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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sweat it out

Colonnade Boston, Flickr

Not very long after I first met my running mentor, G, I saw her wearing a t-shirt that said: "Running is cheaper than therapy".

Little did I know that I would eventually come to fully understand the truth within those words! (As a beginning runner, I felt more like I needed therapy after running! It was so hard!)

I have since realized that exercise in general, when done at the right intensity, is absolutely effective at dissolving most negative emotions. And negative emotions, whether we are aware of them or not (ah! denial), abound.

Frustrations are so numerous in everyday life, coming in all shapes and sizes and always awaiting us when we least expect them! How does one transcend it all?

Not to mention existential angst, that no one is immune to even if most of us are kind of oblivious to it (denial again, or lack of lucidity?)

If it wasn't for everyday life frustrations and the deepest fear that life is meaningless... would addictions even exist?

Take a look at the all-too-common vices:

Why do so many of us

  • overspend
  • overeat
  • overdrink
  • shop like it's a religion/treat shopping malls as the new temples
  • gamble
  • spend hours online or in front of the TV
  • smoke
  • do drugs?

And why do we pursue pleasure-provoking or pain-numbing activities to a point where it interferes with our health, relationships and finances?

Why do so many of us

  • have anxiety
  • have depression
  • have anger/aggressivity
  • take pills for any of those afflictions?

And why don't we feel good in our "normal", natural, unmedicated state?

It's because deep down inside, often unconsciously, we have those unresolved questions about the meaning of life and what will come "after" (if anything). That, on top of all life's vagaries and stresses (and maybe a difficult childhood).

I'm no different. I often feel overwhelmed by daily hassles. I often feel the weight of existential dread on my shoulders.

We are human. We can't endure that. We need to cope. In our search for a coping mechanism, we encounter many such coping mechanisms that have non-negligible side effects: hence the problems with our health, relationships, and finances.

As I was training at the gym this morning, feeling the burn and/or sweating profusely and/or out of breath (depending on what exercise you caught me doing), it occurred to me that I was treating existential angst in the best possible way: by exhausting my body.

And it works. It really does. Even if you started by simply talking long, brisk walks. Or even short, slow walks, if you're completely out of shape. The idea is to start. Make it a habit. And increase the level of difficulty.

Sometimes (often) you will question it. I would lie if I said I never have fantasies of skipping my workout, or calling it a night after 15 minutes. In the morning in particular, I am often anxious to be done. It might have something to do with the alternative: I know that instead of working out, I could still be in bed.

(When I exercise in the evening I rarely wish it was over, because in that case the alternative is the following: instead of pumping iron, I could be home listening to my kids whine. Er... bring on the burpees!)

At the gym this morning I met R, who's one of D's colleagues and also a friend of the family. We talked briefly about why we are so committed to working out every day. I mentioned one of the most important things my personal trainer has taught me: "There is no excuse". Don't feel like it? Tired? Headache? (I had one today) On vacation? No excuse. Just work out. As my friend M, who also works out daily, and who takes no bulls***, would say: "Suck it up, buttercup".

Or, as I would say "One man's excuse is another man's overcome obstacle".

R added: "It does takes a special personality to commit to this kind of lifestyle". I thought "Yep, you have to be plain nuts!"

But in reality, what it really takes to commit to exercising every day is the first-hand knowledge of its benefits. Once you experience them, and compare that feeling to how you feel when you don't exercise daily... you are among the blessed ones who know. Once you know, no excuse can ever get in the way again.

I exercise daily as a gift to myself. And I thank myself for it every day, too.

What gift have you given yourself lately?
What gift will you give yourself this week?


  1. Love this - I'm with you - I think that exercise is a gift and I like to give myself that gift every day!

    1. I know you do Kim! You're definitely and inspiration!

  2. I've learned that if I stay away from exercise for too long...I'm just not a happy person. It's amazing how even if I'm having a pretty crappy day, an hour in the gym is enough to get me motivated to finish up strong in life.

    On top of that, as you mentioned, exercise keeps me from taking out my issues using other, less healthy alternatives. Whether that's over indulging in food and drink, or going on a spending spree, I'm not forwarding any of my goals and that leaves me feeling even more crummy afterwards.

