Is your health and fitness routine leaving you emotionally drained? Here’s how to tell

Is your health and fitness routine leaving you emotionally drained? Here’s how to tell

The last time I took a look in the mirror, there were several things I wanted to improve about myself. After spending over half an hour scrolling TikTok, I pinpointed that my hair needed a full routine – including a weekly hair oil mask and daily scalp massage. Then, I noticed that my face looked puffy and wrote down a list of extra self-care steps to try, including daily dry brushing, gua sha and lymphatic drainage massage. These thoughts started tallying up before I’d even had a chance to think about diet and fitness. Before I knew it, I was weighed down with the pressure to become ‘more well’, despite clearly not having the time to maintain any additional habits. So, after just a few days, I was emotionally exhausted from trying to keep up with my health.

When you’re emotionally exhausted, you’re already stressed and at capacity. You don’t have the control and the willpower required to achieve key health goals, and finding the energy to try again feels like a never-ending battle you know you’ll never win. So why does health – something that is supposed to make us feel and look better – drain us emotionally? We’ve spoken to some experts about how best to alleviate the self-induced pressure to be well.

Just like my desire for long, healthy and glossy hair, your health goals might come from social media trends. It’s easy to assume that TikTok influencers have a similar life and schedule as us. If they can find the time to go to the gym five days a week, why can’t you? Dr James Newman, senior lecturer in psychology at Sheffield Hallam University explains: “When we set goals according to what we see others do on social media, we might not possess the skills to maintain the behaviour needed to achieve them.  Too much information is unmotivating “If you think about it, we are flooded with information – which is exhausting in itself – and when you start pushing yourself to do things that aren’t fuelled by your internal motivation, it unconsciously sets standards impossible to keep up with.”  

It is important to remember that social media is an influencer’s highlight reel. You can use parts of their achievement as an inspiration. However, it is important to remember that while their success seems instant and easily available to you – like a before/after pic – you might fail to consider multiple building blocks that make a healthy goal. The first is your personal circumstances. “Not everyone has the same opportunity or environment to achieve health goals,” adds Newman. “Do you have the time, skills or money for healthy meal prep? The finance for a gym membership? Children to take care of? It is essential to have some perspective, choosing goals according to what is realistic for your lifestyle instead of letting trends set them for you.” In short, copying others’ goals without consideration for your personal circumstance or internal motivations is why you’re bound to feel emotionally drained and fail.  

It’s Monday and you’re feeling really motivated. But by the time Wednesday comes around, life gets in the way; come 4pm, you’ve given up. This all-or-nothing approach is another way that will drain your emotional battery. “We always start with the best intentions, but because we are so extreme with our health goals, we quickly get overwhelmed. When we can’t stick to a goal straight away, we internalise it as a failure and become demotivated,” says Katie Forbes, a life and mindset coach based in London. 

“Whether it is committing to a daily gym workout when you start from zero or making a dramatic dietary intervention, it’s inevitable that you’re going to fall short because this mindset is very black-and-white – an all-or-nothing approach. But the truth is, there’s a grey territory in the middle that is a lot more realistic.” Forbes continues: “We need to realise that instant, overnight gratification isn’t realistic. Any type of health goal will require time, patience, and consistency. With social media, we don’t see the discipline that goes behind achieving a goal. Therefore, it’s important to scale yours back into something small and realistic that will easily work around your lifestyle.” Perhaps what is emotionally draining is trying to adapt our lifestyle to fit with our health goals, when really, we should be making them work around our daily stress fluctuation.

Don’t let social media trends be the only inspiration behind your health goal. Forbes always tells her clients: “Sit with yourself, be honest, and ask yourself ‘why’ five times.  “This will help you dig deep into the value and motivation attached to a goal. Remember that your definition of success can still be success, even if it looks different from what you see online.” This popular productivity method can also be applied to your health goals. SMART stands for: Anjali Mehta Chandar, a CBT psychotherapist at Brighter Life Therapy tells Stylist: “It is essential to be really specific with your health goals to make it achievable. A SMART goal tracked weekly will help you do this.” 

So let’s take a goal of improving gut health. You might want to do it because you’re sick of feeling bloated. You know you eat too fast, and want to know if little bouts of acne are gut-related and require you to have more energy.  A SMART goal might be to aim for 30 plants a week. If you barely eat 10 at the moment, cut that in half and start small with 15 plants.  You can measure that by keeping a log in your phone of all the plants you eat during the day. By the end of the week, see if you’ve eaten 15. Plan where to buy the plants from. Go for frozen fruit and tinned legumes. Think about non-perishable cupboard staples like rice and oats.  Do you have kitchen space for these plants? Is your diary full of dinners and social events that might get in the way? Plan around them so you’re able to eat more plants at home on the days you are free. Set aside time to evaluate the week’s plant intake on a Sunday, but also monthly when you can assess how your gut has reacted. How long will it take to notice?

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