Now Isn't the Time to Feel Guilty About Your Workout Routine

You're allowed to take a break, and you probably need one, too.

Whether you were a morning gym rat, an evening studio slayer, or a lunchtime runner, chances are, if you had a go-to workout schedule pre-COVID-19 outbreak, that structure that kept you sane is likely now long gone, thanks to the outstanding pandemic.

You probably searched for that old rusty set of dumbbells in the basement only to realize they weren't even a matching pair, and then came to the realization that your workouts (or soon-to-be lack thereof) were about to look ~very~ different (bye, progress! see ya, gains!). If you panicked a bit, know that you are not alone. The proof is in the back-ordered workout equipment still plaguing much of the internet.

With most of 2020 being upended, most gyms closed, and anxiety and stress at a collective high, you may find you've gained a few pounds since this all began, and you might feel totally exhausted, oh, and felt what little workout motivation you still have is waning. That's incredibly normal. It's okay, and you're okay.

"The quarantine has caused a massive shakeup in many of your regular routines and health habits," says psychologist and therapist Sheava Zadeh, Ph.D. "It is so easy to fall into a lethargic mood each day as you wait around to get back to your normal busy lifestyle." Since human beings thrive on routine, losing it can cause anger, depression, and a host of other emotional issues, says Zadeh. If you're used to working out a lot, you may believe you need to find a way to keep up with that same exercise routine despite current logistical and emotional challenges — and when you ultimately can't or don't for aforementioned barriers, you start to feel guilty that you're somehow failing, she explains. (

But, why might you be so hard on yourself about, say, sleeping in instead of crushing a 100-rep burpee challenge, despite the immense challenges of simply staying healthy during a global health pandemic?

"Physical routines give you something measurable, so when you fall off the wagon, not only are you disrupting your routines, but you are also taking away your ability to monitor progression and/or regression," says Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice, Psy.D., L.P.C. "Certainly, there's guilt when you lack the objectivity to argue with yourself. There's external pressure when you feel like you are alone in giving up on your routines and measurable goals: It's a two-fold system, and both an internal and external hit to your pride."

But when you hit pause on those feelings for a sec, you remember you're in the middle of a global pandemic, hundreds of thousands of people are dying, people are losing their jobs, parents are having to homeschool kids and work from home, singles or those who live alone are feeling more isolated than ever, and anxiety and depression are peaking. All of this is more than enough to upend anyone's routine, workout or otherwise, and when so much is at stake, it makes sense that maintaining a workout schedule just isn't a top priority for many people right now.

But if fitness is something that's important to you (and your sanity) and you've started to feel guilty about your inconsistency these last several months, there are several ways to either get back in the zone (if that's what you want) or find an alternative outlet if you just aren't ready yet.

1. Be gentle with yourself.

People often feel guilty as a result of societal (external) or self-imposed (internal) pressure, says Zadeh. After all, exercise generally rewards you with a sense of accomplishment, so without it, you might question what you have to be proud of. The pressure to accomplish something big or meaningful during quarantine is real! Your Twitter feed is probably filled with people baking banana bread and aiming to read 50 books a week or whatever (who are these people?), so you might feel like you need to use this extra "free" time to be productive too. But guess what? We're in a pandemic, and if the best you can do is a stroll around the block, that's completely okay. In fact, that's enough.

This is where self-compassion needs to come into play. "Understand that you're in the midst of a pandemic, and things are likely different for you now," says Zadeh. "You can't realistically have the same expectations [for yourself] as you did before." With that first step, you can stop beating yourself up. This isn't a failure, now or ever, especially given the current circumstances, and being kind to yourself will help alleviate the unnecessary guilt.


2. Discover the emotions behind the guilt.

"Guilt is often just a cover, with deeper emotions behind the surface," explains Zadeh. So try focusing on exactly where this guilt is coming from. Do you feel guilty about missing a workout because you think you need to change something about yourself by working out? For example, maybe you feel like you're not doing enough (physically, mentally, as a parent/partner/employee) during the pandemic, and the pressure to do "more" is weighing on your mind.

By determining the reason for your guilt, you may come to realize that it isn't the non-workout or shorter workout that's troubling you, but more so what the workout might represent to you or say about you.

(See also: Why It's Okay to Enjoy Quarantine Sometimes — and How to Stop Feeling Guilty for It)

3. Experiment with things you enjoy.

If you don't want to exercise at all because you're too stressed, anxious, worried, or depressed, that's alright, but if you aren't running as much because you're emotionally exhausted, maybe consider a leisurely walk or some yoga. You may find that what you need during quarantine is a bit different from what you needed earlier, and it'll do you good to try a few different activities or workouts to see what feels right...right now.

"There are so many workouts online these days for free, and you can always experiment," says Zadeh. "Working out should come from a place of self-love, and not as a chore." If you change your mindset toward working out as something you want to do as opposed to something you should be doing, you'll feel calmer about not doing it. In fact, you may even start to look at it as a luxury addition to your day.

4. Don't let your workout determine your self-worth.

It's understandably difficult not to let expectations of what you think you "should" be doing affect your self-worth to some degree, says Rice. "You may feel like you're not doing as much as your friend, for instance, but maybe your friend is dealing with different circumstances than you are — while you may be feeling lonely and needing to veg out on your bed, your friend may be quarantining with roommates or a significant other who monopolize all her time, and therefore needs to work out to be alone," she explains. Everyone has different ways of coping during this pandemic. If workouts aren't happening right now or just aren't giving you the same kind of comfort, Rice suggests looking for other ways to give yourself a sense of stability, whether that's through journaling, meditation, affirmations, or your relationships with your friends and loved ones. This will all help you find meaning outside your workout routine.

5. Find a new routine.

"People losing sight of their workout routines has a lot to do with inflexibility or finding rerouting to be an extra challenge," says Rice. "Research points to a connection between happiness and routine. When our established routines are interrupted, it requires a different set of skills to figure out a way to adapt or create an alternative." So, maybe your regular routine has been completely ruined, but you don't need to throw in the towel — start a new routine that has a few similar elements to your old one so that you still find a sense of comfort despite the uncertain times. For instance, if you used to wake up and walk to work with headphones on, take a walk in the park instead. If you rushed to SoulCycle every morning, consider investing in an outdoor or stationary at-home bike. Having something familiar to look forward to will help you even when everything else feels so unpredictable.

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