COLUMN: Exercise can give perspective on major life stress

Barry Kehoe's colleague, Joanne Dowds gives her view

Barry Kehoe


Barry Kehoe


COLUMN: Exercise can give perspective on major life stress

File photo

This week's article is written by Barry's colleague Joanne Dowds, MISCP.

Taking a break from putting Ikea furniture together, I sit on the floor surveying my house. This is the last piece of furniture, the place is technically now fully furnished. It is a long way from where I started with two camp chairs with bin bags for curtains.

This final push included emotionally blackmailing a sister to help me pick out a wardrobe for the second bedroom. She spent a fair bit of the time telling me that we weren't going to fit in my 14-year-old three-seater but we did — just about — more by serendipity than any actually planning on my part.

I convinced a neighbour to help bring the unmanageable load through the front door and the composite parts are now scattered around the house. This place was less a labour of love and more extreme penance with excessive additional use of my overdraft facility. It has occupied lots of waking moments and nothing will bring my stress levels to a squeaky peak quicker than if something goes awry within these four walls.

When the house was in an absolute state pre innovation, the gym was where I went practically every day for showers, but also to work through the particular house-related issue of the day.

Sweating on a gym mat kept me ‘relatively’ sane. I get asked regularly now if I am happy with how the house has worked out, after it has settled down and the answer has to be a yes.

It was a good financial decision, the majority of the pain is hopefully behind me but, janey, every now and again (particularly when something breaks) I wish I was still renting and could ring someone to sort it, breeze out for a coffee and not think about the potential implications. But the house hasn’t felt like my home until very recently.

In the last few weeks, I have had some plumbing issues. In the hours while waiting for the plumber to call round, diagnose and find a remedy, I went straight to muscle-clenching catastrophizing terror at the potential financial impact.

So I took a breath and thought what would make this indeterminable waiting easier, and turned to exercise. I went to the gym.

It worked. Movement again helped establish some order to my thinking, I could sort my worries into a rational list. I worked off the pent up negative energy, but the ordered list of worries were still there.

Some places, people or things can feel like home immediately. The instant whole body recognition of sameness can be terrifying or exhilarating. Sometimes I go running toward a newfound sudden enthusiasm or bolt away with all the speed and guile of a startled sheep.

I remember the first yoga class I ever attended, in a church hall in Rathgar, the year I started working. I found joy in the slow repetitive patterns of movement, and the level of clear headedness I felt afterward. Enthusiastically talking about it the following day, a colleague told me it could be a life long challenge and so far it has been. Occasionally I step away, get busy, get caught up but I have always come back. The sense of belonging is still there, and it brings me home to myself. Isn’t that what a sense of home allows — returning to comfort by instinct, to a known?

After sorting my worries into a rational list, I went to a yoga class which enabled me to put the mental list of worries down.

Two forms of exercise in the one day wouldn’t be normal for me, but for that day it was a good choice. When I returned to my place, I still had problems but was without the anxiety I had left with that morning. The shadow of the old house still exists in my memory; where walls, damp patches and rotten floorboards were located. They are less vivid, fading, I’m not sure if they will ever go completely.

But after some exercise-related insight, I could see the progress — not perfect by any means but lots of movement forward. Exercise gives me the ability to have perspective on it, as it did during the renovation and as it does now dealing with issues including those of being a home owner. The path that has taken me from where it was to where it is, strewn with swear words, tears, learning and on occasion hysterical laughter. But it was worth it.

Local physio and Newbridge AC member, Barry Kehoe offers advice to runners of all levels. See