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Fitness

Building Mental Muscle: My Fitness Journey’s Impact On My Mental Health

Most people who know me, and every person who has ever traveled with me (poor souls), know that I have a HORRIBLE fear of flying. I’m talkin’ flight-attendants-sending-pilots-out-to-comfort-me, paying-for-fear-of-flying-classes, can’t-sleep-the-week-before-a-flight type-stuff. It’s…intense. I’m not 100% sure when it got so bad, but for someone who travels a TON, it’s a pretty major issue and I’ve been really, really desperate to make it better.

I’ve tried therapy, the aforementioned fear-of-flight classes (thanks, Captain Ron, for trying), medication (the prescription kind), medication (the fermented grape kind), natural remedies, meditation and every trick and strategy in between. It’s been one of the most emotionally exhausting struggles of my last few years trying to get this fear under some semblance of control and, until very recently, I didn’t feel like I was making any progress, at all.

It’s been one of the most emotionally exhausting struggles of my last few years trying to get my fear of flying under some semblance of control and, until very recently, I didn’t feel like I was making any progress, at all.

Then, in the last month or so (like I said, I fly a ton, so a month in my life’ll usually have me airborne at least twice, sometimes more), I’ve become slightly (but noticeably) less panicked on flights. I’ve not cried on any of my last three trips (for me, that’s a win), and I’ve managed to keep myself somewhat calm when there’s been unexpected turbulence (the devil’s work) or weird sounds mid-air (seriously, WHAT is going on in those overhead storage bins?) Sure, I’m still scared sh*tless (pardon my French, it’s honestly the only way to describe the feeling), but I’m feelin’ these days like I’ve got a stronger grip on my behavior, in-flight, and that’s got me thinking about whether there’s any correlation between my dedication to, and improvement in, my own personal health and fitness, and my (seemingly…hopefully) ebbing fear of flight. I’d bet good money that there is.

 

It got me thinking about whether there’s any correlation between my dedication to, and improvement in, my own personal health and fitness, and my (seemingly…hopefully) ebbing fear of flight. I’d bet good money that there is.

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This I know for sure: at the root of anxiety (or at least at the root of my own anxiety, according to a paid professional) is the fear of being out of control. From my point of view, it doesn’t get much more ‘out of control’ than sittin’ in the back of a steel tube while someone else flies you through the stratosphere at 500mph, so it’s not shocking that air travel is a major trigger for me. Another (perhaps seemingly unrelated) identifiable truth, is that it takes a helluva lot of focus, dedication and control to get physically fit, and stick with it.

I have zero doubt that my dedication to my fitness regimen has had a direct and positive impact on my mental toughness, and seeing that manifest as a reduction in my flight-related anxiety is a feeling of hope and relief that I struggle to put into words. I’m sure it sounds dramatic to anyone who doesn’t feel paralyzed by fear before they even get to the airport, but if I could wrangle the panic that comes with boarding a flight, even just a bit (not crying is a start), it would be a change in behavior that’s been YEARS in the making, y’all, and a serious improvement in the overall quality of my flight-filled life. What a wonderful (and super motivating) thing it would be to actually make my mind a safer, more comfortable place to hang out by simply treating my physical body the way it deserves to be treated.

What a wonderful (and super motivating) thing it would be to actually make my mind a safer, more comfortable place to hang out by simply treating my physical body the way it deserves to be treated.

I could be totally wrong about why I haven’t cried on my last few flights. It could have nothing to do with getting physically more fit or dedicating myself to a health plan, but I know how the gym, and my own body, have become less uncomfortable, more peaceful places for me over the last year, and so I have a feeling that these two aspects of my life are, in fact, connected. I doubt an airplane will ever be a truly peaceful place for me – it’s still a gigantic hunk of metal hurdling through space at the speed of sound which just don’t seem right (and don’t think for one second Your Girl ain’t a sweaty mess by the time the bird is back on solid ground) but, if flying (or anything else that usually throws me into an anxious spiral) can become even infinitesimally less terrifying, I’ll keep muscling through those sets at the gym for the sake of the muscle upstairs.

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