When it comes to mental health we can’t separate this from physical health. Your brain is attached to your body – remember?
Let’s also remember that many of the symptoms of anxiety are physical ones. So it makes total sense to tackle the anxiety at the physical level too,
We all know what anxiety feels like. Racing heart, butterflies in the tum, tense shoulders, head swimming, shaky, achy, sense of impending doom and looming panic.
These symptoms are there because our bodies are getting ready to head off a threat; to run away or fight.
When we’re in fight or flight because of a mound of emails or unpaid bills instead of an angry bear – there’s no where to run. Instead we sit and stew in our own anxious juices. We fidget nervously with the pen on our desks while a rising panic creates the sensation that our hearts may well explode out of our chests. Not ideal.
But Mother Nature did give us one saving grace. The anxiety juice AKA ‘adrenaline’ gets burned up when we exercise (in the same way as it would if we were to run from or fend off that bear).
When it comes to anxiety, exercise isn’t a luxury – it’s essential.
But be warned, don’t wait of the time to exercise to materialise – make time and make it a priority.
If I wake up with an excess of adrenaline over my to-do list or some deadline, part of my brain tells me that my morning will be best spent attempting to tackle my emails. This is lie. Having too much adrenaline pumping around our systems takes blood away from the frontal cortex – the rational mind – and means that our amygdala – the emotional brain – is in the driving seat. We’re more likely to think in black and white (did someone say catastrophising?) and make bad, irrational decisions while finding it hard to think clearly and dampening down our creativity when we’re in fight or flight. When I make sure I exercise my anxiety away first thing, my brain and body are calmer and I’m way better equipped to deal with my work.
But if you can’t fit a workout in first thing, then the perfect time to exercise is when you can make time. Don’t try and force yourself into a 6AM run if you hate early starts – maybe an evening sesh is better for you. If you’re beyond tired at the end of the day, maybe a lunchtime workout will work for you. If you’re a parent – can you get your child involved too? Or ask for help (because this shit is important.) There is always a way to fit something in.
Here are some suggested types of exercise to give you some inspiration
Apps, YouTube videos, DVDs
I remember doing my Mum’s Callinenics VHS as a young teen at home (so old school – there were leotards galore). But these days we’re lucky enough to have a wealth of free resources and guidance just a click away on Youtube and in the App Store. Enlist a friend and schedule it into your diary to boost your motivation to stick with it.
I was terrified the first time I stepped into the weight room. I was sure that someone impossibly ripped and wearing a string vest was going to mansplain the use of the squat rack or point out the errors in my shaky form. The reality was totally different. Remind yourself that in the gym, people are focused on themselves and generally will leave you alone to focus on your own workout. Within weeks at the gym I was feeling stronger and can I just say, more powerful. The satisfaction of lifting a heavier weight and noticing muscles sprouting where before there were none, was incredibly gratifying and positive. An interesting side effect I noticed was that for a day or two after, while experiencing DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness to you and me!) I noticed that the soreness my muscles made me more ‘in my body’, more grounded, and basically made me feel like a bad ass. I highly recommend it. Other options are to book into a class or get a few sessions with a personal trainer before hitting the gym solo – at least until you feel more confident.
All being well with your knees, running is one of the easiest and most accessible forms of exercise to try. Burning off adrenaline and releasing tension in your body in the name of the game. At higher intensities we produce the happy-making chemicals ‘endorphins’ that give us a beautiful feeling ‘the runners high’. Even a 15 minute casual run-skip around the park (think about how you used to run as a 10 year old for inspiration…it can even be fun) will have remarkable benefits.
Nature! Sunlight! Fresh air! Just some of the beneficial factors of a walk in the great outdoors. Good news for those not willing or able to work up a sweat: even light intensity exercise such as walking has been shown to reduce levels of anxiety. Bonus point: go with a friend – sharing your feelings and having that all important social contact is an additional anxiety-buster. If you don’t have a friend to hand, a podcast, audiobook or your favourite playlist are bound to boost your mood and calm your mind. Also: dogs. Say no more!
There’s little doubt that yoga helps with anxiety. When we practise yoga, we’re connecting to our body and our breath, we’re calming the mind and the nervous system and releasing tension from the body. A seriously interesting side note about yoga is that it trains us to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Learning to manage anxiety sometimes means being able to handle the discomfort of a racing heart during a presentation, a feeling of dread about going into a new situation, or feeling horribly uncomfortable and socially anxious at a party. By facing these situations head on and learning to feel the discomfort without running away or fighting against it we can learn, grow and expand the circle of whats possible for us. In Yin Yoga (my personal fave) you’re asked to hold poses such a pigeon (one left stretched behind you, the other folded at a right angle in from of you. Ouch) for up to 5 minutes. As the dull ache progresses to discomfort and through to ‘Oh-Ma-Gerd-Make-it-Stoppp!’ – you’re asked to surrender, to let go and allow the discomfort to be there. Through this, you learn to handle discomfort and it’s one of the greatest skills we can develop – with that – you will be unstoppable!
Here are some of my favourite yoga routines on Youtube 🙂
How does exercise help with your anxiety? If you don’t currently exercise – what will you be trying as a result of this post? Let us know in the comments.