I’ve written several dozen articles, and two books, examining the science of finding the motivation to exercise. So what happened to my passion for physical activity? It evaporated into thin, potentially contagious air.


I don’t even have to go anywhere. I have an awesome home gym. In additional to all the weights and the fancy treadmill, it contains a righteous stereo with a pair of T-Rex-sized speakers that could launch my neighbor’s incessantly barking beagle into the next county.

But instead of using it to get leaner and stronger, I’m making chocolate chip banana bread and eating it on the couch, a glass of Lagavulin single malt in hand, and alternating between re-watching The Expanse and bingeing the utter insanity of Tiger King.

I’m far too besieged by “What if?”s to work out.

My wife is a family physician and our daughter works with her. What if they catch it? What if the disease mutates? What if they can’t find a vaccine? What if I run out of toilet paper?

I want another drink, but what I need is to exercise.

Dr. Rob Tarzwell, a professor of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia, explained why I’m not feeling the love for lifting or running these days.

“You are much more anxious than usual,” Dr. Tarzwell said. Anxiety consumes a lot of psychological energy.” And that means there is less gumption left over to hit the home gym, go for a run, or ride your bike.

He explained that when people are under stress for a sustained period of time, we “regress,” which means we “temporarily reorganize our personalities as they were during previous developmental stages.” We do this because it’s an easier state to maintain. “In plain speak, we get a bit less mature.”

It’s hard to be productive when you’ve regressed, whether it be for exercise, or earning a living.

What’s the solution?

Dr. Tarzwell explained that you must give yourself permission to be anxious. If you fight it, you give yourself anxiety about your anxiety, which makes me think about that Inception movie. Hmmm . . . I think that is on Netflix . . . No! I’m going to finish this article!

Acknowledgement of the regression is another important step. Tell yourself it’s okay to sleep in, eat a little more, play video games, and watch TV. This is normal in the face of a frightening and unknowable situation. You are allowed to be in this lower energy state. When you give yourself this permission, you’ll find more energy available for when you actually need it, like when you’re ready to exercise.

But since gyms and fitness classes are non-essential, and just not a good idea right now anyway, you may need to use some of that energy toward creative thinking of how to get your sweat on, or even how to find motivation. One thing that might help is knowing that there is new research out of the University of Virginia showing that exercise is a powerful antioxidant that reduces the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome, which is a primary cause of death from COVID-19.

For me, I invited my two-time national karate champion daughter to join me in the home gym. She was going squirrely with the lack of karate classes, and she’s been kicking my ass lately, which is why everything hurts.

If you go outside, do follow the six-feet physical distancing rules. Stay away from anywhere people congregate. When I’m out for a run and veer away from oncoming pedestrians, most participate in the avoidance by going the opposite direction, and others give me side-eye. I silently judge the latter.

If there is no room to swerve in your neighborhood, do your best to stay inside. If you don’t have a home gym, there is no end of free exercise instruction available on YouTube that requires no equipment at all. And if you do the videos enough times, you can memorize the moves and instead of working out while following the instructor, you can do it as you re-watch The Expanse, or binge Tiger King.

My book THE HOLY SH!T MOMENT, is now available. GET IT HERE!

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James S. Fell, MA, MBA, has bylines in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, the Guardian, TIME Magazine, and many other publications. His blog has millions of readers and he is the author of two books: The Holy Sh!t Moment: How Lasting Change Can Happen in an Instant (St. Martin’s Press, 2019), and Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind (Random House Canada, 2014). Order them here.