It’s a now- familiar feeling: your chest is tight, panic rises, you fear losing control, you can’t catch your breath. Except you’re not James Bond, and this isn’t a car chase. You’re trying to do the dishes, and anxiety is trying to ruin your day.
Anxiety can happen for reasons that are easily pinpointed- there’s traffic on the way to the airport, a stressful conversation is coming up, a big project is due. Usually, these stressors are action oriented- catch the flight, have the conversation, or finish the project, and the anxiety dissipates. What’s much, much harder is the casual, sneaking, piece of shit anxiety that creeps up on you unexpectedly and then hits you over the head with a giant rubber hammer and yells ‘SURPRISE!’ except the hammer isn’t rubber and also nothing is funny.
Definitely run here.
That’s what unexpected anxiety feels like. And this makes it so much harder- how do you fight against something that has no obvious solution? I’ve been dealing with this a lot lately. Ignoring it makes it last longer, trying to convince myself that nothing is wrong makes it worse, and meditation makes me scream.
In fact, for me, almost nothing works as well as a good, sweaty run. Want to try? Here’s how:
1. Get out of breath
Anxiety makes it hard to breathe and causes my chest to feel tight. Running does the same. When I am gasping for air because I just ran a hard mile, my body doesn’t have the capacity to also deal with chest tightness related to anxiety, and the symptoms ease. The faster I run or walk, the more the knot in my chest loosens- it’s as if the movement jiggles loose the ball that is wound too tight.
2. Find movement
I always find that my best ideas come to me when I am in movement- planes, trains, cars, or running. The constant input of new information and scenery stimulates my mind in a positive way, and allows for new ideas in a sort of creative, meditative flow. Walking acts on my depression in a similar way by stimulating my mind when it its at its lowest. And- no surprise- running also alleviates symptoms of anxiety: movement, new scenery, interesting things, distractions, and the actual exercise all help to untie the knot in my chest and let me think clearly.
What you can’t see: black ice on the boardwalk. Maybe don’t run here.
3. Take a break
Studies show that your mind needs a break every once in a while, and periods of doing nothing at all, in order to operate at peak capacity. And by studies, I mean this article which I read this morning. It makes sense: when you’re feeling anxious (and have the ability to do so), taking a break (physically and mentally) for as little as 15 minutes can help reset your creative and mental flow.
Another lovely place to run. Bonus: anxiety about bears with make you run faster.
4. Put your anxiety to work
I’ve finally learned to stop trying to convince my anxiety to go away. Instead, I try to repurpose the vague unsettled feeling into a purposeful task- like running FAST. Harvesting the energy of the anxiety in a task helps me control it, and when I come back from running, I can more easily get back to whatever task I was trying to accomplish in the first place. For me, it’s all about re-harnessing the nervous energy, instead of trying to get rid of it.
Remember as always- anxiety is different for everyone. Figure out what works for you, and DO IT! You’re the only person who will know what will work with your body & mind.