How movement healed my relationship with my body and mind

With January upon us, many of us look to make New Year’s Resolutions and changes to our lives in the hopes of reaping the rewards. Whilst it can be great for our wellbeing to set goals, some of us might find resolutions surrounding diet and exercise damaging to our mental health. Tierney talks us through how she used the power of movement to positively impact her mood and dissociated the concept of exercising purely to change your body or look a certain way.

Trigger warning: This article talks about eating and exercise


This time of year can be difficult for so many reasons – it’s the post-Christmas slump, the return to work is upon us, it’s dark and gloomy, and everyone is talking about their New Year’s resolutions. So often these are to hit the gym and lose weight, which can be accompanied by feelings of guilt, shame, and self-consciousness when you inevitably polish off the tin of Celebrations and skip a day of exercise.

Whilst it’s perfectly okay to have these resolutions, I encourage you to consider why you’re committing to them. I want to share my mental health journey with you to show you that you can get so much more out of exercise than simply losing weight and getting fitter. Hopefully, this will inspire you to think about your resolutions a little more, and help you shift your mindset into one that’s more helpful.

My childhood and adolescence, like so many people, were filled with confusion and frustration about what was happening to my body. Genetically, my family is full of curvy women, which can be a difficult thing to come to terms with when you’re coming of age.

"I was one of the first in my peer group to have a growth spurt and start developing as a woman, to the point I even towered above the boys. My tummy and thighs started to grow, whilst my confidence dwindled."

– Tierney

I became very self-conscious about every aspect of myself as I developed – I didn’t want to eat at school, I’d turn bright red when speaking up, and I hid behind baggy clothes. I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb.

At the same time, I had no education on mental health as it was simply something that wasn’t discussed at home. I remember trying to talk to the women in my family about how unhappy I had become in my body and the things I saw as flaws, and I was completely dismissed and ignored. Of course, the conversations, or lack thereof, didn’t end there, and so I grew up with very little support and knowledge around mental wellbeing. Looking back, I now understand I was struggling with social anxiety throughout school and left unaddressed, it was allowed to take its toll on my wellbeing and body image.

My mental health began to spiral out of control during the pandemic and the loss of my nan, who was like another mum to me. She had been unwell for several years, going almost completely blind and later being diagnosed with cancer. For years, she came first. She was grieving the loss of her sight, and as a family we rallied around to support her both physically and mentally. I didn’t for a second mind caring for her, but without any emotional literacy, my own mental health was abandoned, and I didn’t know how to care for it.

With the fear and uncertainty of the pandemic looming alongside the death of my nan, I fell apart with no foundation to lean on. I became depressed with grief and crippled by anxiety, which were two things I didn’t even know about at the time.

"I was fearful of big crowds to the point that going out to the supermarket or using public transport was a real challenge. Once we were able to make plans and see friends again, I found even the thought of going somewhere new far too overwhelming."

– Tierney

These feelings grew to the point I was getting panic attacks most days and started experiencing dissociation, which I believe was a way for my mind to protect itself from these intense feelings of anxiety. Through all this I also somehow managed to hold down a job, although it wasn’t easy through panic attacks and dissociative episodes. I had no choice but to start taking medication and attend therapy, which made me feel defeated and broken.

Exercise came into my life with my flat mate’s suggestion to do yoga together in lockdown since she could see how much I was struggling. I enjoyed it so much and threw myself into it, finding loads of great videos to follow, practicing almost every day and even taking on 30-day challenges to push myself.

"When my mental health starts to dip, I start taking it out on my looks. My confidence is one of the first things to waver, being replaced with self-consciousness and, of course, general anxiety. One of the best preventatives I’ve found is movement."

– Tierney

Since yoga is a very mindful form of exercise, I found the benefits to be immense. I was of course improving my general fitness, but I was also building the foundations of my wellbeing by ‘looking inward’. I was paying attention to how my body and mind connected through these movements, how it made me feel and how it dispelled negative thoughts and energy. It was also a really great way to regain my confidence by seeing what my body could do, and how I was improving with regular practice.

Now, I try to focus on having fun, listening to what movement my body is craving, and calming my mind when exercising. For me, this means switching it up with different styles of yoga, dance workouts or a simple walk along the canal. Not taking things too seriously has been a game changer – I used to get frustrated and defeated if I fell out of a yoga pose or found something difficult today that I could do with ease yesterday. I’ve learnt to smile, laugh it off, and move forward to keep that positive mindset around movement.


"I would step onto my mat feeling overwhelmed and disconnected from my body, and with just a few minutes of mindful movement, I was finding mental clarity for the first time in a long time."

– Tierney

As a woman, my body is constantly in flux which can be discouraging when working on your body image. I’m certainly not free from the clutches of self-consciousness, but I’m much more able to remind myself of the power and grace within myself because I’ve seen and experienced it through movement. Alongside therapies and medication, movement has been a vital part in my mental health journey to help me regain control of my mind and reunite it with my body.

So, my New Year’s resolution is to connect to my femininity, dispel negativity and find joy and peace through movement. I urge anyone looking to make a resolution this year, especially if it surrounds diet and exercise, to be sure they are making one for the right reasons, such as to benefit their mental health, and not to fit into a certain expectation or ‘ideal’ society poses.

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