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One walk at a time: exercising through, with, because of and despite stress

This semester is the roughest, busiest and most stressful I’ve had in more than 15 years. I’ve been teaching extra courses (for money and teaching credit), running my university’s academic integrity panel hearings (for repeat plagiarism and cheating cases), doing a little research and blog posting on the side. All this is happening during a term in which a whopping amount of snow disrupted life and destroyed class syllabi, leaving all of us in the Boston academic community scrambling to regroup.

And it’s not over yet. This week’s docket includes two high-pressure academic integrity hearings, a big pile of end of term grading, a conference talk (for which I have a draft already, thank goodness), and prep for another conference talk for the following week (for which I don’t have a draft already). And that’s just my professional life.

It’s also a tough time personally, for me and for some people in my life. One friend’s son died this week, and another friend’s father died. All this weighs heavily.

Of course it’s true that everyone’s busy, everyone deals with stress and loss and anxiety and relationship crises and time and money constraints, and everyone grapples with physical and emotional and spiritual burdens. And there are lots of ways to handle them. We talk with friends, take naps, focus on small tasks, meditate, make lists, delegate, count our blessings, and try to look on the bright side of life. We’re also encouraged to take breaks and pamper ourselves:

And then there’s exercise.

I love the image above, as it conveys how I feel about the many things exercise does for me and what it means to me: motion, joy, work, beauty, focus, control, and deep satisfaction, to name a few.

The problem, however—as we all know—is this: at precisely the times that exercise is most important and would be most helpful, it is most difficult to do. Medical and psychological literature on perceived barriers to exercise is abundant, with studies focusing on every subgroup of the population. Many of them contain suggestions for dealing with those barriers; motivational interviewing is a currently popular clinical approach (a good topic for a future blog post).

When I looked up “barriers to exercise” and googled images, I got a bunch of slogans that someone must have thought would be helpful. Here are a few of them below.

But right now, I don’t have the energy, time, or interest in pursuing motivational strategies; I’m too stressed, pressed, and downtrodden. And I have NO patience for cheery slogans… So what can I do? What am I doing?

1) I’m giving myself a pass on any activity requiring organization, planning, gear, or lots of time or energy.

Some women on my squash ladder sent out emails last week asking if people were free to play. I normally love playing squash—I returned to women’s league play last fall and it was big fun. But right now I can’t deal with the time, logistics, commitment and energy it takes to get to the gym at a certain time to play a match with another person (even one of my team mates). Well, okay then. Ditto for group rides: my friend Rachel (and guest blogger) ran a LUNA Chix road ride today, but I didn’t have the time, oomph or heart to do it. Yes, perhaps it would’ve made me feel better. But it didn’t happen. Time to be forgiving, forbearing, patient and kind to self now. This isn’t easy, but I’m trying.

 2) I’m using errands and tasks and meetups with friends as ways to sneak in a little outdoor activity, on foot and in street clothing.

One day this week I walked 1.5 miles to and from the grocery store to buy one item. Another day, I parked far enough away so to walk a mile to and from a doctor’s appointment. I took an hour walk with a friend yesterday. This afternoon I’m walking with another friend for about an hour. Tomorrow will likely be the same. Taking things one walk at a time is what I can do. And it feels pretty okay.

3) I’m reminding myself that life is change, so this period of life will give way to some other period. And experience shows that this happens more quickly than we expect. It’s the cool thing about life.

Because I really want to remain an optimist no matter what, I remember this. And keep moving, and keep writing, because both are life-sustaining.

Thanks for reading—see you all next week.

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