It is very, very important to take good care of yourself physically. You already know this though. What you probably also already know, but maybe haven’t been thinking about, is how critical it is to exercise. As a whole, we Americans like to procrastinate exercise. We generally don’t do it often enough, or with enough intensity.
Did you know that if you set aside 30-60 minutes to exercise, you will actually get more done during your day? That seems odd because by time you exercise and then shower, 2 hours are used up. It’s true though. Your ability to focus and stay on task is greatly increased with exercise. Your ability to push through a work-out you don’t feel like doing also increases the mental toughness needed to get other things done. When you exercise regularly you aren’t just flexing your physical muscles. You learn to have more will power. It takes will power to jog up the hill that is seemingly never going to end. It even takes will power to get up off the couch and get your running shoes on. Forcing yourself to do so when it’s not really what you want to do is a form of discipline. It teaches self-denial.
Self-denial (in a healthy dose) is extremely important for anxiety management. When you learn to do more of what you should do instead of what you feel like doing, your life is usually headed in a direction that you choose. This means you have more control. The antidote to anxiety is a sense of control.
Consistent exercise not only releases chemicals into the brain that are calming and pleasant, it also teaches discipline and self-control. It is a critical factor in the alleviation of anxiety. It is also an important part of time management. So, to help get your anxiety under wraps, hop on your bike, jump in a pool, or go for a stroll. Do this several times a week and watch what happens. Oh, and you also just might find you end up enjoying yourself.
When you think about how to specifically apply this to your teenagers, think social. Teens (as a generalization) love to be around their friends. Help them figure out a way to get in a work-out with a couple friends. Maybe they can join the same gym as their best friend, or organize a common goal with their friends. When I was in college a couple of friends and I set-up a work-out plan. We were only able to exercise together a couple times per week, but we held each other accountable for the rest of the time. It made a big difference in our ability to stick with it. I still think this is because we enjoyed the social aspect of doing it together more than anything else.
Exercise is a great, healthy coping skill for anxiety and stress. You can model this for your teenager and invite them to join you. You may or may not get a yes, but they are definitely paying attention to how you handle your stress.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT