Exercise: a case of mind over matter

Our Research & Information Manager, Bridey, shares how overcoming fears and anxieties is a case of mind over matter.

If you had told me a few years ago that in 2019, cycling would be my default way of commuting the 12 miles each way to work and I would be actively seeking out opportunities to go skiing, I would have never believed you – I was terrified of both.

I stopped cycling as a teenager after several difficult experiences (overwhelming peer pressure; embarrassment of not being able to keep up) which damaged my self-confidence and self-esteem, if not my physical health. The first time I tried skiing, I accidentally found myself on a black run in a snowstorm. Although my fellow-skiers and I laughed as we slid down the slope bouncing from tree to tree (mostly on our behinds), I was also petrified. Consequently, getting on a bike brought me out in a cold sweat and sent my heart rate rocketing. Skiing for a long time (and still occasionally now) brought about a similar reaction – I would have panic attacks and experiences of vertigo, usually halfway down the side of the mountain!

Like many other people, my fear of both these activities stems from a complex interaction of different fears and anxieties rooted in such early experiences. Experiences of injuring myself left me frightened of feeling out of control, of falling, being injured or damaged by other people. My anxieties about these sports also related to the damage to my self-confidence during my vulnerable teenage years. As a result, I didn’t believe I could overcome these issues. I was certain that I would never be good enough to get where I wanted to go uninjured and in good time. I felt uncomfortable exercising in public and having never identified myself as particularly sporty, I found it difficult to adopt this new identity.

The most common reasons people state for not getting on their bike or for never trying sports like skiing are danger and safety and this is certainly a reasonable fear. You can’t learn to do either of these activities without falling and everyone I know who cycles regularly has been in at least one traffic accident. What I have learnt though after several years of perseverance, is that you can conquer your fear – you just need to stick with it. It truly is a case of mind over matter. Through tears, tantrums and gritted teeth, I have stuck with it. I can now fly down a hill on my bike without holding tightly to the breaks. I can navigate my way down most ski-runs without turning the air blue. I have helped teach my step-son to ski (and love it). I have survived falling down and have got back up. Now, I truly believe cycling to be the fastest (quicker than traffic jams or public transport), most efficient (can go straight home, no need for the gym), and most enjoyable way of getting to work. And as for skiing, I can overcome a bad day and go on to push myself harder the next day – skiing faster, farther and for longer than before. And I am very proud of that!

How do you overcome potential anxieties and fears? Share your tips and ideas on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram by using #fit150.