How Exercising Saved My Mental Health | Dina El Mougy

May 13, 2021
Dina El Mougy

As a successful career-obsessed professional with demanding jobs and a mother, I had no time to pursue anything else in life. Not to mention the guilt I felt for not spending time with my child. 

In 2014, I traveled to Iraq to work on a job assignment. My family stayed in Egypt and I commuted once a month to spend four days with them. As a mother, I felt judged by everyone around for accepting this assignment. Nonetheless, to pursue my career further, I accepted another assignment in a new country. I returned back to Egypt in 2015, aspiring to a more balanced work and family life. 

With everything that went on in my life, I became an anxious person. I led an unhealthy lifestyle. Feeding my souI drowned me in guilt feelings. I suffered from panic attacks caused by a severe anxiety disorder I didn’t know I had. 

Three years after my return to Egypt, I went to see a therapist, to dig deeper into my panic attacks. That’s when I learned that I suffered from anxiety, a mental disorder that paralyzed my life, left me in fear of tomorrow and stoped me from enjoying today. During that time, my friends encouraged me to workout, but my workaholic nature prevented me from exercising on regular basis. 

Psychotherapy was one of the bold decisions I made. It helped me to heal from endless panic attacks and to lead a peaceful life. Therapy was an eye opener for my life and life style; My priorities, my interests, my purpose in life and what makes me happy. 

I struggled to articulate what makes me happy. The question sounded basic, but the answer was deeper to find. Looking for answers to this question was a rewarding step. Instead of feeling ashamed I sought therapy, I told my family and friends I was seeing a therapist.

My therapist asked me to explore things I can enjoy, activities and hobbies to add fun to my life. She raved about how sports can be a therapy in itself. But given how I took my life too seriously, I struggled to act on her suggestion. And with my busy schedule, juggling between my job, family and child responsibilities, I struggled with time management.

Like any mother, I wanted my child to play sports, but he wasn’t enjoying any. When I discussed his lack of interest in sports with his coach, he told me that my son, “needs to see one of his parents working out to understand the importance of sports.” With the intention to change my lifestyle and breaking the habit of daily outings to cafes and restaurants, I decided to be this parent.

The turning point came in Ramadan 2019. I wanted to build the daily habit of working out, so I registered in a 21-days habit building challenge. I had never played sports as a child. I am also a petite who never had weight problems. Sports for me was an activity for people who wanted to lose weight. At 35, I was filled with doubts on how my body will respond to exercise. I was the oldest in the arena, even older than the coaches. 

Surprisingly, my workout progressed faster than anticipated and my coaches complemented me for that. In time, I realized that panic attacks stoped while I worked out. Not only that, but my body was receptive to exercise which intrigued my coaches to challenge it further. Before too long, I noticed changes in my body shape, and for the first time I was proud to tell my age out loud.

The intensity and duration of my workout routine gradually increased to two hours per day, six days per week. I trained cross fit and weightlifting and participated in every physical challenge I came across. I hated running, but to challenge myself even more, I registered for the super-sprint race organized by Trifactory in Sahl Hashish and won second place in my age group.

I started the race with the objective to only finish it, and break my barrier against cardio workout. Small race, but for me was a huge achievement. I won against my mind, not only my body. Winning the race proved to me that I should no longer doubt or underestimate myself or my strong will. I became a serious athlete in the eyes of many people, and as my journey evolved, I wanted to share my story with the world. 

People who knew me complemented me for the positive mindset and energy I propagate. I received feedback that I indirectly helped my small circle to change their life to the better, mentally or physically. With every feedback I received, I heard this voice inside me that I had much more to give beyond my morning job. 

I love my job and I am very passionate about it. It had shaped a big part of who I am today, but giving back to the community and wanting to have bigger influence is what drives me.

I am not a professional coach, nutritionist or beauty expert. But I taught myself everything I needed to know.  I transformed myself physically and mentally the day I put myself as a priority; when I stopped worrying about being judged as a selfish mom because my life doesn’t revolve around my family. In doing so, I realized that if I am happy I can make people around me happy. 

In 2020, I went on social media to advocate for everything I managed to change in my life. “If I could do it, then any woman can,” I told myself and my followers.

In less than a year, I am proud and humbled to be considered an inspiring figure for a lot of people.  My platforms across social media grew organically to more than 300K. Women find my content genuine and inspiring to take steps to change their lives; an achievement I didn’t plan for, yet it is self rewarding. 

There is so much more in being fit than losing weight. Being fit mentally is what we need as women. Being strong and have muscles is a basic need to be able to perform our daily duties without help. I have exercised getting out of my comfort zone in many phases in my life and it worked magic for me.

I am not claiming I have my life all figured out. My life journey was hard, I have been through tough phases and traumas, but I survived them and they shaped who I am today. I now look at them as blessings. I learnt to be stronger, mentally and physically, and to deal better with my struggles. I also learnt to celebrate the achievements I earned by being resilient.  

Along the way, I met many women who inspired me. I wish every woman realizes her own potential and keeps breaking the social barriers. We grew up with a number of social taboos that cost most of us their lives and happiness. 

For the next phase in my life, pursuing fitness coaching is on my mind, but first I want to make sure it is something I really want to do and I have passion for. 

For now, I am focused on pushing my boundaries and challenging my body. I registered  for Iron Man 70.3, coming to Egypt in November 2021. It’s a big scary step for me, way beyond my comfort zone, especially that endurance is not my forte. Nonetheless, this step is about the journey of building mental toughness, and I am ready to take the chance.

Finally, I want to say, it is never too late for anything. Turn your struggles into blessings. Be the woman you want your son or daughter to become. Instead of pushing your kids to lead a healthy life, “ Walk the Talk”.

Dina El Mougy, 37, is an athlete and wellness advocate.  She studied English literature at Ain shams University.  With 15 years experience in the corporate world, she is currently a HR director in one of the largest regional companies. During her career, she worked in different industries in multinational companies in Egypt and abroad.  Despite her demanding professional life, she found her passion in advocating for physical and mental wellness. Dina has an 11-years-old son whom she considers her biggest motivation to transform her life.

One comment

  1. A great inspirational article that I can highly relate to . Well stated and hope it empowers many women who always feel guilty when they follow their passion and try to reach for their dreams . Nothing is impossible and it’s never too late . Well done Dina el Mougy


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