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Exercise helps ease my anxiety by giving me control over my body

I knew I had a problem when I became afraid of my therapist. I was scared of her, of going to her office and of her being sick. All this sent me spiraling downward in an agoraphobic sobbing tailspin. I feared eating out, avoided going places without my mom, wouldn’t wear the super expensive boots I had been given as a gift because they came through the mail. I was a mess and I wasn’t living life in the slightest.

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I couldn’t bear to go to the therapist who I felt was judging me instead of helping me. It felt like she wasn’t on my side, and didn’t give a damn about me, so I stopped going. At the time this seemed wrong in so many ways, but looking back now it was the best thing I could do and I wish I had done it a year or two sooner.

This didn’t mean I was suddenly cured. I wasn’t – I was sad and scared. I was unhappy with the way my body looked after regaining a few of the pounds I had shed nearly a decade before, so I started exercising.

Exercise had never been my thing. I avoided gym class like the plague and danced around the house or rode bikes a bit as a kid to get in my “exercise,” but not enough to outdo the damage from the fast food and sports drinks I was shoving into my body.

This time I began to run, not pacing myself or trying to run as fast as I could, just something to be up and about and kill time. As I began to exercise, I noticed my body changing, which I loved, but I also noticed something else happening: I wasn’t afraid.

Well, I wasn’t as afraid. Even now, fear comes sometimes and I can’t always stop it. There are still things I want to check off my list of things that no longer scare me. But I don’t even recognize the girl who dumped her therapist and picked up a pair of running shoes for no real reason other than boredom.

Exercise is empowering in a lot of ways. It is something I can control in a world in which it is increasingly more difficult to predict much of anything. it is up to me – and only me – to ensure I get my daily workout in. Though it is only something small, that sense of control is reassuring and sometimes helps to relieve worries about things that are totally out of my control.

It gets those endorphins flowing. Do you remember in Legally Blonde when Elle Woods defends her client by saying, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t?”  Exercise definitely gives me endorphins and endorphins make me way happier than rehashing the past over and over again with a therapist and feeling judged. Because unfortunately, no matter how many times you talk about the past, it doesn’t change.

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Endorphins give me a bit of clarity that still can’t affect the past, but totally allow me to see the future with fresh eyes and positivity. I find I do some of my best thinking and problem solving when I am exercising and immediately following a tough workout.

Exercise also allows me to challenge myself. Sure life throws plenty of challenges my way, but most of them are things I cannot overcome, at least at the time. By saying I’m going to increase speed or resistance on the elliptical, or run longer, or try a challenging workout DVD and then actually doing it, leaves me with an incredible sense of accomplishment that can lead to feeling better about the rest of my life.

Therapy might be great for a lot of people, but I am so glad I found a less expensive and more effective solution in the form of exercise. If therapy isn’t helping you break through the wall of anxiety or depression, I hope you will try your favorite form of exercise and see if it makes a difference.

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