I could’ve just turned off the notifications, but even on the days my trackers didn’t ping me, a quick glance at the time (and my rings and step count) was a reminder of how far behind I was.
It was such a small thing, but I couldn’t stop the cascade of negative thoughts that would follow. “You’re so out of shape compared to last year.” “You’re not working out at all anymore.” “Remember when you’d hit 12,000 steps a day like it was nothing?”
I was already stressed and anxious from the pandemic, but beyond staying at home and wearing a mask, I couldn’t do much about that. Instead, I took all that fear and negativity and turned it toward my falling step counts, my low calorie burn, my fitness, and my body. Seeing the actual numbers was just evidence that I was losing control of yet another part of my life. It was like if I berated myself about it – with hard numbers to back it up! – I could prove that I still had some kind of power.
There was a time, not too long ago, when I was a double-fisting fitness tracker kind of girl: Apple Watch on the right hand, FitBit on the left. It’s not that I monitor my steps and calorie count that closely. I just liked getting the happy notification that I’d hit my step goal, or feeling the satisfaction of closing all my rings. It was fun to hit little daily goals and feel proud of myself, and keep up some friendly (“friendly”) competition with my family while I was at it.
When we started to shelter in place, my step count went down. A lot. Like, all the way. I didn’t have my three-mile walking commute and I was dealing with some nagging injuries, so I couldn’t run around my neighborhood or even do a lot of at-home workouts. My Apple Watch, of course, noticed REAL fast. It thought some concerned notifications would help. “Maggie, you’re usually farther along on your rings by now.”
“Maggie, you closed your rings once last week.” Even the encouraging messages just came off as condescending: “Maggie, you’ve almost closed your exercise ring! A brisk 20-minute walk should do it.” As though it was that easy with one foot in a walking boot and a pandemic making me nervous to leave the house.
I don’t know if you know this, but being hard on yourself has never actually forced a pandemic to go away or made an injury heal faster or magically turned life back to normal. (Hear that, anxiety?) There were a lot of things I couldn’t control – and it’ll probably be that way for a while – but one simple, small thing I could do was give it a rest on the fitness tracking.
I liked my Apple Watch and FitBit because they told me tidbits of info I didn’t know, like how much I was walking or standing or burning in a day, but when you’re at home 24/7 and unable to work out, you pretty much already know the answers to those questions. I didn’t need the constant reminders, especially if my brain was going to take it as an excuse to whip up some more negativity. We all have enough of that already.
Currently my Apple Watch and my FitBit are both chilling in their chargers, and that’s where they’re staying for a while. I might strap one on when I can run again, but even then, I’m not sure; I don’t exactly have a race to train for, and going out for a run without any numbers on my mind sounds pretty wonderful. Monitoring things like steps, calories, and standing is helpful and fun for some people, but I realized that for me, it just played into a need for control that quickly turned toxic when I couldn’t satisfy it.
As I’m slowly (soooo slowly) starting to work out again, all I really want is that amazing rush of endorphins and calm that comes after a hard workout. You know that simple joy of movement that can’t be quantified or tracked on your wrist or sent to you in a notification? I can’t wait to feel that again.