How I Curb my Anxiety by Going Topless (Well, Almost)

I know how this title sounds—a cheap hook to snag a quickie glance, an attention-grabbing stunt for the visual voyeur. However, I stand by it because sometimes I go nearly topless to deal with stress.

For most, wearing a sports bra, sans tank top, at the gym is nothing—part of the exercise culture, the uniform of the fit (or fit wannabe). However, raised in an ultra-conservative religion, where exposing one’s shoulders (especially a woman’s) was especially egregious, for me, mainly going topless is harrowing at best.

I am a stress case and always have been and probably always will be. When I was a baby, my mother would watch me in my crib, my fingers pumping and grasping the air like a miniature milk maid going for a world record. I don’t know why I was so stressed back then.

Many theories have come and gone, as have countless counseling sessions, pills, specialty teas, and twisted yogi practices to curb my anxiety. I have analyzed and gotten data overload in the name of a panic fix, leaving me wondering if I need to embrace the insanity and go full-blown triggered happy?

It’s counterintuitive. Most anxious people stay away from anything stress-causing. They don’t trust elevators, so they take the stairs. They fear being late, and they show up 15 minutes early. They’re uncomfortable in their always quaking skin–well, they don’t pull off their Lulu Lemons for more exposure, right? Maybe they should!

Whenever I feel the tightening in my chest, some overzealous ticking doom clock inside me, whenever I can’t keep my fingernails out of my mouth, I know it’s time to get triggered and go topless.

It’s terrifying! In just my sports bra and exercise pants, I force myself out of my house, clutching my exercise bag to my chest. I start the car. I slip on my sunglasses, the black pair that covers ¾ of my face. I drive to the gym and make a beeline to the front counter, my membership card ready to scan. I stare straight ahead without eye contact or an acknowledging smile at a fellow gym rat.

I stash my stuff in the nearest locker and speed into the always too big, always too crowded main area. I mount the elliptical machine donning yoga pants, socks, shoes, air pods, a sports bra, and nothing else.

Why do I do it? Because it’s scary!

Because, within 60 minutes from gym arrival to gym exit, I have triumphed! I have done a terrifying thing and survived! My anxiety is replaced by endorphins, courage, and strength. I’m no longer stressed out by some uncontrollable, invisible monster anymore. I can breathe! I can give my fears a break. I can provide my fingernails a moment!

Although I don’t do it all the time, I do it often enough to trust what I get out of it. So, to anyone born scared—do something scary a few times and see what happens. You may be surprised and delighted that nothing earth-shattering does!  

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