"Quiet" is probably not the first word that is remembered when you kick your foot into a weight room that is mostly stained with sweaty, sweaty fitness athletes. But when I set up the Squat Dumbbell usually the first exercise of my workouts, I feel relieved to be taken by surprise.
The physical weight of the iron on my upper back anchors me to direct my entire attention to moving through each repetition. Inhale, squat, hold, let go, exhale. One . Inhale, squat, hold, let go, exhale. Two . And so on – until the end of the set. My monkey spirit stops and is in an almost meditative state.
In addition to lifting strength and muscle, lifting has also helped me overcome my generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
By raising my inner chatter, it silences the process of elaboration. Being physically strong also helps me feel strong enough mentally and emotionally to face all the challenges I face. I raise weights at least three times a week, usually in the evening after work.
My sister introduced me to lifting about seven months ago. I signed up for a gym membership and started a 12 week strength training for beginners. I did not expect the mental benefits. Until then, I was an avid runner who mainly tried to challenge my body in a different way.
At about the same time, my anxiety reached a climax and pushed me to . Almost every week there was a panic attack . After the uncertainties led to a furious collapse with my partner, I finally accepted my therapist's long-term proposal to research drugs. I saw my family doctor, who diagnosed me with a GAD and started with an anti-anxiety drug.
Lifting has not completely eradicated all my anxiety symptoms, but like therapy and medication, this remedy helps me in several ways.
The repetitive nature of lifting also satisfies my need for predictability, as uncertainty fuels my fear . When I raise, I know exactly what to expect. I know that I will go over each repetition over and over until I finish the set. Repetition gives my restless mind something solid to touch. "Anything that is routine can be very reassuring," says Antonia Baum, MD, a psychiatrist in Chevy Chase, MD, and former president of the International Society for Sports Psychiatry, to SELF. "It's something you do not even have to think about. It can bring you to a Zen-like, meditative state that calms the cacophony of anxious thoughts. "
You can compare it to the soothing effects of a rosary prayer service, or the Greek worry pearls, Dr. Ing. Tree explains. "These tactile things can be a distraction of fear or help to eliminate it." It adds that physical symptoms of anxiety worsen, that can worsen cognitive symptoms, and vice versa, so that repetition could also soothe apprehensive thoughts by relieving the physical symptoms of anxiety. (The repetitive motion, for example, can help slow your breathing and make you feel calmer.)
In addition to calming my mind, lifting has taught me to appreciate the process of training instead just anxious the physical to anticipate results. At first I felt frustrated and embarrassed to notice how easily I moved compared to the Fitness Influencers which I followed on Instagram. Then I realized how much longer they had aired than I did. Instead of anticipating progress in a few months, I focus on what I love about lifting, regardless of my statistics: how deeply does it connect me to my body, the desire to feel my muscles hard at work, the onslaught of pride after that I push through a hard set. I unload myself when I have to, always remembering that this training is just a snapshot of my overall progress.
"It's all about the process and thinking about it as a means – not just a means to an end," says Dr. Tree. Focusing on the feeling of a particular session can help me to be more at the moment while focusing on long-term, unrealistic aesthetic goals that can trigger anxiety. That's why I do not think so.
Lifting also helped me to cope with my goals by increasing my self-confidence. Insecurity is a form of insecurity that feeds my fear. For me, this uncertainty tends to focus on my abilities. It makes me think and step back what I want. By lifting I have proven to myself that I can do more than I ascribe to myself. I look at the Google Leaf on my phone, where I record my lifts – usually it charges me five pounds every five weeks – and I'm proud of my steady progress.
Seven months ago I could not imagine that I would almost lift my body weight. Occasionally, I experience the thrill of squeezing a mental block and lifting myself at a weight that initially worries me I'm too heavy. I also enjoy my newfound power outside of the gym and celebrate day to day wins, such as the ability to unscrew solid lids and carry armloads of groceries into my partner's long dizzying driveway. Gently speaking, standing just over 5 feet, I've never thought myself strong, but here I am.
Of course, not everyone who deals with anxiety issues will find fuss helpful, but emerging research suggests that this could be beneficial. An analysis of 16 studies from 2017 that examined the effects of resistance training on anxiety was published in Sports Medicine and found that strength training improves anxiety symptoms . The scientists are still divided, but the focus I experienced during my training can play a role. "[Lifting] can be a focus on oneself, which can help to reduce the fearful perception that would otherwise go into the head," Dr. Tree.
Running also helped me soothe my inner monologue, and research suggests that this is also the case that could help reduce some of the anxiety for some people. Here, too, all experiences are different, but personally, I felt that lifting was more effective for me. While enjoying the exciting release running, lifting requires more of my focus. My mind has a much harder time wriggling to ruminate during a boost than during a run.
If I can surpass my expectations of what my body can achieve, I feel more capable of mastering challenges, even if they seem scary, even if I feel it I doubt it myself first.
Dr. Baum has experienced similar changes in her patients who routinely engage in strength training and other forms of exercise. "They feel that they can at least conquer the world metaphorically," she says. "These worries seem less overwhelming."
GAD often makes my life more threatening than it really is. Lifting makes me feel strong enough to tackle it.