The Vulnerability Challenge

#TheVulnerabilityChallenge: My socially anxious struggle with fitness (Day 6)

Hayley Stanton
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Hayley Stanton

Director & Coach at Quiet Connections
Hayley shares her personal stories of feeling shy, socially anxious, ‘not good enough’ and fearfully avoiding the good things in life. Growing her confidence through coaching, gradually stretching her comfort zone and connecting with others, she now uses everything she has learned to help other people grow their confidence in her role as a coach. Hayley is passionate about connecting people with similar stories and creating safe, supportive spaces to make friends and try new things. Hayley dreams of a time when all of the strengths, skills and goodness in ‘quiet’ is recognised and appreciated as readily as being bold, gregarious, and comfortable in the spotlight is right now.
Hayley Stanton
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#TheVulnerabilityChallenge Day 6

When feeling socially anxious impacts on your physical health too

Exercise and fitness has been a huge trigger for me over the years. Comparison and fear of judgement has kept me from improving my fitness in the way I wanted.

I HATED P.E when I was at school. Sometimes I would hide in the toilets or I would be off sick. Especially on sports days. Who came up with the idea to put all of our flaws and insecurities on show and invite people to watch? Especially for those of us who aren’t very good at sports. Parents weren’t invited into school to watch us perform in a subject I might actually shine in, like English or Science! (Not that I would want people watching me in any subject but you get the point.) So being fairly rubbish at sport and not exactly popular, I was often the last person to be picked for a team. Even when I was good at something, I hated it! I once caught a ball in rounders when I was at primary school. Everyone made such a big thing of it that I thought I never ever want to do that again.

As an adult, I wanted to improve my fitness but I really struggled because I was afraid to expose my poor level of fitness. I worried about there being other people there. I compared myself to others. I thought that, because I might be out of breath after a minute on the treadmill, other people would laugh and judge me and I wouldn’t feel at all good about myself.

Joining a gym

I got a GP referral to the gym to get fitter after an injury. It was only at certain times of the day that I could go and the gym was always really busy with people who were far fitter than me. Instructors were stood around chatting and laughing amongst themselves and appeared unapproachable and I had no real idea how to use any of the equipment. I didn’t feel at all comfortable there!

Then my partner joined a smaller gym and he spoke with the owner about me who offered to show me around at a quieter time of the day. He told me when the gym was at it’s quietest and showed me how to use the equipment, coming up with a plan to help me so I felt quite comfortable going there.

Having a go at yoga

I started yoga in 2014 and joined a fairly big class, going along with a friend to have a go. Initially I felt insecure and I was looking around thinking: Am I doing this right? Will someone notice I’ve got this wrong? Why can’t I get my body in that position because everyone else seems to? But I quickly got into my own little zone, as you do in yoga. And I realised that no one was looking at me because they were all in their own zones too. So it’s the perfect activity for people who have anxiety.

Learning how to ride a bike. Again.

Cycling was a challenge. The last time I cycled was when I was around the age of ten and I just have memories of falling off of my bike in front of people I went to school with. I’ve always been told that you never forget how to ride a bike, so you think this should be easy. Well, I beg to differ. I had to re-learn how to ride a bike. I had no clue and I felt ashamed. I was really resistant and didn’t actually want to try. I was afraid of not being able to do it and looking silly. I went to a place that was quiet where people wouldn’t see me, scooting around a field practising balancing on the bike before I could even attempt to use the pedals. After a short while, I felt confident and I was able to have a nice ride around Tehidy Woods.

Going to a running group

I joined a couch to 5k running group. I turned up on the first day and there were loads of people in a room, it was really quite daunting! People seemed to break into groups and know each other. I would stand on my own and look for others who were stood alone and talk to them. The idea of running with a group of people is difficult enough to manage without the added pressure to be social beforehand. So I accepted that this is how I would choose to behave in this situation, and it was the best way for me to manage my emotions in trying this new thing.

Being anxious and not wanting to be seen has really held me back in my fitness. It’s only in the past few years that I’ve started to improve this, becoming more comfortable with being seen; less ashamed and more accepting of where my fitness level is right now.

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