Don’t Give Up Your Gym Membership Just Yet!

spin-classIt was a typical stressful morning getting the kids out the door in time for school. In the back of my mind, I was already feeling anxious about our upcoming cross-country PCS and a new challenge of completing my last two graduate school classes in the middle of the road trip. I dropped my older kids off at school, and took my 2 year old with me to the gym. As I opened the door to the gym, I almost walked right into a giant dry erase board where someone had written, “You are only one workout away from a good mood.”

I knew in an hour, I would be just fine.

For years, I have been relying on exercise to combat stress and negative emotions. It’s kept me balanced and helped me work through the most challenging problems. Even if I walk into a workout full of negativity and stress, I will always come out feeling calm and clear-headed.

Part of me believed this calming effect that exercise brought was because it felt like I was regaining a sense of control that I felt I had lost as a military spouse. I also believed I was “toughening up” through physical stressors in order to handle the emotional stressors.

I read some research done on the effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and sensitivity to stress. Most of the current research in the field of mental health supports physical activity to boost one’s mood, fight depression and build tolerance to stress.

Unfortunately, as a personal trainer, I’ve heard many people say beginning an exercise program is a stressor. It’s tough to start something new, but if someone dives into an exercise program that is too intense, he or she will most likely experience an increase in stress. This can be why so many people walk away from gym memberships.

There are two easy ways to start your journey towards healthy, effective stress management through exercise:

  1. Change your perception of exercise. It doesn’t have to be an hour long, drag-yourself-off-the-floor workout. There are incredible calming, meditative workouts like Tai Chi or yoga. I believe if we all started at a comfortable level, we can quickly adapt and feel positive about increasing the difficulty.
  2. Set a few small fitness goals. As we accomplish each goal, we develop a sense of empowerment and confidence. It’s this empowerment that lets us handle new challenges thrown our way, whether it’s a fitness challenge or surprise orders. It is also the repeated exposure to the good, controllable stress of exercise that increases our resistance to the negative, uncontrolled stress of a military lifestyle.

Military spouses provide emotional stability in a family. We have to take care of ourselves, physically and emotionally, so we can take care of our families in the best way possible. Every day I walk into that gym, or lace up my running shoes, with the goal of looking for a healthy way to combat the stress in my life. And every day I walk out in a good mood, ready to take on whatever life (and the military!) wants to throw my way.

What activities or forms of exercise help you deal with stress? Share it with us!

MelissaPosted by Melissa Wilkerson, Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarship Recipient

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