There’s a lot to be said about exercise. Word on the street is that it’s pretty good for you, but apart from the cardiovascular health, weight control, mood enhancement, blood sugar balance and mental health benefits, what has it ever really done for us?
Yes, the list of benefits is as endless as it is obvious, and everyone and their mother will tell you that you absolutely should be doing it. Feeling low? Exercise. Struggling to be creative? Exercise. Low sex drive? Exercise. And with the world now opening up and the virus apparently over (?), there’s never been a better time to do it.
But what happens when — for the life of you — you cannot find the motivation to exercise? Or when I really stop to think about it, anything at all?
When the year started I was full of vim and vigour. I was doing Sunday yoga, attending regular zoom workouts, meeting and beating my challenges for 10km a week. Seemingly living my best lockdown life. However, 2021 progressed, lockdown dragged on, and the days began to fly by faster than they had any business doing so.
Time began to warp and blur, and as excitement for lockdown ending began to boil over, I found my motivation waning further and further. Suddenly, 10km turns into 5km, 2km, and then none at all.
The running shoes got put to the back of the wardrobe, never to resurface, and the bike now sleeps snugly under its protective cover, like a caterpillar in its cocoon except without the eventual flashy metamorphosis.
It wasn’t just exercising either. I’d lost the drive to read full books and write creatively, my sex drive dipped to an ATL and my attention span was waning thinner than ever, both at work and in my personal relationships.
I’d watched others close to me grow and build upon their success during lockdown (and it was wonderful to see, props to all you brilliant people, you know who you are), and even that wasn’t enough to spur me out of my haze-like state.
At first, I thought it was the dreaded return of Miss Depression, who’s regularly paid me visits in the past. But we’ve been around that unhappy block a few times and this definitely felt different. This time I was able to feel and function perfectly normally. I was still making time to see friends, go on dates, and participate. It wasn’t the emotion I was lacking, it was the motivation to work, and more importantly, the motivation to work on myself.
I have important dates, including weddings and family events, coming up very soon that no doubt will be memorialised and for which I very much would like to be looking good. Except I’m not. I’m in the worst shape of my life. I should be out there doing things, applying myself, and (of course) exercising.
Instead, I spend my days reading articles debating whether Indiana Jones was a paedophile (spoiler alert, he was) and watching hot goth girls do depressive stand up on TikTok — a niche which up until recently I had no idea existed, but I’m now eternally grateful for.
And whilst we’re on the topic, let’s talk TikTok, and social media as a whole. It has of course been the most wonderful connector throughout the pandemic, bringing people together from far and wide. I’m thankful for it on a daily basis. However, I’m also 100% certain that the addictive nature of swipe surges and never-ending video clips has done irreparable damage to both my sleeping pattern and my mental health.
Surprising no one, research of how Gen Z used social media to cope with feelings of loneliness during lockdown found that substituting online social activity as a substitute for physical social relations actually resulted in teens feeling less happy. It’s not just the UK’s youth either. A 2020 study of Chinese adults showcased empirically that a higher level of social media use was associated with worse mental health.
Honestly, I’d drop it all in a moment if I could remember birthdays without Facebook and my livelihood didn’t depend on it. I dare you to search how much screen time you’ve had this week. If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel personally attacked by your own phone’s settings feature.
I do know I’m not the only one who’s feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by it all. A study undertaken by YouGov as the first lockdown was easing last year found that almost a fifth of all adults felt hopeless, and a recent study from the Office of National Statistics discovered that rates of depression symptoms have doubled during the pandemic.*
As the students of East High once so gleefully sang, we’re all in this together.
So yeah, it’s bad, but there is light on the horizon. And a lot of it.
Despite fear-mongering from the red tops, pings from the NHS app, and a rush of new variants trying to take us down, the UK has now come out of lockdown. Families and friends are being reunited for the first time in over a year, and soon, some semblance of ‘normality’ (whatever new and exciting form that may take) will begin to establish itself.
After that, I guess the first step is taking the first step. Get up, get dressed, get out of the house and put one leg in front of the other. Start moving. Stop wondering what if and when and start thinking now. If you’re able to begin moving forward, then the only thing that can stop you is you.
This is as much a rallying cry to myself as it is you, the person reading this.
I’ve not started exercising properly yet (discounting the odd gym visit), but I have written this. I’ve also started a new book and fished out the trainers from the back of the wardrobe. Plus the other day I got a haircut instead of buying smokes — so that’s progress!
I’m not saying this because I want a Blue Peter badge or anything (that’s a lie, of course I do). I thought I’d share because I can only imagine that for every person who has had a super successful lockdown where they realised their dreams, there are heaps like me who may have completely missed the success train pulling in to motivation station.
The good news is, a new train will be arriving shortly. One that’s waiting and ready for you. You’ve just got to take the first step onto it, and do mind the gap.
*If you are reading this and feeling symptoms of depression, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Whether it’s to a loved one, colleague, or even me, there is always someone to talk to. I’ve included some resources below if needed: