How I Made Working Out for My Mental Health a Pandemic Priority
I had an epiphany about one month into the COVID-19 pandemic. With my two kids suddenly home all the time coupled with the mind-numbing slog of e-learning, there wasn't much time for anything else. The house was often a mess and I had to find the time to work before dawn, late at night, and on the weekends. I had good days, decent days, and bad days — and they all blurred together. I was already burned out.
One day in April, I felt particularly tired and unmotivated. My mind wasn't clear, and I was more anxious than usual and couldn't focus for very long on anything. "Why do I feel like this?" I thought to myself more or less rhetorically. I knew, of course, that I was exhausted from trying to do all the things while living through a pandemic. Nevertheless, I began to catalog all that had happened in the day and realized that I had spent most of the day at my desk and had not even left the house. My shoulders felt tight and my body was stiff from sitting. I begrudgingly pulled myself together and got on my stationary bike to do a quick 20-minute spin class, thinking it would loosen me up, even though I really didn’t feel like it.
I had always thought about exercise as a thing you do for your body. And truth be told, I never loved working out. For most of my adult life, I would cycle (no pun intended) between periods of consistent exercise and periods of no exercise at all. Even when I had a good routine going, if I allowed myself a pass just once, it could throw me off track for months.
Working Out — for Your Mind
When I got off the bike that day, I felt markedly better. Yes, my body felt good, but I also wasn’t tired anymore. My mind was clearer and no longer racing with anxiety at quite the same pace as it had before. And that’s when I experienced a game-changing shift in perspective: I should be working out for my mind first and body second.
That night, my husband and I made a pact to help each other prioritize working out every day. Our ability to cope with the responsibility of parenting and “adulting” through a pandemic depended on it. That pledge meant that, aside from taking care of the kids, meeting our work deadlines, and getting some kind of daily workout in, everything else could wait. Clutter, dishes, laundry, cleaning up toys, and countless other projects were all simply less important and could no longer be excuses for not working out.
"Clutter, dishes, laundry, and cleaning up toys could no longer be excuses for not working out."
Lo and behold, seven months later and we’ve stuck to it. I track my fitness and daily movement on a smart watch and do almost daily spin classes on my stationary bike. If I’m not doing that, it could be a long brisk walk or jog and/or yoga, strength, and core workouts via an app. Some days I work out harder than others, but every day, I prioritize doing something.
Working out doesn’t magically erase all of the struggle, stress, and anxiety. There are still many hard days, of course, but I can confidently say that I feel better-equipped to tackle each day because of exercise. And if that isn’t the goal of self-care, I don’t know what is.