Health, Life

Using Exercise To Try & Get Rid Of Stress & Mental Pain

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I noticed something whilst I was putting myself through a gruelling workout the other day. Was I enjoying myself? Yes. But I’m not sure if it was for the right reasons. You see, I realised I was actually taking pleasure from punishing my body.

Mentally, I was hurting. I was holding back tears whilst running along with a medicine ball, and you know what made the pain go away? Working harder. I found the more I pushed myself the easier it was to bury the pain deep down inside me. Like scrunching up a bit of paper and hiding it somewhere. You know exactly where it is, but for now, it’s hidden.

I’ve always had a habit of doing exercise of an intense nature. No pain no gain they say. Well, for me, that’s a driving force. I seem to like to get hurt. I spent a fair few years doing martial arts. When I started kickboxing, something inside of me switched.

I got such a natural high from fighting – and a whole new aggressive side of me came out that I never really knew existed. And kudos to me, I was pretty darn good at fighting. I won quite a few competitions and started see potential for me in the sport.

I mean, I’m extremely competitive. But there’s a difference between wanting to win and seeing red. It’s not like I was out of control when I fought, far from it. But internally I found it hard to contain my emotions and manage the pressure I put on myself.

Hulk smash

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I quickly realised that I liked getting punched in the face and kicked in the stomach. Crazy right?? I enjoyed coming home bruised, and I loved showing off my war wounds. Oh hey check out my black eye, look how bruised my arms are and lol, split my lip open last night.

I bloody loved kickboxing, but after a while I noticed it was bringing out a side of my personality I wasn’t sure I was proud of. I’d come home from training absolutely buzzing. So much so that I couldn’t sleep.

My anxiety would actually get worse because I’d got myself into such a supercharged state.

It’s nothing to do with the sport in general and everything to do with my mindset and the pressure I put on myself to succeed at everything I do. It frustrates me because I had an amazing coach and I loved the club I trained at.

Trying new things

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After kickboxing I took up Taekwondo, mainly because location wise it was easier for me. And I found that the patterns (learning a series of moves in a sequence) really helped calm me and give my mind a mental break. Though I still occasionally indulged in sparring sessions where I could let off some steam.

I did Taekwondo for a few years, and after moving and not finding another suitable club, I’ve ended up starting another sport. Crossfit. Again, a very intense sport that pushes you to your limits.

I’ve swapped boxing gloves and shin pads for barbells and kettlebells. Now I get my exercise high from lifting and high energy cardio instead of punching.

Craving the burn

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So back to the other day. I was broken mentally, so I guess instinctively, I tried to break myself physically too. I attempted to tire myself out enough in the hope that I’ll be too exhausted to feel anxious or upset anymore. And yeah, sure, that works for a while but it doesn’t magically make things disappear.

Lately I’ve been absolutely loving pushing my body to the limits. I’ve started to feel tougher and stronger. Of course, this is great. But I’m very conscious I need to try and do gentler forms of exercise that will help me to relax in a healthy, gentle way. I can’t destroy myself in the gym forever, something will have to give.

Exercise that promotes inner peace

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For about four months now I’ve been trying to take up yoga again. Clearly I’m not trying hard enough, because I’m not doing it. I’m not walking the dogs as much as I used to because I don’t live in the beautiful countryside anymore. I don’t go on two-hour mountain bike rides in the rolling hills.  I’m not swimming or going out running with my huskies. All of these things are far better ways to improve my mental health than using exercise as punishment. And I really need the gentle forms of exercise as well as the uber-intense ones.

I guess I get annoyed at myself for being so weak. My mind and I are not on good terms. I’m fed up with my mind running away with negative thoughts. And that’s probably why I’ve been punishing my body – because I’m frustrated with myself.

Exercise can also enable you to let off some pent-up anger at the world.

I think I was genuinely saying things in my head when I was smashing out calories on the rower like ‘screw you world’. As if me rowing like thirty more metres is going to give the finger to everything that’s getting me down.

Anyway, I’m noticing all this and realising that it’s not the best approach to solve my issues. Over exercising will not make me happy, it will just make me exhausted. I’ve been trying to keep my energy up by drinking vegan protein shakes in between training sessions, but I still need to remember to rest properly. 

If I’m completely honest though, I’m not going to be able to give up the tough stuff. I’ll still be doing it, I’ll still be trying to be the best version of myself.

However, I also plan to try and not only do more gentle exercise, but try to see these forms of exercise as just as valuable as high intensity workouts. Hello zen yoga goddess and mindfulness guru, goodbye spartan warrior lady (or at least, ta ta for now). It’s time to quieten my mind a little in a healthy way.