We’ve all read or heard that regular exercise makes you happier. Exercising releases chemicals called endorphins triggering a positive feeling in your body while also decreasing the feeling of pain. It would make sense that because of this “positive feeling”, exercise could also increase your self-esteem. Positive feelings lead to positive thoughts lead to positive self-esteem.
Growing up without confidence
As a young girl, I struggled with confidence. I can remember back to my elementary years always feeling super shy and intimidated by my peers. I was picked on quite a bit, I can’t recall why exactly, I was super skinny and rather shy, I remember a few comments about that, perhaps I was awkward, an easy target, whatever the case, it made me fearful to go to school and, as one would imagine, decreased my self-esteem. As I approached junior high (now it’s called middle school) and high school, it just got worse. I was ALWAYS trying to fit in, never feeling good enough, pretty enough….just not enough! As mentioned in an earlier article, I also suffered from an eating disorder that completely knocked me down. My friends were beauties, still are, and all I wished for was that I looked like them, I could wear clothes like them, style my hair like them, could sing or cheerlead like them, and was happy like them. Every year I felt my self-worth decrease more and more. This carried onto college as well. I struggled so much with my self-worth. I cried myself to sleep many a night. I remember one of my friends joking that I was like Schleprock from the Flintstones. Always having a dark, rainy cloud over my head. I literally couldn’t control it. I lost friendships over it, as well. I really struggled. And…it just continued into adulthood. Constantly wishing I was better, prettier, more confident. But…throughout these years I was in sports (softball, track, cross country, one year of cheerleading) and was a runner off season as well. Practices, games, and my runs, especially in the snow, were the times I felt empowered. I couldn’t quite carry that feeling beyond these times, but I had a taste of it and it was sweet.
Enter becoming a wife and a mother. One would think that having someone who loves you and wants to commit their life to you as well as bringing life into the world would improve your self-esteem. It did for a bit, but was very short lived. I had one more thing to knock myself down over, right? “I don’t know how to be a wife and a mom”! I’m sure I’m not alone, but add to that my already beaten down self-image! Of course, there’s more to the story during this period in my life that didn’t help build my confidence including family problems, losing close connections, job losses and financial stress. This may be elaborated on in a future article.
Master’s Degree Accomplished
Again, something that you might think should build up confidence. A Master’s degree is a huge accomplishment. But, no, I struggled so much during these years. I’ve always been into fitness and working out—in fact, I was a certified personal trainer, had my own in home training studio that I utilized daily, I loved it, so much so that I wanted to teach it to kiddos, especially those who, like me, don’t have a high self-esteem. I decided to get my Master’s degree in Sport and Exercise Science along with a post-baccalaureate in physical education. I am not a super athletic person in regards to sports. As I mentioned, I played softball (a sport I loved but had to work super hard it, not a natural at all) and ran cross-country and track. Most of my fellow classmates were super athletic, naturals in every way and were involved in some type of “sports” play, coaching or teaching. I had to try twice as hard as everyone, study even more so. And….I was the third oldest in the group I went through the program with. I had taken a break after having my son, when I went back to school, my advisor (who, to this day, is my favorite teacher/professor/mentor) allowed me to take some of my classes in an accelerated program that was part of a cohort. This had to be one of the roughest group of people I had ever encountered. There was an arrogance about them, an “I’m better than you” attitude. They had inside jokes that they wouldn’t let anyone else in, they always partnered together, which brought up a whole new set of emotions like back when they had captains of teams and you were the last picked. They were already teaching PE, they knew the terms and how to write lesson plans, etc.. This was all brand new to me, I was so excited to learn it but as time went on, I got less excited and dreaded going to class. I remember sitting in my car before class crying because I didn’t want to go inside. One of the students called me “clueless” (funny thing, I was clueless but wanted so badly to learn). Mind you, again, this person had already taught PE, was young, and played a lot of sports. I was completely devastated. I left class deflated. What was I thinking? I couldn’t be a good PE teacher—-self-esteem broken down even more.
