Medically reviewed by Shahzadi Devje, Registered Dietitian (RD) & Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)
I did it out of a desire to better manage my emotions, but there were unexpected and astounding benefits.
You know how life throws curveballs at you when you’re least expecting it? Well, I was blindsided by several challenges a couple of years ago. They completely threw me off my game and left me feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and pretty depressed. For an entire year, I felt stuck in my funk. I convinced myself I didn’t have the bandwidth to deal with it. I wasn’t ready to explore ways to calm my emotions, so I kept putting it off.
But the truth is, the frequent “energy crashes” I was experiencing affected my ability to show up for myself, let alone for the people in my life. I was irritable, sad, and struggled to focus. Deep down, I knew I had to break free from this rut, but I couldn’t muster the motivation to do anything about my rough emotions.
Until one day, I ended up in the hospital—exhausted and burnt out. In retrospect, the situation was a blessing in disguise. As I lay in a hospital bed, promising myself to take better care of my health and wellness, I knew that using work as an escape from difficult emotions wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Regardless of how much I love my job. I made a conscious decision to improve my quality of life so that I could chase my dreams and nurture healthier relationships.
I knew from experience that I felt better when I was physically active. So, I decided to commit to working out—no matter what. At this point, there were no fleeting New Year’s resolutions or half-hearted attempts. I was all in. I started with an app on my phone, working up a sweat in the basement of my house and worked out 3-4 times a week. It didn’t matter if it was 20 minutes or 60 minutes. I just showed up and moved my body. I kept a record of my progress on Instagram so that I could stay accountable to myself.
If you’re struggling with depression, visit your doctor or a mental health professional to get assessed. Many resources are available to help you, and it’s important to get the support you need. I do not intend to push exercise as a substitute for professional help. I regard exercise as a valuable instrument in my toolkit, alongside other practices I’ve implemented to support my mental health.
Around the 5-month mark, I felt like I was losing my groove and needed a change of scenery. So I joined a gym. That’s when things started to get really interesting. I began to push myself a bit harder, upping my workouts and weights to 5-6 times per week. It was amazing — and inspiring to see folks similarly dedicated to their fitness and health agendas. In fact, this collective energy motivated me further.
It quickly became apparent that this newly-found self-care practice did wonders for me — beyond my emotional health. Here’s what I have noticed after 365 days of regular exercise:
- I feel calmer and less emotionally charged.
- My low mood has started to lift.
- My once-crashing energy levels have evened out and become more consistent—I no longer need as much caffeine to get through the day.
- I can think more clearly.
- I sleep better at night – falling asleep quicker and staying asleep.
- I am more productive at work.
- I have significantly less muscle stiffness and joint pains.
- I can sit for longer during prayer and meditation, which allows me to dedicate more time to my spiritual well-being.
- My outlook on life is becoming more positive.
- I feel more content.
- I am more intentional about my eating habits and make nutritious food choices to fuel my workouts.
Committing to regular exercise has helped me navigate some of the most emotionally charged moments I have ever faced. I feel confident in my ability to better manage my mental health, and I am grateful for the unexpected benefits resulting from this journey.
If you’re feeling stuck, lost or just need a change—I encourage you to consider making exercise a part of your self-care routine. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or time-consuming. Just start with something that you enjoy and make it a regular part of your week. And who knows? You may find yourself surprised by the benefits, just like I did.
Start your new workout journey on the right foot by visiting your doctor first. They will be able to advise you about which exercises would be best for you, as well as how to get started safely.
Is exercise part of your self-care routine? What benefits have you experienced as a result?
This is the first installment of a series of articles exploring self-care sequences that enable us to be our best selves. The information in this post is based on my personal experiences and should not be taken as medical advice.