We Spend So Much Time In The Gym But Totally Ignore Our Mental Health

by Zara Barrie

Our generation has a die-hard, no-holds-barred, deep-rooted, relentless obsession with anything and everything pertaining to fitness and diet.

It's a different style of "dieting" from the 80s, when the intention and obsession was strictly about rapid weight loss: Diet coke, artificial sweeteners, diet pills and frozen 300-calorie meals were peppered throughout perfect little pantries all across the nation.

Back then, not a single entity (okay, maybe a few progressive Bohemians nesting somewhere in Northern California) seemed to care about the toxic ingredients residing in their food, as long as it was "low-calorie" and promised to provide a quick-fix shortcut to those coveted size-zero high-waisted jeans -- it was shamelessly going into bodies.

Anything went, as long as it staved off that pesky ol' appetite.

Today, the desire to attain an unattainable body is as deeply dire and as bitingly real as it was in the 80s.

Only the methods of getting "there" (wherever the f*ck “there” is) has taken a dramatic turn in a vastly different direction.

We've traded in the ephedra-packed diet pills for kale juice cleanses.

The new weight-loss trend is "health."

It's an epic, ever-increasing trend invading the fine country of America with such a fierce intensity -- it's practically impossible to overlook.

No gluten. No GMOs. No sugar. Just raw kale. Organic everything. Whole foods. Iron supplements. Paleo. Perpetual juicing and weeks upon weeks of cleansing.

We're absolutely obsessed with being “healthy.” And this trend doesn't come to a screeching halt at just food.

Long gone are the days of watching our lovely moms move their leotard-adorned bodies around the living room, barely breaking a sweat whilst “working out” to a gentle Jane Fonda workout tape.

Now if you don't have a "class pass," you're practically ostracized from society. Same with SoulCycle. Pilates. CrossFit. Yoga. Barre class. Yogalates.

Now please, grant me the opportunity to kindly disclaim:

It's a glorious thing to pay attention to your physical health. It's of the utmost importance that we are hyper-aware of what we put into our precious bodies. After all, we must treat our bodies like the shining temples they are.

But how much of our generation's obsession with “health” is authentic, and how much of it is just a glorified method to help us achieve this weird, elusive, Photoshopped idea of physical perfection?

Because if our health was as genuinely important to us as we claim it to be, wouldn't we care as much about the inside as we do the outside? The spectrum of health far surpasses just the physical.

We are missing one giant, crucial piece of the great health puzzle: emotional well-being.

We're obsessed with our outer health, yet we completely neglect our mental health.

We might be a generation that has actually developed a palate for kale (no easy feat), but we're also suffering from relentless panic and anxiety.

Half of my friends suffer from panic disorder. The other half have battled depression. Some of us -- myself included -- fight both.

We're the most medicated generation yet. We're constantly adhering a giant f*cking Band-Aid to our deep-set emotional wounds because we're so terrified to take a look at the infection and confront what's really wrong.

But how can you properly treat an infection if you don't even know what the infection is and how it came to be?

How can you figure out what's giving you the heart-palpitating electric bolts of anxiety when you keep Xanaxing the anxiety away?

We bury our problems so deeply under the surface of our skin -- we don't let them come up for air.

We don't allow the feelings to wash over us because we're so f*cking afraid to feel.

We drop hundreds of dollars on gym memberships, but we refuse to pay for therapy.

Talk therapy works wonders. Sitting with a professional and letting it all out in a safe environment is so incredibly powerful and healing. Sometimes just saying the words out loud is what sets you beautifully free.

I've experienced the incredible healing power of talk therapy, and it's been a game changer for me. I can't imagine attempting to navigate the murky waters of the last few years without it.

I've found so much solace while tucked into the couch in my trusted therapist's office, and my friends have definitely noticed the positive changes.

Yet every single time I suggest therapy to friends who are sorely struggling with some very painful, very deep-seated issues, they always respond the same exact way:

"Oh, it's too expensive."

Look, I get it -- therapy isn't cheap. Even with insurance, when you're sifting through the dark clouds of your 20s, paying that $25 copay can seem daunting.

