I’ve written before about how I use exercise to manage my mild anxiety and depression. I know I’m not alone in using exercise to manage not only my mental health, but also regular emotions. After all, if I were, rage yoga and countless motivational posters telling you to work out your anger wouldn’t exist.
Often, I use more “conventional” types of exercise – running, swimming, weightlifting…even just taking the dog for a walk and breathing some fresh air for a bit. I’ve also written before that I often struggle to motivate myself to actually go do these things.
And yes, I do take pride in being able to push myself to go put on my shoes, to hit the pavement, to jump into the deep end. But I’m also an advocate for the idea that you should do the exercise you want to do. If running isn’t your thing, don’t run. Find something else you like, and do that. And whatever that thing is, it doesn’t matter whether it’s conventional or not – just go do it. Haters gonna hate.
All this brings me to what has been my saving grace over the last couple of weeks: the humble swing set.
Every day, on my walk home from my university, I pass through my city’s botanical gardens, where a simple two-seater swing set stands by the gate. Rather impulsively, after a long and annoying day filled with interpersonal drama, thesis-writing woes, and the (then still-unfolding) election of Donald Trump, I threw my bag on the grass, plunked down in the seat, and started to swing. I hadn’t swung in a long time, and was surprised at how quickly a few pumps of my legs got me as high as the swing would go.
Something I never realized as a kid was that swinging is actually pretty physically engaging. Pumping your legs back and forth, hanging onto the chains so you don’t fall out of your seat, that slight lean back as you swing forward, pressing your chest forward as you swing back: my arms, legs, back, and abs could all feel it. Sure, it’s not weightlifting or triathlon training, and it may be a sign that I need to exercise more than I do, but I was surprised at how demanding swinging turned out to be.
It often happens to me that I don’t realize how I’m feeling until I’m moving. Exercise helps me think through problems and channel my energy into something productive. I’ve always been drawn to repetitive pursuits: knitting, swimming, running. These activities offer me a chance to tune out for a little bit. I find comfort in the repetition, which quiets the part of my brain that would normally dart around from one thought to the next, and lets me sink into more focused, calmer reflection. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that swinging back and forth does exactly the same thing. The gentle rise and fall, the rush as you swing through the lowest part of the pendulum. Easy, predictable acceleration and deceleration. I’ve returned to the swing set a few times in the last few weeks because I find it calming and cathartic. When I’m angry, a few minutes of going all-out on the swing set is a surefire way to tone down the anger and start reflecting in a way that really gets to the heart of why I’m angry, think about what I can do about a situation, or work my way through a philosophical problem I’ve encountered while working on my thesis.
But there’s another benefit to swinging that keeps me coming back to that swing set, and it’s probably the most important aspect: swinging is really, really fun. Pushing harder, seeing how high you can make the swing go, falling through the air without fear of getting hurt. Is it any wonder that children flock to swing sets? They’re exhilarating! The physical activity helps me control my emotions, surely. But doing something just for fun is pretty great, too, and I think that part of swinging is at least as beneficial as the physical activity.
Chloe is presently completing her PhD in philosophy. When she’s not busy writing, she can usually be found knitting, gardening, cooking, sewing, stargazing, or lifting heavy objects.