a frog, sitting up and sitting down like a toddler). There are many different forms of exercise so try a few different ones before you find one that suits your goals, expectations and lifestyle! Unless you are competing or training for an event, exercise should be a fun activity, a mental release, a physical challenge, and something that makes you feel good. So stop stressing and start moving!