Every week a new article about how exercise and the outdoors help us feel happier. We retweet the articles, share them on our Facebook pages, and think to ourselves “I didn’t really need a study to tell me that.”
But the minute life gets busy, exercise and adventures are the first thing to get set aside. When there are deadlines looming and to-do lists a mile long “I’ll do it later” turns into “I’m too tired, maybe there will be time tomorrow” and then tomorrow fills up and before you know it, weeks have gone by.
In the midst of my blitz to the end of my teaching program and the end of the school year I’ve let my fitness regimen lag a little bit but I haven’t let things go entirely—and the fact is that I can’t. I feel a little bit strange about this (re)realization. It’s nothing new to me that my mood is immensely better, that I’m more efficient at home and at work and just a generally happier person to be around when I take the time to workout but I haven’t quite made peace with that yet.
I require exercise to be a functional adult.
Sitting at my desk last week towards the end of the day, I could feel this unspecified dread bubbling up within me. I was caught up on my teaching program requirements, only a normal amount behind on my grading, and my belongings were well on their way to being packed and moved to Ridgway. And yet: this weird, depressed, anxious, sad sort of feeling permeated around me and I didn’t want to teach or accomplish anything. I debated whether I could just spend the evening in bed cuddling with Sprocket.
At home, knowing the answer to “Can I really just be lazy tonight?” was a resounding NO, I changed into my running clothes. “Just do two miles,” I told myself. “You’ll feel better.” Just shy of two miles in the damp spring air, it all clicked and I changed my route to add another three. My mental clarity returned and the run felt good.
I have accepted rationally that I need the run, the yoga, the strength and core work. I need it to be the happy friend, teacher, daughter, co-worker, granddaughter, sister, aunt, and stranger that I want to be. Can I function without exercise? Sure, but not at the level I want to. Mentally, I feel almost defeated by this realization. Knowing is power, yes, but I’m not sure that I feel okay knowing that my grasp on happiness is as tenuous as that.
“At least it’s not drugs!” I think. I ponder the intersection of endorphins and the self-confidence that has grown in my body’s abilities (and, if I’m being honest, at least a little in its appearance). There is no sweeping epiphany though, no “This is how you live your best life.” Instead, there is a quiet knowing that I need that time for myself to be me and a searching for acceptance of that fact.