Getting hot and sweaty might not be great for comfort but it’s brilliant for mental health. If getting hot and sweaty isn’t your thing, stay with me – there are other ways to get the full mental health benefits of exercise without the intensity and your brain will love you for it – like, love you. Exercise is the wonderdrug-but-not-a-drug of the mental health world. Volumes of research have testified to its incredible capacity to strengthen mental health, and now we’re starting to uncover why.
When my anxiety first hit, I would have anxiety attacks in public frequently. In church, youth group, grocery stores, school, family events, and so on. If you know anything about panic attacks, you know it is not something you want to happen in public. I’ll give you brief overview: shaking, rapid breathing, suffocating feeling, crying, and sweating. Definitely not a pleasant ordeal, especially not in public where anyone can see it.
People with anxiety have an extraordinary ability to anticipate potential problems. This makes them great to be with – they are the ones with the plan B, the plan C, the spare batteries, the phone charger and the escape route. Being able to anticipate trouble can be a great strength, but like any strength, too much can cause a metaphorical headache.
Anxiety is such a human experience. Anyone who has stretched themselves far enough to do something brave would have scraped against it in some way. If anxiety could, it would throw its wild warrior arms around us, smother us with kisses and tell us it was there to keep us safe by warning us of danger and getting us ready to deal with it. Too often though, that ‘danger’ is more a challenge than a threat, and what we need is not to be held back from it, but for anxiety to step aside so we can move boldly through the middle of it.
Social anxiety is like the ‘friend’ who shows up at the worst time – every time – gives you a squeezy, suffocating embrace and promises to stay by your side, warn you about everything, and keep you safe (read, ‘keep you all to itself’). Just in case you think this time might be different, the chatter sets in, ‘You know everyone is looking at you, right?’ ‘Have you thought about what they’re thinking of you?’ ‘What if you can’t find the words – or worse, what if say completely the wrong thing?’ ‘Is it just me or are you sweating – I’m pretty sure people can tell. And is your face glowing red?’ It’s relentless and it’s exhausting.
Anxious kids are brave kids. They are creative, thoughtful and have the potential to light the world on fire, every one of them, often in unexpected ways. When anxiety takes hold though, it’s overwhelming. It can shut down their potential, their engagement with the world and their self-belief. It feels awful and life becomes more about avoiding anxiety than it does about embracing life in ways that flourish them. This can be turned around and although anxiety doesn’t generally go away, it can be managed so that it stays in the background and out of their way. For anxious kids, the important adults in their lives are a powerful ally in helping to make this happen.