Lately I’ve been all about a rest day, a mobility day, a massage day or an acupuncture day to offset hard workouts. All about it, that is, except for when other areas of my life are stressors and a rest day turns into time for my brain to go haywire.
In those times, I turn to fitness as a means of escape and a method to cope. Coping? Great. Putting off dealing with problems for the foreseeable future, though? Maybe not so great.
This realization came to me abruptly as I was about to get on my bike after teaching a yoga class. A student said, “You’re the most active person I know!” I thought about my day – yes, I was about to ride three miles to go take a workout class after teaching a yoga class. That was after teaching two fitness classes earlier that day and biking another seven miles around town.
Fitness is a concrete go-to that will inevitably get my mind off things. I’m also comfortable with it, so it’s easy for me to choose to go to classes instead of trying something new or spending time alone with my thoughts.
My realization was this: I am embodying a seemingly healthy and active lifestyle, but I am perhaps doing it to escape the world with no intention of facing it.
Why fitness as a coping mechanism makes sense
Depending on which workout you select, you may experience some form of catharsis within your sweaty hour that you can’t get anywhere else. But think outside the box when I say catharsis – fitness studios like SoulCycle tackle other kinds of workouts and are known for their emotional release.
It also makes sense to tap into fitness when you’re feeling low because …
When you know you’re doing something good for your body even when other things don’t quite seem to be lining up, it feels like the better choice to make than, say, sitting on your couch and moping about whatever is getting you down.
But it’s this very decision that I make time and time again – multiple times a day – that made me think, “Am I actually doing good for my body after a certain point?” And, maybe even more importantly, “Am I filling my time with workouts to avoid my problems?”
Signs you’re filling your time with fitness to avoid something else
If your immediate thought when you see an opening in your schedule is to book a class, take a pause before you follow through. Is it because you don’t want time to be alone with your thoughts or is it because that workout will truly help you achieve your goals?
If you’re jumping into workouts without purpose, it may backfire on you through injury. Select your workouts and breaks during the day with intention; which hour of the day do you want to dedicate as “you” time?
If you realize you’re avoiding your problems with a workout, what do you do about it?
First, recognize it. Then, give yourself a break. Later, incorporate additional forms of catharsis.
Catharsis is good. Endorphins are good. Sticking to a routine amidst chaos can be good. I simply had to take a look at what I’m doing and make the connection of why I am making all the choices I am. Right now, it’s because I don’t know what else to do, and I definitely don’t know how to navigate a new unknown in my life. So I’ve recognized it, and that’s step one.
Step two, be grateful that fitness is your coping mechanism and not something more unhealthy. If opting to go for a run to clear your head is your immediate go-to, you’re in pretty good shape. And as long as you feel better after that run or class, by all means keep it up.
Step three, ask yourself “what else can I do?” If you’re not feeling great after said workout, it might be time to look into other tactics to feel better. If fitness is exhausting you rather than energizing you, add something into your routine to give you energy.
You might try:
- Free writing exercises
- Gratitude journaling
- Meditations on forgiveness
- A class on Dabble (I did hair braiding 101)
- A walk without music
- De-clutter part of your home (or your phone) – and then turn your phone off for a while
- Driving somewhere else (like the beach in Evanston if you’re a Chicago city-dweller)
- Making a home-cooked meal
- Connecting with an old friend
Most of these don’t cost anything. You can also opt for the more “treat yourself” approach, but in order to ultimately get passed whatever you’re struggling through, know that eventually, some way or another, coming to grips with reality will help you accept it and begin the process of moving on.