'Exercising has helped me to overcome severe social anxiety and build long-lasting confidence in myself.' - Stephen Lynch
PureGym member, Stephen Lynch, shares his own story of living with severe social anxiety and how going to the gym not only helped him with his mental illness but in many other ways...
My name's Lynchie, I'm 27 and I have been a member of Pure Gym for the best part of two years. Before then I'd been a member of other gyms for around five years where I had trained with much less focus and purpose than I do now.
Exercising at Pure Gym has helped me substantially in several ways, particularly in pushing me outside of my comfort zone to overcome severe social anxiety and to build long-lasting confidence in myself that was previously lacking.
When I was a teenager I was quite introverted and withdrawn in most situations, very anxious about expressing myself and speaking to people. All of which of course left me very frustrated.
From time to time I've also had to have counselling for depression arising from a very poor self-esteem.
After graduating from university and managing to get a good job in my field I was still experiencing this frustration and paralysing feeling that I couldn't be myself. But this began to turn round when I discovered there was a gym close-by to my office and the tube station at Victoria.
I began to go to PureGym London Victoria and found quickly that I enjoyed spending the hours there particularly after work, although most of the time I had my music plugged in and kept to myself.
It wasn’t until a year later since I started working out at the gym that I even spoke to anyone in the gym.
I began asking PTs how to do certain exercises I struggled with and challenging myself to complete tougher workouts to get better results.
The real turning point came when I forced myself to face my social anxiety by going to the popular Circuits class at London Victoria on a Tuesday morning before work.
Two years or so later, these decisions to push myself in the gym, both physically and mentally, have helped me to develop and challenge myself in other areas - particularly with having a much more optimistic, positive outlook and building resilience and strength to cope with occasional bouts of depression. The approachable staff and members at PureGym have helped me to be confident enough to say hello to people and talk to them there and exchange stories and experiences of fitness. I also try to meditate every morning either first thing or on the Tube if I'm early enough. Like anything, I think you have to be consistent with this to realise any benefits.
At the very early period of attending these classes I remember almost always arriving just when the warm up had begun. Looking back, I think I did this subconsciously so I could avoid any awkwardness of not feeling like I could talk to people just before the class starts.
Now, I feel completely different. I am very early to the classes and enjoy chatting, joking around and sharing my good mood with people before the class begins.
I have changed so much I am even ribbed by my gym buddies for being the person who just goes and talks to people in the gym rather than working out! Forcing myself to do this at the beginning and doing things like acting classes and impromptu speeches, I have been inspired to help others by coaching them in public speaking as a part of this process.
I've improved my deadlift PB to around 140-160kg for 7-10 reps. My heaviest leg press is now north of 400kg (4 times my body weight) thanks to one of my training partners Graham. I can now lift around 30kg in shoulder presses at least 100 times with other insane exercises like burpees having improved my fitness in Circuits class. No one accomplishment yet stands out because I think I can still push myself further and really break through barriers. I'm going to have a white collar boxing match in November to raise money for the NSPCC so a victory there and meeting my fundraising goal will make me very proud!
The featured photo is of me in a fancy dress leotard referencing the film Cool Runnings for a Christmas Spin class we all had last year at Victoria Pure Gym. I am very grateful that I chose this gym and that my experiences here help me overcome mental health challenges and to fulfill my potential outside of it.
You don't have to suffer in silence
An increasing number of UK citizens experience mental health issues, such as high levels of anxiety, stress and depression. According to NHS Digital, 'at any one time, a sixth of the population in England aged 16 to 64 have a mental health problem'1. Research by the NHS has also found that 'one-in-four adults and one-in-ten children experience mental illness during their lifetime'2.
Exercise is one of the ways to cope with mental health issues and boost mental wellbeing as we've seen with Stephen. It can be a powerful stress buster and anti-depressant which can be both preventative and therapeutic for mental health for all ages, and can help bring a 'improved quality of life through social interaction, meaningful use of time, purposeful activity, improved self-esteem and reduced stress and anxiety 3, which are important factors when looking after your overall health.
'Even small increases in physical activity could have important physical health benefits, as well as enhancing quality of life'.4
'Physical activity may [also] enhance sleep quality which in turn improves wellbeing'.4
Studies have found that 'a single session of 50 minutes moderate intensity aerobic exercise was found to reduce pre-sleep anxiety and improve sleep in patients with chronic primary insomnia'.5
Staying active is important not just for your physical wellbeing but also mental wellbeing.
If you think you have, or might know someone closely who has experienced feeling depressed for more than a few weeks or if your anxiety is affecting your daily life, please seek out for help from someone you can talk to whether it's a family member, friend, or GP. Know that you are not alone and don't have to suffer in silence.
3 Alexandratos K, Barnett F & Thomas Y (2012). The impact of exercise on the mental health and quality of life of people with severe mental illness: a critical review. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 75(2) p. 48-60.
5 Passos GS, Poyares D, Santana MG, Garbuio SA, Tufik S & Mello MT (2010). Effect of acute physical exercise on patients with chronic primary insomnia. Journal of clinical sleep medicine : JCSM : official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 6(3) p. 270-5.