The Ladies of the Gym

The Ladies of the Gym

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Stress


The Ladies of the Gym

After my retirement, I was edgy, tired and was developing a few aches and pains — probably arthritis, because, after all, I was old. I was retired, wasn’t I? I knew I was stressed, but unaware of a new kind of stress insidiously revealing itself when I stopped working. I was no longer trying to balance children, career and all the usual worries and irritants (joys too, of course) involved: too much work, too many people, too many demands, and so on. That was my old life. Although annoying and aggravating, hassles such as those were not the only villains that produce stress.

It was too quiet. It was too peaceful and I was... yes... bored. I found myself wandering around the house, worrying about all the chores that I could and should be doing now that I had “the time,” but invariably put off because, well, there was no hurry, no deadline, no emergency. Apathy had set in big-time. I realized that although most people associate hyperactivity and agitation with stress, my present state of lethargy was a big, red flag. I came to the conclusion that I was suffering from this new (to me) kind of stress. It was invading my life and I’d better deal with it.

We all know the many ways that are recommended for dealing with stress: deep breathing, yoga, a nice, long, restful vacation, doing good deeds for others, and exercise. I chose exercise. I was trying not to listen to what my brain was telling me — something like, “You? Work out? Hah!” True, I do not enjoy that ritual, the phenomenon that has overtaken so many in recent years, called “going to the gym.” Being an RN, I know how vital exercise is for our overall health and wellbeing, but something about relying on machines to tone us, slim us, and awaken those endorphins in our overburdened brains simply wasn’t my thing. I liked the natural approach, such as a simple daily walk, dancing or washing windows. But I was not doing any of those things and knew I was in trouble. Drastic measures were called for! Hence the gym. And what happened there surprised even me, old and seasoned as I was.

The first day at the gym, which catered to women, I received the usual instructions, then silently but unhappily put in my half hour and went home. The second day I looked around and noticed a few women who had been there the day before. The third day I hesitantly began to speak, commenting on the weather and other such bland subjects. Day after day the same women were there and I began to think of them as “the ladies of the gym.”

One day somebody commented on a shocking event in the news that morning. Suddenly we were all talking at once, sharing our opinions, some a little more cautiously than others. But as time went on, we all became fearless in speaking about almost everything.

I began to look forward to sharing the day’s news with “the ladies.” It became apparent that after our workouts — during which we vented, sometimes vehemently, sometimes more delicately — I began to feel more relaxed. The tension in my shoulders lessened, and my constant fatigue had all but disappeared. True, exercise can and does have this effect. But my eagerness to get to the gym had very little to do with the workout and had very much to do with the anticipation of discussing the news and the camaraderie that ensued.

My funny, outspoken, irascible ladies! At first, they were just the ladies at the gym. Now they are my personal antidote for stress. They put a smile on my face and a spring in my step. They make me laugh. They make me think. They make me care. They make me come to the gym each day and love it! The ladies of the gym are now my friends.

As I write this, it is early morning. I am sitting at my kitchen table with a cup of coffee, relaxed and almost stress-free, eagerly planning the things I will accomplish this day and of course gathering up juicy tidbits from the TV news to discuss... no... to rant and rave about later today with the ladies of the gym.

~ Catherine Ring Saliba ~

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