JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – Stress and anxiety are a normal part of life, but anxiety disorders like PTSD, which affect 40 million adults, are the most common psychiatric illnesses in the U.S.
According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, there are about 8 million people in the United States living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“I’ve dealt with anxiety since childhood,” said Keshaunda Ellison, spouse of Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Ellison, 1st Special Forces Group at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. “So, I know how it can affect your body both mentally and physically.”
Exercise has been known to improve mental health by helping the brain cope better with stress. That is exactly what Ellison plans to use to help service members and their families fight back against anxiety, PTSD and related disorders.
Ellison is currently the only certified personal trainer to hold a contract with JBLM. She said helping her clients, helps her as well.
“I’ve had the contract with JBLM for about four months now,” she said. “But I’ve had my own personal training business for two years.”
Ellison, who is the oldest of six kids, was raised by her maternal grandmother in Norfolk, Virginia.
“Growing up, my mom was in and out of jail and my father passed away when I was 11,” she said. “Trying to deal with his loss and my mom’s uncertainty, caused me to be anxious all the time.”
After being diagnosed with anxiety, Ellison knew she had to do something to help control her stress levels.
“It was a realization for me that I needed something to improve myself holistically,” Ellison said.
Ellison also knew she wanted to do something to help others dealing with the same conditions.
“After I got my bachelor’s degree in Therapeutic Recreation, I was a physical education teacher at West Hope Middle School in Rayford, North Carolina, for many years,” Ellison said. “That’s where I got my passion for helping others through fitness.”
Ellison remembers the relationships she built with the underprivileged students at that high-poverty school. Many of the students confided in Ellison about troubles at home, bullying and even more personal matters like not having food or clothes, all while they exercised.
“I knew then that this was bigger than just exercising,” Ellison said. “My class was like a stress-reliever, not only for the kids, but for me as well.”
Ellison felt she could relate so much to her students, because she went through poverty, being bullied and didn’t have anyone to talk about it with.
“I still have anxiety, don’t get me wrong,” Ellison said. “But when I work out, it relaxes me. I can be in the gym for hours. I love everything about exercise.”
As a military spouse, she wanted to develop something that could travel with her as she moved around to support her husband’s military career. It was that realization that inspired Ellison to pursue personal training for all ages.
Ellison received her license from the International Sports Sciences Association in 2020, right before relocating to JBLM that September.
“I was not prepared for the ‘winter blues,’ as people call it, and just how much the weather here can affect you,” Ellison said. “Coming from the South, where there is always sunshine, I experienced some major depression when we first arrived and the only thing that helped me was exercise.”
It was after a mix-up that Ellison found out she was on the list to be a personal trainer for JBLM.
“Initially, I had submitted my paperwork to be a group fitness instructor for one of the classes offered on base,” Ellison said. “The lady who took my information thought I was applying to be a personal trainer. When I got my official contract, the title was personal trainer.”
Ellison said she was grateful for the mix-up, because it more aligned with her credentials and what she wanted to do long term.
“In the future, I want to be an occupational therapist,” she said. “The body is my passion. The whole body. Sometimes we don’t understand that everything in our body is connected. How we think, affects how we move. How we move, affects how we look and how we look, affects how we feel.”
Ellison urges everyone to get more active in their daily lives. According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, even a brisk 15-to-20-minute walk can deliver several hours of stress relief.
“This is bigger than me,” Ellison said. “If I can help or even encourage one person through fitness to feel and look better, then that can transform and manifest in every area of their lives.”
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, WA, US