    1. I feel the same Ryan. Too long without exercise and my mood just goes downhill.

      I exercise in the morning and tell myself "no matter what happens after this, it will be a good day anyways: I worked out today".

      You're so right, exercising might be one of the rare coping mechanisms that don't leave you feeling even worst afterwards!

  3. I couldn't agree with you more = EXERCISE is the best and cheapest form of therapy there is. I always wake up in a rather.... UNHAPPY mood (because I don't want to leave the most amazing place on earth, my bed) but after my work out, BOOM - I am a whole new world! I do not let anyone talk to me prior to my work out either, I might say something I don't mean! LOL!

    Oh and BELIEVE ME, when I always second guess my work outs - I always think, it would be SOOOOO nice to just go back to bed, but NOPE - I push myself. I smack my brain and say, NOPE, get going, right noww!!!!!

    1. You're awesome at motivating yourself, GiGi! And from your looks and your energy, it's obvious all the good exercise can do!

  4. Hi Julie, Mostly, I love my workouts. I have a soulful meeting with myself when I exercise. I try stuff that I can't do, while admiring myself that I try stuff that I can't do. I am bold enough and comfortable enough with myself to fail in front of others--as least exercise-wise. I'm still working on that for other aspects of life. Regarding bad moods and exercise, we need to wear down the fight-or-flight chemicals. Often, it is just a chemical issue. If people viewed their moods as brain chemicals, we wouldn't take bad feelings to heart. We'd just burn them off at the gym. :D

    1. I love that you say you have a soulful meeting with yourself when you exercise. So true. If it wasn't for exercise, would we even listen to ourselves?

  5. J'adore le suck it up buttercup!!!

    1. Moi aussi! Je me le dis parfois dans ma tête!

  6. TIME.
    Ive gifted myself time.

  7. You're lucky! I just read somewhere that "a bed is a magical place where suddenly you remember and worry about everything you have to do!"

  8. Running had been my therapy for years!! At first I ran (always outside) with some music but I quickly got rid of that and just went with my thoughts. No matter how rough a night I've had, running in the morning always helps.

    The end of "Part of the Plan":

    Your conscience awakes
    And you see your mistakes
    And you wish someone
    Would buy your confessions

    The days miss their mark
    And the night gets so dark
    And some kind of message
    Comes through to you
    Some kind of message
    Shoots through

    And it says to you
    Love when you can
    Cry when you have to
    Be who you must
    That's a part of the plan
    Await your arrival
    With simple survival and
    One day, we'll all understand

    There is no Eden
    Or heavenly gates
    That you're gonna
    Make it to one day

    But all of the answers
    You seek can be found
    In the dreams that
    You dream on the way

    1. Very nice lyrics. I sing Longer to my daughters at bedtime. :-)

  9. Running, swimming, hiking, chasing my girls around the yard, taking family walks. Those are all gifts I give to myself. Running is my relief valve, my sanity keeper, and what gets me fired up! Love this post! The world would be a healthier place if everyone got their hearts pumping and endorphins flowing more often!

    1. I know what you mean about running, Nicole! You put it in very nice words. :-)

  10. I help manage my depression through walking and swimming. I recently adopted a dog and she needs walking 3 times a day! I have not been swimming (many excuses) for 2 mos. now and I really need to 'suck it up' and get back to the laps, because it really does make me feel great. The BIG thing I gave myself recently was to give up smoking!! Caught a cold a couple of months ago, it hovered in my chest and I thought, "Hey, I haven't had a cigarette in 2 weeks because of this cold. Why start again?" Why, indeed? Existential Angst. You know what also helps with that? For me, meditation and reading Buddhist teacher's writings. Learn to BE with the uncomfortable emotions, they will pass, make friends with them, know them as they come and go. No need to medicate and harm one's self because of them. This takes focus and patience, but I've discovered it CAN happen. Thanks for another great post. Your writing consistently inspires me.

    1. I'm so glad to hear that you have found ways to manage your depression, Tara!

      I agree with the meditation and spiritual readings approach, and with taking life with a grain of salt. You have a lot of wisdom. :-)