Weightlifters get a bad rap. There seems to be this strange preconception that all weightlifters are obsessed with their physiques and therefore must be a bit of a douchebag at heart.
Admittedly, I was one of those people. I would always presume those that were huge and muscly must have some sort of deep-seated self-confidence issues. It’s a shame that many people (I believe) think that and I feel ashamed to admit I thought the same.
My change in opinion has been formed over the past six or so months, mainly because I’ve taken it up myself. I’ve found that weightlifting has helped me massively with my depression and anxiety issues, probably in part because it’s given me a lot more confidence in my own abilities.
I’ve always heard that physical exercise is a great way to help you through periods of psychological turmoil but have never really understood why. Now that I have taken it up myself, I can finally understand the theory.
Facing My Fears
One of the biggest themes in the elimination of anxiety – at least, what seemed to be a big theme throughout my psychotherapy sessions – is the idea of facing up to your fears. After all, the symptoms of anxiety tie into the emotions and effects we experience when we’re afraid of something: sweating more, butterflies in the stomach, muscle tension, all of which are caused by the ol’ fight or flight system we obtained from our ancestors that helped them survive sticky situations.
For those of us who experience anxiety, these “scary situations” represent challenges for ourselves. Challenges that are often a bit too much to handle and we shy away from them.
Now, relating those challenges to the constant challenge of lifting more weight in the gym, it became clear to me why physical exercise is such a good idea for people like me after all.
You see, every time I step in the gym now, I have a new challenge. I want to lift more weight. I want to lift that weight as many times, if not, more times than I did the lighter weight. I want to do the exercise I have never been able to do before. When spring comes around, I want to run that bit further, and faster. Along the way, I want to constantly improve my technique to help achieve those goals.
Therefore, to me, weightlifting represents a mock-version of the constant challenges I face in the “real” world. As I face the higher and higher weights, I know that I have improved since the first day I set foot in the gym. I can look back on the weights I was lifting 6 months ago and compare them to now and realise that I am in fact capable of overcoming these challenges – a mindset I am trying to carry over into my life outside of the gym.
With Christmas coming up, I am going to have to face those tougher challenges. In fact, this next week, I’m busy every evening with some sort of event for six days straight – a situation which, if I’m honest, I am absolutely DREADING (aside from the first three of those days which are spent with my girlfriend on holiday – however, it’s still 6 days spent away from the safety of my own room). I even have a couple of Christmas parties to attend which, in my head, are situations equivalent to waking up naked in a classroom… i.e. AN ABSOLUTE NIGHTMARE.
But, like my progression in the gym, I have been going through more and more social situations over the past few months and I feel like I have progressed from what I was like in July this year.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I think there’s much more to the reason why weightlifting has helped me. I have no doubt that it has made me feel a lot more comfortable with myself because of a change in the physical appearance of my body. Physiologically, exercising has more than likely had an impact on my metabolism, making me feel a lot more alert and less fatigued than I did when I was going through depression. Mentally, it has probably helped me focus my attention and thought patterns a lot more – something which I can tell you for a fact was all over the place when I was given my initial diagnosis of anxiety.
A Renewed Sense of Control
In some way as well – and probably the most important way it has affected me – it has given me a sense of control again. I am now improving my body because I want to and I am in a situation where I can control that. A sudden loss of control is after all a common thread in the psychological side effects/symptoms of both a cancer diagnosis and anxiety. You feel you have lost control of your body because you now have cancer. At the same time, anxiety stems from being in a situation you feel you cannot predict and therefore control.
Weightlifting has now given me that back. And it’s a wonderful feeling I haven’t felt in a long time.
Now that I look back on how things have panned out, I started weightlifting right after I finished my cancer treatment all of six years ago now, but at that time, I wasn’t half as into it as I am now. During my last job, because of the two hours it would take me commuting from door-to-door, I couldn’t fit the gym in because I was too tired. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if that lack of gymming was actually a catalyst for my eventual anxiety/depression/mini-meltdown I had right before I quit my job. Seems to correlate, right?
For those who do suffer from anxiety or depression, take this post as advice. I’m not saying it will definitely make a difference for you, but it has done for me. Whether it’s weightlifting, bodybuilding, running, swimming, or whatever activity sounds most appealing to you, I recommend you take it up and you commit yourself to it.
Because it really can make a world of difference.