Ever since the UK government imposed a coronavirus lockdown, many of us have been surprised to discover that it*s the little things 每 not the extravagant or the particularly earth-shattering 每 that we*ve missed the most. The Independent lifestyle desk*s new essay series, Life After Lockdown, is an ode to everything we took for granted in the pre-Covid world 每 and the things we can*t wait to do once again when normality eventually resumes.

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The thing I miss most in lockdown might be your worst nightmare. Exercise classes are supposed to be a chore. Something you drag yourself to before work, or get coerced into on a Sunday morning by an overzealous friend wearing T-shirts that say ※gym before gin§. They*re not supposed to be fun 每 and they rarely are. But they*re the very thing I need most right now.

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Before you write me off as a spoilt millennial who finds herself adrift without her organic green juice and somewhere to take a selfie in her new Lululemon leggings, let me explain. I exercise a lot. It*s not because I*m obsessed with my body, or because I want to mould it into a certain shape. I just like to move it. And crucially, challenge it. That last bit is harder to do when you*re alone in your bedroom, using soup cans for weights and listening to your housemate*s third Zoom meeting of the day take place next door. It also doesn*t help when, if you find yourself flagging in the midst of a 30-minute Instagram Live, you remember that there*s a fridge, a bed, and Netflix just metres away.

In an exercise class, it*s easy to push yourself. Not only because you are literally paying for it, so there*s financial incentive to make it worth your while, but you are surrounded by people doing exactly the same thing as you. And considering that most fitness studios impose a ban on mobile phones, there are fewer distractions, too. Then there*s the pressure of a trainer yelling instructions at you. ※Five push-ups, then six burpees, now seven deadlifts! Go! Go! Go!§ If you don*t follow them, you might be called out. That would be embarrassing. So you keep going. The music is loud. It pulses through your bloodstream and makes you feel invincible. You hear lyrics like ※lose yourself§ and then you do.

No matter how stressful my day, everything melts away after I*ve been to an exercise class. Spinning is my favourite 每 it feels like dancing on a bike 每 though when I have the money, I*ll go to Barry*s Bootcamp, notoriously one of the toughest workout classes in London. But I*d take anything right now. A group HIIT workout. A weights class. An abs blaster. I*d even try Zumba, though my hips are stiff as a board.

In England you can now exercise in groups of six outside. But finding five friends who live within walking distance and want to workout at the exact same time you do is no mean feat. And so the exercise I am doing in lockdown 每 mostly yoga and a bit of running, is not at all the same as before. Nor is it having the same effect, which is the important bit.

And so it*s about now that I should explain the reason I exercise so much has nothing to do with my body and everything to do with my mind. You see, I suffer from panic attacks. Bad ones. They started a few years ago for reasons I won*t go into here. Let*s just say that hyperventilating on the tube suddenly became the norm, as did doing breathing exercises in public toilets and crying behind sunglasses hoping nobody could tell. Therapy didn*t help, and while friends listened and offered support, I often found myself pushing them away in fear they ※wouldn*t get it§.

The thing that saved me was exercise. I had put some money aside over the years and used it to sign up to as many classes as I could. It veered on obsessive at times 每 with occasional bouts of 10 days of exercise and no rest 每 but it exhilarated me. Crucially, putting myself through the toughest and most strenuous workouts in a room full of total strangers gave me something else to think about for an hour. Maybe they were there for the same reasons I was, maybe they just wanted something to post about on Instagram. Whatever their reason, for the short period of time that we were all in that studio together, I felt like part of a team, and that I wasn*t so alone anymore. Then there were the benefits of the endorphins, which, after every class, made it feel like someone had flushed the toilet on my clogged-up mind. Everything was clearer, cleaner, better.

My mental health had been pretty good before March this year. I*d been on holiday, had just received some exciting career news, and was about to move in with friends for the first time since university. Then lockdown hit 每 and eventually, so did the panic attacks. The anxieties I have now are different from before, but the symptoms are all the same.

I know I*m not the only one dealing with this. Since lockdown started, much has been written about how the isolation has triggered people*s anxiety and depression 每 so perhaps there*s comfort in that; a new kind of team separated by screens and postcodes. Like a lot of people, my mental health is a work in progress. And while the only way I know how to remedy my issues might no longer be an option, I*ve found new ways to cope. Like meditating every day after work, and using mindfulness exercises to help control my breathing.

With social distancing measures in place for the indefinite future, I have no idea how long it will be until I*m back in the gym, banishing my inner demons to the thrumming bass of a song I*ve never heard of with people I*ll likely never see again. Until then, I*ll remember the feelings of camaraderie fondly, and look forward to being surrounded by people whose stories I don*t know, but whose sweaty faces I really can*t wait to see again some day.

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