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When Exercise is Exorcise: Carla’s Story

We live in an anxious world, and one of our deepest needs is to be reassured in the midst of our anxiety. Paul, in Philippians, tells us we should quell our anxiety through prayer and petition. Instead, however, we have reached for everything from pills to pasta, working to workouts, pull tabs to Prozac — without any lasting reassurance.

In our anxious world, we cry out, “It’s not going to be okay!” as we come face-to-face with our fears, worries, and anxieties. In this world, we can feel vulnerable or at risk, often without being able to clearly identify why. We feel in danger, and the higher the sense of danger, the greater the need for reassurance.

Often, reassurance comes through an excessity. Is fear, worry, or anxiety at the root of any of your Gotta Have It! behaviors?


Carla could feel that tinge of panic starting. Because of an amazingly busy week, complicated by a persistent head cold, she had gone three days without exercising. She was starting to feel jumpy, irritable, like she wanted to crawl out of her own skin. She needed to excercise; things weren’t right in the her world if she didn’t.

Exercise kept the monsters at bay.

Carla had lived intimately connected to the monster of low self-esteem, poor body image, and fear of fat for years. She relied on the feeling of pushing herself to the limit, giving herself an edge over those insecurities.

Exercising, for Carla, had become exorcising; when she exercised physically, she emotionally exorcised her emotions, her anxieties. Nothing else she did kept the panic under control. If she could just get back to exercising, everything would be fine — or at least back at status quo.

She never felt she was really accomplishing anything by exercising, but at least she wasn’t losing ground to the monsters. After three days, she could feel that ground start to shift.

For Carla, exercise was an excessity, truly a Gotta Have It! activity. Exercise soothed her worry and panic. After she exercised, she felt reassured that the disaster she lived with every day, lurking on the sidelines, would not happen — at least not today.

Carla lived in fear of becoming fat. At the root of this fear was a tremendous insecurity about who she was a person. Carla worked very hard to keep her outside “perfect” because she felt so imperfect on the inside. If she ever became fat, then the worst would happen — her outside would mirror her inside, and she would no longer be able to hide. Carla lived in fear of exposure. Being thin was her defensive barrier and she was willing to do just about anything to shore up that defense.

Some of you can immediately identify with Carla. For the rest of you, however, before you automatically say, “Whew! That isn’t me,” I want you to take a moment to reconsider. Sometimes your Gotta Have It! behavior isn’t meat to usher in things that make you feel good, but rather that behavior is meant to keep out things that make you feel bad.

Fear worry, and anxiety can make you feel bad — and they can become all-consuming, fueling those particular excessities tied to them. If you want to defuse the power of your excessities, you need to determine what negative feelings are at the heart of any of them.

Source: Chapter 4, “Our Need for Reassurance” in Gotta Have It! by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE.

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