You’ve all heard it before: exercise releases chemicals in your brain, commonly known as endorphins, which help to decrease your perception of pain and actually make you happy. Yeah yeah yeah…does it really though?
For as long as I can remember, I have always been a happy person. Not annoyingly happy, or unrealistically happy, but you could say that I’m generally in a good mood the majority of the time. As a child it was not uncommon to find me frolicking around the island in my family’s kitchen while humming some random song, practicing my pirouettes…you get the picture. Neurologically speaking, my brain is a happy one. I’m not sure if this is because of genetics or because I grew up in a stable, loving environment or simply because I didn’t deal with much stress as a child, but overall it takes a lot to get me down and keep me down.
Why so happy you may ask? It could be that I grew up in a safe little rural town in Vermont, or that I had two incredibly kind and loving parents, or that I was able to dance every day of the week and had a close group of friends whom I could rely on, I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that this naturally happy demeanor continued to carry on as a distinctive part of my personality much throughout college and into my adult life. That was, until a few years ago, when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was 24 at the time, my mother 55, and I have to say this was the first major thing I had ever dealt with outside of losing my grandfather my freshman year of high school. It was big, it was life threatening, and it was scary.
The next few years of my family’s life was filled with many ups and downs. From chemo treatments, to countless surgeries, to being cancer free, to being re-diagnosed, to more chemo, to radiation, and to finally realizing that this cancer was abnormally aggressive. Despite all the steps we had taken, despite all of the willpower and strength my mother had in fighting it, it was going to get the best of her. On November 29th, 2014, my mom passed away after fighting valiantly for five and a half years. My life was and would forever be completely different without her.
During the last few months of her life, my family and I all lived together as her caretakers. It was the hardest, most challenging thing I have ever done. During that time there were two things I made sure I did every day to keep myself from falling into a deep depression. I got outside, and I did something active. Whether that was going for a run, hitting the gym, taking a yoga class, going for a hike, or giving myself my own AKT class, I took that one hour to do something for myself. To clear my mind. To forget my current situation, even for a moment. As much as I didn’t want to on certain days, I found that I always felt better after I sweat. Even if it was short lived, it made a difference.
I share this with you only because I know that life is hard. It’s a rollercoaster filled with unpredictable situations that you cannot control. While it is beautiful and joyous, it can also be painstakingly difficult and heartbreaking. During this time, especially the months leading up to and following her death, I fought with everything in my being to wake up every day and live my life the way she would want me to. With a positive mind and open heart. I didn’t feel like my normal self, but I knew as long as I got myself out of bed and to my workout (or in my case, to work) I would feel like Emily again. And I did. Even if it was only for a few hours, I had a place where I felt like me. And I can truly say that being active helps me cope with it almost two years later. I feel better after I’ve sweat. I feel ready to take on the day and anything that may come my way. So, my advice to you is this, no matter what challenges you may be facing, large or small, make time for your workout and have faith that treating your body with love and care will help you more than you would ever expect. Even if all you have time for is 15 minutes on the treadmill. Get your body moving, your blood flowing and let those happy little chemicals flow! It most certainly works for me. I hope it does for you too!
Sweat for a good cause with us this November! Join Emily Mara’s charity classes in honor of Emily’s mother and in support of those affected by Breast Cancer. A portion of all proceeds will go directly towards Breast Cancer Research.