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Shifting the Bar – Continuing Self-Care through Difficult Times

It would be an understatement to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected how we conduct our daily lives. Many businesses are closed, and many are not operating at full capacity. Specifically, gyms were affected due to people's proximity and the various surfaces you touch while working out. The gyms closing affected me dearly. I encourage my clients to utilize the gym and physical fitness activities as a form of self-care.  Lifting weights for me is the primary way I engage in self-care. I have learned to overcome and adapt my workouts without the Olympic heavy weight bar and plates, only accessible at the gym, to still fulfill my self-care needs. However, I realized what it was about lifting weights that was so appealing to me; that has me doing it consistently since the age of 14. I also discovered it as another outlet for my partner and I to intentionally connect as we have encouraged and motivated each other during our workouts.   

When the pandemic shut down first occurred, I was still coming to grips with the severity COVID-19 presented to our health and society. I felt selfish, wanting the gym to stay open, knowing my chances of contracting COVID-19 could be high there. I started to think differently about the situation as one of opportunity. For so long, my workouts relied on going to the gym, so it became a test of my accumulated years of knowledge to make a shift for what to do at home.  I had to adapt. I was fortunate to stumble across used dumbbells and an exercise bike that have become the foundation of my home workouts. I also discovered many gyms and fitness apps were offering extended free trials to their library of workouts. Although I did not have a complete set of dumbbells, I supplemented with resistance bands and bodyweight exercises to simulate many of the movements I had become accustomed to in the gym. 

Reflecting on how I could adapt and update my workouts made me think about all the times I have suggested for clients to begin an exercise regimen. When we as clinicians make recommendations, I believe we sometimes do so without considering the feasibility of adherence. Exercise can serve to enhance overall mood, promote social connection, and improve one's physical health. Starting any exercise routine can be difficult depending on the person's experience, so merely suggesting beginning one without guidance or direction can be thoughtless. Providing information can range from sharing local gyms, physical trainers, or different types of local recreational sports leagues. Not everyone has access to these options. However, it is essential to promote problem-solving and creativity to keep goals alive. 

One aspect I have missed about working out in the gym is the social aspect. I did not realize, until I could not go, the number of fellow gym-goers I interacted with daily. These interactions ranged from simple nods, saying hello, offering spots on lifts, or full-blown conversations about working out in general. My partner and I routinely went to the gym together but did not work out together. That quickly changed as we began our home workouts together. Working out with my partner has allowed us to connect intentionally. I highly recommend incorporating this dedication to health to couples who are looking to connect.  This can also be achieved through friends connecting over shared health goals (virtually inside, or in outdoor activities with a safe distance).  We certainly struggled together and helped motivate each other as we transitioned to having more time around each other over the last year. I certainly still miss the gym but carving out space for myself to grow and adapt in my preferred method of self-care has helped me continue to stay connected to myself fundamentally. Adjusting the engagement of your self-care activities could help get you to a new bar. 

Omar Diaz, M.A. 

Psychotherapist 

CORE – Center of Relational Empowerment, PC 

[email protected]

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