Lena Dunham advocates for physical exercise helping with OCD

Lena Dunham advocates for physical exercise helping with OCD

In a culture dominated by social media and celebrities, Lena Dunham — creator, writer and star of the HBO series “Girls” — uses these tools to share about her own struggle with anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Through her Instagram account, Dunham posts a workout selfie with part of the caption reading, “To those struggling with anxiety, OCD, depression: I know it’s mad annoying when people tell you to exercise, and it took me about 16 medicated years to listen. I’m glad I did.”

What is OCD really?

OCD is a type of anxiety disorder in which people are unable to ignore lingering thoughts or questions. A person with the disorder may check if the stove was left on or if the door was locked, constantly throughout the day. An individual might wash their hands and clean their home excessively and also have to place things in a specific order or orientation. People with OCD can either be conscious of these regimented obsessions or completely unaware. This disorder can get to a point in which the person is unable to ignore ideas or tasks and fall into ritualistic and life disrupting habits. Dunham says, “…it has helped with my anxiety in ways I had never dreamed possible.”


There are several forms of treatment for anxiety that involve different styles of therapy and medication. Physical fitness is recommended for people of all ages, but has been proven to help with all ranges of stress and anxiety disorders. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America or ADAA writes, “When stress affects the brain, with its many nerve connections, the rest of the body feels the impact as well.” Even for people under normal levels of stress or anxiety, the body in turn, is stressed and will alert an individual through different body malfunctions as signals there is something wrong.

Dunham is not just supporting a way to help treat anxiety, but also shedding light on a serious disorder that has treatment available for those who seek it. According to the ADAA, 40 million adults are affected by anxiety disorders in the U.S. The treatments available for most anxiety disorders can be tailored to the individual. Dunham has written about her life experiences, including what it was like to grow up with OCD and Anxiety in her book “Not That Kind of Girl”. She has lived with this disorder for 16 years and has accomplished a lot. This goes to show that stress or anxiety disorder do not have to be what limits living life to the fullest.

Exercise will not be the cure to the disorder, but can help with mental health and physical well-being. The best way to go is to find a workout or regimen that works best for the individual. Working out to the point of exhaustion can cause more harm than good.

The ADAA makes several recommendations for beginning exercise:

  • Exercising with a friend or using music as a distraction from the fact that you are working out
  • Finding a workout style that matches your personality and lifestyle: yoga, casual walks with pets, playing hard with your kids or bike riding

A Road worth traveling

Dunham presents a good example of finding a workout that fits for her individual needs. By seeking out other ways to help deal with her OCD, she was able to better herself and find an outlet for the anxiety in her life. Dunham also exemplifies the road for treating an anxiety disorder is not a simple one, but having an open mind to possible treatment options will help.

Dunham continues to work at presenting an accurate picture of mental illness and what it means for the individual. She mentions in her post how she, “Promised myself I would not let exercise be the first thing to go by the wayside when I got busy with ‘Girls’ Season 5.”

It does take some time to work out an exercise schedule and to break in a new workout. Remember that it does not have to be done alone. If you, or a loved one you know has OCD or another mental health disorder, please call the Sovereign Mental Health Services helpline at 866-954-0529.

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