Fitness influencer Victoria D’Ariano opens up about her experience with ‘crippling anxiety’

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Victoria D’Ariano has the makings of what appears to be the ‘perfect’ life: a fit physique, a #couplegoals relationship and over half a million Instagram followers. But beneath the surface, Victoria has had a decade-long struggle with depression and anxiety. 

Rather than glossing over these deeply personal facets of her life, and having her Instagram be the ‘highlight-reel’ veneer we’re used to seeing from ‘influencers’, Victoria has chosen to take a more honest approach. She has been transparent, building a following based around an unusual degree of candour around mental health. Victoria uses her platform to increase awareness about anxiety and depression, aiming to help her followers feel less alone. 

Here she shares more about her personal journey, how she manages her symptoms, and advice for anyone going through a similar time…  

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How has your fitness journey changed your relationship with yourself?

I believe it has changed my relationship with myself in both a positive and negative way. Positively speaking, I love being able to push myself in the gym, I love getting stronger and I love the feeling after I’ve finished a hard workout. Being energised helps my overall mental wellbeing. On the flip side, I believe it has made me hyper-aware of how my body looks and it has led to body image issues in the past.

How has anxiety affected your relationship with your body?

Anxiety for me tends to become a cycle. My anxiety increases and pushes me into a depressed state. My thinking patterns become very negative about all aspects of my life and I start viewing my body negatively thus leading to poor body image. High anxiety for me also pours into social settings where I tend to suffer from social anxiety. This falls back to the relationship I have with my body, because I become hyper-aware of how people are viewing me which makes me not want to go out in social settings. 

Does your relationship with working out change when you’re feeling anxious?

If my anxiety is extremely high I become quite crippled and I am unable to do anything let alone workout. My relationship changes as instead of viewing working out as something I love and enjoy, it becomes something I push away and avoid as the thought of it makes me feel worse.

What is your favourite form of exercise to do when you’re feeling anxious? 

This really depends on how I am feeling at that present moment. Sometimes it’s putting my headphones in and going for a long walk with my dogs, or on my own, allowing my thoughts to wander. Other times it’s blasting music in my headphones and pushing myself through a hard resistance workout, zoning out from the world and my current worries.

Is there any kind of exercise that you’ve found increases anxiety?

Not particularly, however, I find training in a way that I enjoy rather than how I think I should train or what would potentially give me better results leads me to have a healthier relationship with working out.

How do you motivate yourself to exercise when you’re feeling anxious?

If I am being honest I don’t always find ways to motivate myself. When my anxiety gets to the point of becoming crippling I find I can’t do anything at all until I get it under control. If my anxiety isn’t at that point, I try to find ways in which I can move my body which will help alleviate my anxiety. For example, when I’m struggling with anxiety and I don’t feel up for a resistance-based workout at my gym, I’ll do something different like go for a long walk with my dogs. Even if I’m not able to train the way I normally do, I know that moving my body in some way will help me feel better in the end.

How did you get your anxiety under control?

At the start, it was a combination of weekly therapy and medication. Over time, I did therapy on an as-needed basis. I have tried very hard to be medication-free due to the stigma, but even with exhausting natural options, I was unable to do so. Medication has been a saviour in my life allowing me to be stable and function optimally.

Is there any kind of specific diet you follow?

I would consider the way in which I eat to be rather intuitive. I believe I have a good understanding of nutrition and what I find works best for me physically and more importantly, mentally. I find when I put any form of restrictions on my diet I start having anxiety around food which isn’t what I want, nor what is healthy for me.

Have you found that diet affects anxiety?

Yes absolutely. When I follow a strict diet, for example, my relationship with food becomes quite negative and obsessive which causes my anxiety to heighten. On the flip side when I eat a lot of junk food I also noticed my anxiety gets worse.

How does your relationship with food change when you’re feeling anxious?

I either have little to no appetite or I find my appetite increases. Sometimes I must be mindful to eat more and make sure I am not under-eating, other times I just want to eat nothing but junk in the hope to feel better. 

What’s something you wish people without anxiety knew about the mental illness?

I wish people understood the severity of mental illness. It really does affect all aspects of a person’s life, just like any other illness and it needs to be talked about with respect, compassion and understanding. As much as you might believe that someone can ‘change their mindset’ or ‘get over it’ it’s not that simple and these types of comments are insensitive and damaging. 

What is your best advice for women starting their fitness journey? And for people who don’t know where to start?

Just start. Small steps are bigger than no steps at all. Understand that everyone’s journey is going to look different and what is best for you might not be what’s best for someone else. I urge you to try and not compare to other women and to enjoy being the person you are; enjoy your journey. I know it can be hard to start and stick with something but focus on how it makes you feel instead of what you think you should be doing or how you should be looking. If mental wellness comes, so will the physical. 

There are so many excellent resources online that previous generations had no access to. Take advantage of this free information, but also be mindful of the resources you decide to trust. And, as I said before just start, even if it’s the smallest of things, it all adds up. Most importantly focus on you, and you only. This is your journey, no one else’s. 

Do you have any tips for managing anxiety symptoms?

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