Life can feel desperately out of control when you have anxiety. You have a feeling something is out of control, but you don’t even know what it is. You feel ‘off’. You’re not present. And you’re right.
It feels out of control because Someone else is taking you for a ride. And you don’t know where they are taking you.
You have been taken for a very unpleasant, stomach churning ride all day, and now you’d like a turn. Please.
It makes sense that humans who struggle with anxiety turn to something like fitness. Fitness becomes a tool for control.
Going for a run or a bike ride can look like a habitual or impulsive decision, but it’s not a stupid idea in the slightest. You are going to “ride” yourself, like a horse.
Take swimming for example, one of my favorites. It’s cold out, but you push your body forward. You literally strip the body down. It’s quivering in the cold. You tie on a proverbial saddle and test out the whip. You race it. You make it chug and grind for hours. You give it new sensations, sweat, pain, immerse it in liquid. Hello lactate, my old friend. Afterwards, it can barely walk. That felt good.
Many humans sadly never get that stupid idea. Maybe they lack the skill, the muscle memory, environment, means, encouraging friends, or worse they have found another “saddle” to jump on.
Instead of riding their body into the dirt and exhaustion, they pump it with alcohol or drugs. It gets to the same goal, the body submits. Your body is a bit like a dog, it loves you unconditionally. It will do what you say and you’ve decided to medicate it. You are in control now. Your body staggers through the streets. The vision is impaired, blurry. Memory - systems are down, please reboot. Fists swing at things wildly. It operates cars and crashes into walls at high speed. Maybe the body broke some laws and is now cuffed and sent to a box. That’s about as sad as it gets. All while tightly saddled. You weren’t in control, so you got even more out of control.
Take something less pernicious - TV. You are flooding your body with dopamine or entrancing it with entertaining flickering lights and sounds. It’s lashed and tied by these novel stimulus. People often describe film as ‘captivating’, ‘immersive’. It takes us out of our heads and we love it, at least for a few hours.
Are there other ways to “saddle” your body? One example that seems to help for the anxious is a flow state. Giving yourself a task just hard enough to keep you occupied. It’s like giving the dog one of those balls with treats in that fall out occasionally. If you are good with numbers, being an accountant can be heaven for someone who would otherwise be fighting against their own mind all day.
I’ve used a lot of metaphors here, but it’s interesting to think about the metaphors we use to describe our lived experience and especially anxiety and feeling bad. “Ride it out.” “Blow off the cobwebs.” “Shake yourself up.” “Take a look at things differently.” All have a bit of truth to them, but can also lead us down confusing paths.
So, next time you see an old woman running the streets. Why would you hate her? You can’t blame the woman who spends hours running every day. It’s certainly not the worst use of her time. Don’t feel sorry for her, for this moment, she is in control. Certainly don’t feel jealous of her, if she’s anxious, she’s likely found running as a way to save herself, in a mostly healthy way. And of course, maybe, she’s a well adjusted person who likes to move her body very fast across hard concrete surfaces… Well that would be crazy!