Monday 6 July 2020

My relationship with exercise during lockdown

Lizzie shares her experience about her relationship with exercise and how this has changed during lockdown
- Lizzie Speller

Before lockdown my levels of physical activity had slowly decreased over the years and were pretty much non-existent. For someone who thrives from having an ongoing structure and routine, my attitude to exercise was sporadic and impulsive. I would scroll through exercise videos online, half-heartedly sign up for fitness programmes and buy a multitude of equipment that now sadly gathers dust in the flat. This gradual decline in commitment and motivation towards exercise is the polar opposite to that of my childhood. When I was younger, my parents encouraged my brother and I to engage in sports regularly and my memories of growing up seemed to be punctuated with different classes in karate, badminton and athletics amongst others. I am aware, looking back, this is a significant privilege and one that I very much appreciated. I threw myself into it and quickly used my perfectionist disposition to my advantage; I remember getting such a thrill from winning a race during sports day or being picked for a local team. Over time, due to this enthusiasm and determination, sport became an integral part of my life and an outlet for any built-up emotions I had from academic work, social friendships, or adjustments in teenage life. 

However, my relationship with exercise became compulsive and started to damage my mental and physical health. My parents were initially supportive due to my enthusiasm and desire to perform, but quickly noticed the effect this constant activity was having on me; my weight had dramatically decreased, and I became irritable and tired all the time. I remember on the day I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa, I completed hundreds of sit ups and paced around my room with such focused intensity. After my diagnosis and subsequent cycles of therapy, I realised my relationship with exercise had transcended beyond anything I initially imagined, it felt like an integral part of my identity and a companion throughout my adolescence. Over the six years of my eating disorder recovery, my relationship with exercise flitted between something I loved with such a passion and yet simultaneously felt so terrified of. Would I ever be able to have a “normal” relationship with exercise again? In addition, as I grew older I had become more aware of the societal pressure to be this “perfect” shape and size, whenever my friends or family talked about sport or the latest fitness trends, I nodded along but felt so conflicted and disengaged. Is this really something I should be striving for again?

At the beginning of lockdown, whilst completing university work from home, my partner suggested I tried a ‘PE with Joe Wicks’ workout. I was initially reluctant but ended up loving the act of exercising in a healthy way, amongst company, whilst feeling virtually connected to others across the world. Throughout the next couple of weeks, I started to talk to my partner about my relationship with exercise and began to use physical activity in a more beneficial way. If I felt anxious, I went on a leisurely walk around my neighbourhood rather than ruminating at home. If I felt happy or excited, I would have a little dance around my flat and pretend I was BeyoncĂ©. Regaining power and control over exercise has filled me with confidence and a new-found appreciation for my body. I now look forward to exercising without the desire to push myself or compromise my health anymore. In a time of global uncertainty, my evolving relationship with physical activity has given me more certainty on the importance of looking after myself than anything else. I could not be more grateful!

For more information Student Space is here to make it easier for you to find the support you need during the coronavirus pandemic.

See some helpful advice to support your wellbeing during the coronavirus.

Hi, I'm Lizzie and I have just finished my second year at the University of Chichester studying Psychology. I am incredibly passionate about mental health and currently am an ambassador for Beat and a Mental Health Mates Walk Leader in Chichester.

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