Fitness helped me get past the fear
As I have mentioned, I have been into fitness and have regularly exercised a good majority of my life, most intensely, the past 22 years. So, my connection with fitness and an improved self-esteem didn’t occur instantly, but I did have glimpses of it here and there. In fact, somewhere when my son was a toddler and I was commuting over 2 hours to and back from school, I decided I needed to train for a marathon (genius plan as a full-time student, newly married with a toddler and a small training business J). But, I loved to run (I don’t recommend it if you don’t love running)! Every time I trained whether it was a speed workout or a long run (up to 20 miles), I felt a sense of empowerment, not just physically, but mentally. During this time, I can remember in one of my classes (with the same cohort group), outdoor adventure, we had all met at an indoor ropes course. Lots of physical and mental challenges involved. Rock walls, rings across the ceiling that was probably 20-30 feet tall, and the leap of faith. This challenge requires you climb a ladder that’s moving to a swinging platform, jump off the platform to a trapeze that is swinging below you! You have a belayer, but mentally, it was frightening, especially if you have a fear of heights like I do. I was certain it was going to be a less than epic day for me. I started with the rock walls and getting to the top of those (okay, not so bad) as well as a couple other obstacles but kept a watchful eye on the leap of faith. I recall one person in the class did the challenge (I don’t remember if she grabbed the trapeze or not). Something kept calling me toward it and I went for it, I just felt like I had to try, I wanted to challenge myself (I would attribute some of that mental strength to all the training I had been doing). And…drum roll please, I did it and I landed with my hands on the trapeze, swinging in the air. It was an amazing feeling. Not only did I do that but I was also able to get across most of the swinging rings on the ceiling, again, something the “younger”, “athletic” folk were unable to do. I felt a since of pride and empowerment that day and I owned it. That day I felt more physically and mentally stronger than I had in a super long time.
I got up
Of course, my life wasn’t all butterflies, flowers and unicorns after that. I had numerous challenges thrown my way, knocking me down more than once. It was how I got up that was different. As the years have passed, my ability to rebound from life’s hard knocks has drastically changed. And….to that point, so has my fitness routine. I discovered that my obsessive training and running was also wearing me down physically and emotionally, draining me of reasoning and rationality. As I’ve been mentioning, I have worked out for years, but not in a healthy, balanced way. Always to the extreme. I’ve discussed the importance of a balanced workout. I believe this holds true not just for your physical strength but also for your emotional strength. Now that I incorporate strength, cardio, and flexibility along with good nutrition, I am less irritable, less sensitive, and react to adversity in a healthier manner. The pain in my joints from over training has also decreased tremendously resulting in me feeling better, stronger, and happier!
Self-esteem/Fitness Routine in place
Let me make it clear, I still have work to do in regards of my self-esteem, but I can honestly attest that it has improved enormously from the “Schleprock” I was once before. I am at a place in my life where I feel confident in (most) the choices I make. Five years (heck two years) ago, I could never have imagined owning my own business. Now, I own a business, and when doubt creeps in, my newly found positive thoughts pushes it right out. I’ve never had the confidence to be a “group” training kind of trainer, now (and I’m not perfect at it) I teach Boot Camp to a class full of eager to workout hard members, and I teach with conviction, care and confidence. Having a solid, consistent fitness routine has made me more alert and ready to take on all the obstacles that owning a new business, being a wife, a friend, and especially a mother come my way! My body looks better than it ever has which, in turn, doesn’t hurt my self-esteem. It’s not always easy (life is demanding and exhausting at times), it takes discipline, determination and the will to sacrifice in other areas of life. However, the health it brings to body and mind and most importantly, how you feel about yourself, is astonishing, perhaps life changing and definitely euphoric!
How to hop on the fitness self-esteem train
There are many layers to building self-esteem. Of course, it’s not just fitness! It takes pushing past the fear and facing it head on. I can attest that without fitness in my life, I would still be traveling around with that gloomy black cloud. Getting started, as with many things in life, is the toughest part. Here’s a few tips:
- Ask for help. There are so many gyms, clubs, and support groups with knowledgeable individuals that can help you plan and get into a good fitness routine.
- Find an accountability buddy. Two is better than one! Find a work out buddy. Success rates increase when there is someone counting on you!
- Group fitness. I’ve written this before, but the camaraderie and energy in group fitness classes is undeniable! I love my boot camp classes. Lots of great people, working hard, sweating, encouraging each other. Nothing like it!
- Write it down. Journaling brings emotions to the surface and gives an opportunity to dissect what may be effecting your self-esteem. Write the good things, too. It creates more confidence when you read the amazing way you improved your self-esteem for the day! (i.e.; “Today I asked for a raise”, “Today I took a Zumba class and feel amazing”)
“Self-esteem comes from being able to define the world in your terms and refusing to abide by the judgements of others” ~Oprah Winfrey