Yet some of those same friends who refuse to invest in therapy are the exact people who invest in weekly salon blowouts and bimonthly juice cleanses.

Rarely do we ever blink a mascara-adorned eye after throwing down hundreds of dollars on gym memberships, expensive workout apparel, velvet textured lipsticks at Sephora and a lifetime supply of organic, grass-fed chicken from Whole Foods (aka Whole Paycheck).

While I'm in no way shaming people who spend a lot of money on their physical health and appearance (trust me, my monthly Sephora bills are through the roof), it's not exactly helping us confront the hurt that is destroying us from within.

We're happy to look at ourselves on the outside, but we're afraid to see ourselves on the inside.

I used to think if I looked good enough, the inside would follow suit. That if I could paint a pretty enough picture for the outer world, it would permeate through my skin, and my insides would one day be as pretty as the surface.

It took me too long and too many harrowing bouts of deep depression to realize it doesn't quite work that way. You have to look within.

The best thing I ever did for myself was cut out a few nights per week of going out, switch out my $20 weekly barre class and, instead, invest in therapy.

Therapy gave me tools that I can actively use, tools that help me manage days that used to feel unmanageable.

We commit to weekly workouts, but we don't commit to getting better.

When I first started therapy, I held out a good four sessions before I called it quits. I couldn't make the commitment to getting better.

Why? Because it's hard.

It's not easy to look at yourself in the mirror in an honest, real way. We're not used to looking beyond the superficial and breaking down the piercing pain beneath it all.

It's hard to confront the trauma that left us with unhealed scars. It's hard to open up old wounds and feel the sting of the past. Sometimes just feelings, in general, are hard.

Working out is fundamentally easier. You run on the treadmill for X amount of minutes, and you will get X results, right? Put a certain amount of calories into your body, and you will see a noticeable difference.

Mental health, however, can be a bit more complicated. Sometimes you have to take a step back to take a giant leap forward. Some days, progress feels stagnant, regardless of how hard you've worked.

But anything of great value is only ever attained through hard work, right? And what is of greater value than the quality of your life?

Therapy is the most empowering commitment you can make because it's a commitment to yourself.

When you scrape away the makeup and the perfect barre-class body, what's left? You.

We tend to our appearance, but we're not even kind to ourselves.

Oh the negative self-talk. I've struggled with this one -- big time.

The endless verbal abuse we frivolously bestow upon ourselves:

"You're so fat. You're so stupid. You're so irresponsible. How could you f*ck up like that you stupid f*cking idiot?"

I used to repeat these horrible mantras to myself throughout the day. It's like I was in a toxic, highly abusive relationship -- only I was my own abuser.

Until I learned one of the most valuable, life-changing lessons I could ever learn: Would I ever talk to my best friend in the same cruel, vicious way I talk to myself if she made one stupid mistake?

I have two words: F*ck. No.

I would, instead, assure her that her mishap was a mere bump in the massive road of life and remind her of all the amazing, badass things she's accomplished thus far.

I would be gentle and caring and loving and supportive.

If we wouldn't talk to our best friend in such a horrible, sorely destructive way, why do we think it's okay to talk to ourselves like that?

We “cleanse” out the toxins, but we don't clear out the pain.

Oh, the cleanse. Whether it's three days or three weeks, we're subjecting ourselves to a span of time in which we choose liquids over meals. Why?

To clear out those pesky toxins, right?

The trouble is no juice cleanse is strong enough to flush out the most destructive toxins of all: stress, pain, anxiety, sadness, heartbreak.

Everyone needs an emotional outlet. A cleanse won't clear away the feelings that hurt.

You need to talk it out. Draw it out. Write it out. Sing it out. Cry it the f*ck out. Whatever works for you.

And always remember, if you're feeling lonely in the struggle and don't know where to turn for help, there are so many more resources out there than you could ever even imagine.

Don't ever let pools of shame or shards of humility stop you from getting the help you deserve, for your mental health is at the root of your physical health.

Tend to it with utmost care, lovelies.

You can let the pain silently fester inside of you, or you can take the reigns and begin to heal again.

*If you are in need of mental help and ready to take the first step toward getting better, here is one of MANY places you can go to seek professional help:

Mental Health