What to do with the angst…or…why I wish I’d learned about exercise sooner

Posted on October 22, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: |

Exercise has finally, after many years of saying that it ‘should,’ become a habit, a priority, a must. I’m convinced that if I had discovered exercise when I was a teen or at least, a younger mom, I would have not smoked as much. Because really, it’s a small miracle that I don’t smoke now, given my anxiety levels.

Forgive the car analogy but I run ‘hot’ all the time (and no, I’m not referring to my stunning good looks either). Yes, I’m in counseling talking about reasons for this and trying out ways of handling stress more effectively, but at some level, it’s just part of who I am. Add living in a house with three teen women, who share my genes (poor things) and I fear that the angst level seeps through the walls to unleash itself upon the unsuspecting neighbors.

When I first moved to grad school, my neighbors at the time were runners. I hadn’t ever contemplated running for any reason other than perhaps, and this was a big perhaps, if someone I thought I couldn’t effectively punch out was chasing me. I did know that I liked lifting weights and outdoor ‘activity’ but it was something I talked about more than did and when I did some form of activity, I could never sustain it despite all good intentions. You know what they say about good intentions.

So I got to grad school and discovered that I was at that moment so poor that there was no cigarette buying. Meet running neighbors, inject some fantasy of a healthy, buff body and I bought a pair of running shoes. Six months later I ran a half-marathon. That was foolish, yes, but I still have the T-shirt. Besides throwing my back out for real afterwards forced me to physical therapy and some very real ‘thinking’ about my state of being (while I hobbled around).

I suppose the other relevant event in the history of my current love affair/addiction to exercise was that I got the opportunity to begin enjoying the outdoors in a physcial way, mostly due to the fact that I finally met some women friends who liked to be outdoors as much as me. Finally I had reason to be as well. And…I still wanted that buff bod….

Now I do a variety of physical activity in a week. Since the beginning of last summer I have lost at least 15 lbs and, more importantly, morphed fat cells into muscle cells. My kids tell me I have a four-pack. I’ve hiked, swam, ran, biked, kayaked, done yoga, and hit the gym.

And suddenly what I’ve noticed? Besides all of the noticeable physical benefits, I have discovered that my mental health has become dependent on my ability to get out there and work my body into a sweat. This is partly because often my exercise takes me outside where I connect with Mother Nature which fills my soul. There’s little I like more than running with the dragonflies, kayaking with dolphins (really that’s quite possibly the most awesome thing after giving birth), or hiking in the clouds. And of course moving the body releases the chemicals that do funny physio things that I’m sure scientists would attribute as the cause of my stress relief. But the most significant happening, and the one that prompted this explosion (besides the fact that I’m procrastinating reading some academic something while waiting for teen1 to finish at the dentist and I can type this on the trusty bberry) is the fact that I’ve decided that I traded in my cigarette addiction for an exercise addiction.

When I don’t get exercise in a day, or at least most days, I can feel the angst in my body build and build until it simmers underneath my skin and, like the pasta pot over gas that’s just a little too high, boils over every time I open my mouth. Remember that seeping angst? It feeds the pot and when it boils over that angst in my house is like a combustible semi barreling down I5. Stopping that truck requires the intervention of running shoes. So when I can’t focus, can’t complete one more task (or any at all), can’t roll with the angst of the teens for one more blasted minute, can’t think of the dissertation as a great opportunity for learning and career advancement but am avoiding it like it’s the devil’s own handiwork, cannot bear to look at the inbox from hell, or do or think any productive positive thing, I’m overdue for exercise.

Double work out days? You know I’m in the thick of it and I’ve moved beyond preventative or fun (yes, I do have fun exercising, gasp!) to self-medication.

Did I mention that I have a four-pack?

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