I’ve finally made it to my senior year – and final semester! Unfortunately, it’s not all fun and games, as we’re only two weeks in and I’m already drowning in work. I’ve tried a lot of things over my time at college to help deal with stress and keep my mind and body happy and healthy. One tried-and-true strategy for me has always been exercise.
This isn’t to say that I have a strict daily schedule with dedicated workout plans. I’ve had an up-and-down relationship with fitness in college. My freshman year I came in as being someone who was always playing some kind of sport. They had always helped me prioritize my time well, make friends and just feel good about myself. So with that same mindset, I ended up walking on as a novice on the Division I rowing team at George Mason.
I spent about two years as a DI athlete and it really is no joke. Surrounded by so many strong women in sports each day, all pushing towards one goal was really inspiring and an experience I am grateful to have had. But 5:30 a.m. wake-ups six days a week, never feeling fully recovered from the last workout while starting the next one and the feeling of immense pressure from coaches for a sport I just randomly walked into got to be a bit too much. I wasn’t feeling happy or fulfilled by exercise anymore and these feelings ended up seeping into other aspects of my life as well. I ended up leaving the team a bit after the pandemic sent us all home for a few different reasons, but a lot of it stemmed from that lack of balance in my life.
I initially welcomed the relaxed sedentary nature of staying at home throughout quarantine. After two years of constantly pushing myself to extremes, it was nice to rediscover what active things I actually liked to do. I ran and walked a lot in my neighborhood. I played tennis with my sister at the nearby park. I hiked a bunch. I did all these things on my own time, when I felt like it and it was nice.
However, of course, this was all either at the very beginning of the pandemic and into the summer, when expectations for everyone were super low and not much was going on. Once school came around again, it was a whole different story. While I no longer had rowing taking up a large portion of my time and energy, I also didn’t have a dedicated time or reason to make me want to work out.
Sitting all day at a computer in my room made it very difficult to separate work time from relaxation and rest time and two semesters with full course loads (all during still very uncertain and concerning times) contributed to some of the worst anxiety I’ve ever dealt with before. I didn’t have any motivation to do anything other than work on homework or study for hours on end and then feel like I needed to lay down and do nothing for the rest of the day.
I’m committed to not returning to a state of being like that for my last semester. While my workload has not let up in comparison to semesters past, I’m in a place now where I’ve learned what does and doesn’t work for me. A major part of that is finding those outlets where I can make sure I’m feeling good about myself, mentally and physically.
Exercise was always that outlet for me, and so now it’s about knowing when to close my laptop and head to the gym and choosing things that are also actually enjoyable. A few days ago, in fact, I signed up with a friend to do a cycling class on campus for the first time. My legs are still feeling the effects of uphill sprinting, but it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had at a workout.
So, am I in the best shape of my life? Definitely not. Am I enjoying what I’m choosing to do? Absolutely. And I think that is really the most important thing.