Weightlifters get a bad rap. There seems to be a preconception that all weightlifters are obsessed with their physiques and that, as a result, they're probably a bit arrogant or unpleasant to talk to.
Admittedly, I was one of those people and, based on my own experience, I know I wasn't alone in thinking this.
But over the past 10 years or so, my opinion has changed. Thanks to taking up the gym in my early-twenties, I've been able to talk to people about the reasons they got into fitness in the first place and empathise with them.
What I've found through my conversations with other weightlifters is that many people who take it up tend to have done so to help overcome or manage some form of mental health issue: depression, body dysmorphia, confidence issues, and anxiety, to name a few.
In my case, I took up weightlifting upon recommendation from my then-therapist. She claimed that getting fitter would help combat the symptoms of depression and anxiety – and she was right. It helped build my confidence in my own abilities, my alertness and the clarity of my thinking, all of which were all over the place when my feelings of anxiety and depression were at their worst.
Perhaps most importantly though, it gave me a tool for regaining a sense of control over my fears.
For me, I've always felt anxiety strongest when I'm in social situations. Be it a party, a family gathering or even just ordering something at a restaurant, I would (and still do to a much lesser extent these days) feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and a wave of heat flush over my face as adrenaline would kick my heartbeat into a higher gear. It was the physical manifestation of my fear of something going horribly, drastically wrong through something I would say or do in front of someone else. My symptoms weren't by any means crippling, but they did get bad enough for me to begin avoiding social situations, naturally becoming more anti-social and eventually beginning to divulge in cycles of negative self-talk.
But weightlifting changed that. It gave me a slow-but-steady progressive mindset which I could both focus on and control. One which I created for myself and with which I could gradually reach and surpass goals. And once I did just that, I had confirmation that this mindset worked.
I then started to apply the same thinking to the 'real' world. Just as I had faced higher and higher weights in the gym over time, I gradually started exposing myself to (what I deemed to be) tougher and tougher social situations. And with each situation I went through and survived, I rebuilt my confidence and strengthened my sense of control over my life. It was a wonderful feeling I hadn't felt in a long time.
Now 10 years older, weightlifting has become a staple in my life, a crux for me to work on my mental health and ensure it's in as good a shape as possible.
For those who do suffer from anxiety or depression, I’m not saying exercise will definitely make a difference for you, but it has done for me. Whether it’s weightlifting, bodybuilding, running, swimming, or whatever activity sounds most appealing to you, I recommend you take it up and you commit yourself to it. Because it really can make a world of difference.