Written by Ali Carruthers, Senior Marketing Manager at ParticipACTION
Becoming a new parent during the best of times is life-altering. Becoming a new parent during a global pandemic is a whole other ball game.
In my previous life, I was a competitive athlete, a social butterfly, working in a creative career, a sports fan, a foodie, a lover of the downtown scene and more. Enter March 2020, and I was a new mom in the suburbs with few distractions or changes of scenery available to me.
To take back some control during that time, I started painting rooms, baseboards, shelves and even outdoor things at home. I painted until there was nothing left to paint, my newborns were toddlers and the world started to open up again. Despite life becoming more normal, I wasn’t myself. I was officially stuck in a rut.
To shake things up, I signed up for tennis lessons. What started as a way to just get out of the house turned into something transformative and lasting.
Tennis pulled me out of being stuck in a rut and improved my life at home and at work in several ways:
1. I’m just me when I’m there (nobody’s mom, partner or colleague). I love being a mom, partner and employee, but it turns out that I also sometimes love not being these things. I’m my own person when I play tennis, with no one else’s needs in mind.
2. It’s a scheduled physical activity, so I stick to it. As a working mom, I can cross off “leisure” and “physical activity” with a one-hour time block that I can pre-schedule. That’s a win! Picking a time to exercise that fits into your daily life and scheduling activities in advance are both proven strategies for making physical activity routines stick.
3. I’ve re-discovered my competitive edge. I can be nurturing and raise kind and caring kids while also embracing my competitive side and playing with intensity and a desire to win. They’re not mutually exclusive. Playing competitive sports as an adult is proven to improve focus, determination and ability to keep cool under pressure. I’m a believer.
4. I see my body as my own again. My body was not my own for a long time. From trying to become and stay pregnant to recovering from deliveries, it’s no wonder that many are left feeling disconnected from their body during this time. It’s been my experience that physical activity and sport can help rebuild this connection.
5. I’ve had to practice making new friends as an adult. Becoming immersed in my little tennis community hasn’t been easy after maternity leaves and lockdowns. You learn the skills and rules, then it’s time to learn names, personalities and make connections. Although making new friends as an adult is more difficult, the positive benefits include making you more resilient and open-minded, and maximizing your intelligence.
6. I’ve honed skills that have supported my return to the workforce. I regularly practice learning new tactics, performing under pressure, communicating with teammates, regrouping after misplays and managing emotions. These are incredibly transferable skills. Plus, research shows that mastering a new physical skill with repetition can build new neural pathways in my brain!
7. I sometimes play against my partner… it’s the ultimate couple’s therapy. Sweating with a partner is a great way to rebuild a connection that’s been interrupted. It’s important.
8. I’m happier. Full stop. Right after my games and practices, there’s an immediate lift in how I feel. From a long-term standpoint, my overall mood has improved. The science here is undisputed: getting a sweat on is mood-boosting and stress-busting.
Are you stuck in a rut and can’t get out? Try a new physical activity or sport on for size! Whatever life phase you’re tackling, working up a sweat and applying your body and mind to new skills and movement can be transformational. And who knows, you might just find the old you again. I certainly did!
NOTE: Sometimes a rut is more than a rut. Lifestyle changes aren’t always enough to beat low mood, dysthymia or depression, and you can always reach out for supports and services:
Crisis Services Canada (24/7)
Find Your CMHA:
Find your CMHA cmha.ca/find-your-cmha