Overcoming Anxiety - Gillian's Story

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Recently we featured our Active Champion Gillian from Mixenden discussing what it means to be an Active Champion for her community, you can read more here. As well as inspiring her community to be more active, Gillian has also been on a personal active journey over the last year, kindly sharing her experience of embarking on a new fitness regimen, from aims and motivations to fears and realities, in our latest blog.

Gillian's Story

In the last 12 months, there has been much emphasis on improving my physical health. Suffering the typical aches and pains of getting older, I wanted to improve my strength and fitness. Also, for most of my life, I have struggled to manage my anxiety and during difficult times my mental health has suffered. Despite being a positive person, I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and even though I am confident with people, I have spent part of my life struggling with social anxiety.

I often manage this well, however, it can be mentally exhausting, so I am interested to see how exercise can help relieve stress. I am still new to regular exercise, having not done anything beyond walking and volunteering. I know I can motivate myself in several ways, one of which is doing something fun, and I needed to start with something low-impact. I knew I would enjoy aerobics and like being in the water, so the obvious choice was aquafit.

Getting Aquafit

Calderdale Leisure Services offers a monthly or annual membership, with benefits that allow the use of their pools, gym facilities and fitness classes, at several locations. Those with a low income like myself can lower payments further by applying for a Passport to Leisure. Aquafit is good for reducing weight-bearing stress on bones, joints, and muscles, whilst the water resistance helps strengthen and tone muscles and the deeper you go in the pool, the more work you do. Each instructor has a unique style of workout and they vary their classes regularly, I also enjoy the soundtracks played in the sessions. The instructors also offer advice to beginners based on their ability and classes are popular, booking up fast.

I like a challenge, so in the past, I have completed sponsored walks and step challenges. I also wanted to improve my swimming, to finally learn front crawl and improve my breaststroke. Calderdale Fitness Centres offer many adult lessons for different levels and I have met many adult learners with different abilities and goals. For some people swimming is brand new to them, for others they are simply out of practice, which affects their confidence, even getting in the way of joining in with family on holidays. Whatever the reason, the instructors take the time to assess your ability, discuss your goals, and help you work on your main challenges step by step, offering swimming aids when necessary. I have seen a massive improvement in my swimming already.

Couch to 5K

Another challenge is running, I have spent most of my life claiming I cannot run, making excuses and claiming I am happy to leave it at that. However, secretly I have always wished to do so. I attempted the 5K Park Run at Shroggs and despite being told I could walk it and that many do, I still felt pressure to run. I didn't like it, so I decided to give the NHS app Couch to 5k a go.

Couch to 5K is a plan for beginners, where you are guided through a combination of brisk walking and running as you build your stamina over the weeks. This is my second attempt at completing this course. On the first attempt, I joined Halifax Harriers, who work through the app with you as a group. They would then offer you the chance to become a member at the end of the 10 weeks, however, I struggled to complete it. I found running in a group encouraging, but the app's advice is that you can repeat runs until you are ready to move on to the next week, so I decided to run on my own for now.

I have also decided to join the Couch to 5k Facebook group for advice, on which I have discovered that many people also make repeated attempts to complete the course. One person suggested it was because the pace was too fast but I also found that many people use the treadmill because they are not yet comfortable running outdoors. Living in hilly areas can also be a deterrent, although the advice is not to avoid them (which so far, I have tried to). It is better to take it slow even if you must walk part of it, your heart rate will be still elevated, and eventually, you will become a better and stronger runner for it. It is also useful to have a goal you want to achieve. I would like to get through a 5k fun run or park run without too much of a struggle, or in my words, "without feeling like I will die". I have set my sights on the Overgate Hospice colour run in July, so fingers crossed.

Hitting the Gym

In recent weeks I have also started to go to the gym as an alternative to swimming to improve my fitness further. My membership also allows free access to the gym, along with free inductions with an instructor. A weight training and cardio plan was put together for me based on 2 sessions per week. This can be printed out if needed, however, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the gym uses the fitness app ‘Mywellness’ for smartphone users. The app interacts with the gym equipment, allowing you to log in and access your set plans, which you can adjust if needed. It even allows you to redesign your plan, along with many other features such as tracking exercise outside the gym. I sometimes use my cardio session to complete one of my Couch to 5k runs. In just a few weeks, I have already noticed that I feel stronger and able to push myself further. I also enjoy having a plan to work with.

Overall, as I have increased my activity over the last 12 months, I have found that when I am at my most active, I have more energy and my mood has improved.  

If you have an active story to share like Gillian, please contact Active Calderdale via activecalderdale@calderdale.gov.uk.