Living in Michigan during the winter - or most of the Midwest for that matter - isn’t easy. It’s cold, dark, and forcing yourself to get out of the house is sometimes one of the hardest parts of the day. Last year during this time, my mental health was at one of the lowest states it ever has been. I wasn’t happy with myself mentally or physically, and every time I looked in the mirror, I frowned.
One weekend, my dad came into my room and asked if I wanted to go to the gym with him. I had been in bed all day and the gym sounded like the last thing that would make me feel better. “Come on, it’ll be good for you,” he said. I sighed, threw on some shorts, and went with him. We started on the treadmill, and I immediately noticed that even just moving my legs and running was improving my mood. We then went and lifted weights, even though I couldn’t do much more than the ten-pound dumbbells.
From that moment on, I decided I was going to work out at school and give it a shot. The first couple of weeks were hard, because typically you can always find something “better to do” in your spare time. The best counter I found to that was a pure frustration with where I was in life. I was frustrated with how skinny I was and about how sad I was all of the time. Once you get past the habit of finding something “better to do,“ getting to the gym becomes easier.
Flash forward to a year later and I’m 30 pounds heavier, proud of my body, and don’t even look at the 10 pound dumbbells. It’s a long road to get where you want to be, but working out isn’t all about the results at the end. It’s about the personal time you set aside to work out; the time where you can listen to music or have a completely empty head. It’s up to you. All that matters is setting aside that personal time for yourself that has nothing to do with school, work, or social pressures.
Once you integrate the gym into your life consistently, and it becomes a weekly or daily thing, the real “drug” of working out hits. Looking into the mirror, seeing your results, and thinking “I’m farther along than I used to be and that makes me happy” is one of the most rewarding things there is about working out. Seeing those results, to this day, still puts a smile on my face and improves my mood.
Mental illness is different for everyone, and there isn't one cure for all of them. However, studies have shown that working out regularly promotes neural growth and creates new patterns in your brain that promote feelings of relaxation and well-being. Working out also releases endorphins that can distract you from bad thoughts and feelings and leave you feeling refreshed.
I hope that if you’re struggling to get through this winter, you at least try working out. If you give it a chance and don’t like it, at least you’ll have tried another solution to help yourself get better. I read something somewhere that said, “Some days it’s easier; other days it’s harder. Be it easy or hard, the only way to get there is to start.”
You’ve got this.