by Hillary Achauer
Courtesy of CrossFit.com
Angie Manson started CrossFit at CrossFit Watsonville near Santa Cruz, California, in 2013. In recovery for 27 years, Manson runs an addiction recovery program, Elevate Addiction Services, with its own in-house CrossFit affiliate — CrossFit EAS.
Before she started CrossFit, Manson never worked out regularly. She has a severe heart condition that held her back, and she never found a workout routine she liked.
Then she bought a Groupon for a month of CrossFit at CrossFit Watsonville and was hooked. Soon she had a regular 5:00-a.m. exercise routine and discovered she loved lifting heavy weights.
“I noticed on the days that I did it first thing in the morning, I’d have a good day,” Manson said.
She always hated the early-morning drive to the gym but pushed through those feelings because she wanted to see her friends and feel that sense of accomplishment.
However, Manson didn’t really think about the connection between exercise and her mood until a few years later. Her 15 year-old son, Logan, came home and noticed she was in a terrible mood.
He looked at her and said, “When was the last time you worked out?”
“I don’t know. Man, it’s been a couple of days,” she told him.
“You need to go work out,” he said.
When her son recognized the impact exercise had on her mental health, Manson became much more aware of the connection.
“That made me self-aware of when this was happening and what was happening and how to fix it and how to make myself feel better,” she said.
Manson opened Elevate Addiction Services in 2015 and saw the effect regular CrossFit workouts had on people in recovery. After establishing an exercise habit, those in treatment find they start sleeping better, eating better, smoking less, and experiencing fewer mental health challenges.
“One of the things that the majority of people present with when they come in is depression and anxiety. It just goes hand-in-hand with addiction,” Manson said.
The approach at Elevate is to safely take people off all drugs and medication, introduce exercise, good nutrition, and mindfulness while they’re in the program, and then reintroduce antidepressants or other medication if needed.
“When they’re leaving, for 85 percent of them, the anxiety and depression is gone,” Manson said.
Manson said an important concept at Elevate is living in the present moment, not obsessing about the past or worrying about the future.
Anyone who has done CrossFit knows it’s almost impossible to think about anything but the present moment in the middle of a grueling workout.
“I realized that no matter what was going on at work and in life, the second I’d walk into the gym, I had to be 100 percent present,” Manson said.
“You can’t be anywhere else when you’re in a CrossFit gym. You are 100 percent in there. I found such a peace inside my mind inside the gym,” she said.
The impact of exercise on mental health hit close to home in 2020, when Logan missed out on his senior year of high school due to the pandemic.
The loss of his volleyball team, senior prom, and everything that comes with the last year of high school hit Logan hard. He was bitter and angry about missing out on so many important experiences, Manson said.
Unsure how to help, Manson started including him in her garage CrossFit workouts.
“We would go in the gym, and there were many times where he wouldn’t say a word, or if I tried to coach him, he’d be mad, but I would keep him going in,” she said.
They worked on his nutrition, and she told him if he couldn’t be in school, at least he’d be in the best shape of his life in time for college.
“The only thing that got him through was CrossFit,” Manson said.
This summer Logan began working at Elevate and participated in the classes at CrossFit EAS.
“He gets to work out with all my people from work and me up here, which is phenomenal,” Manson said. “A cornerstone of his life now is exercise. That’s amazing.”
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