Exercise: Self-Care for Anxiety Strategy 2

This post is all about the second (and probably just as important as the first – sleep) of the 50 anxiety management strategies I wrote about in my last post: EXERCISE.

The Background

Long before I even knew I had a thing called generalized anxiety disorder, I used exercise as self-care and a coping mechanism for my anxiety. I wrote a blog for a couple of years when I was in high school, and it’s definitely relevant for me to pull a few quotes from there for the purposes of this argument.

“I went for a run this afternoon in the freezing cold rain. It was awesome. I went partly because I was royally pissed, and partly because I haven’t been for a run since friday, provincials. I was really mad because of my afternoon at school… I needed to pound it all out with a good run.:) Felt amazing.”

“That was wicked. Just got back from my run, it was pouring. I feel sooo good. It was a long day at school and after that I am so refreshed.”

Even though I didn’t realize that I had anxiety and I didn’t realize I was practicing self-care and using exercise as a management strategy, I recognized in myself that it was helpful and did it because of that.

Also, exercise is another one of those things that my co-worker’s counsellor friend said had to be in place before they would treat someone for anxiety: 30 minutes of physical activity outside 5 times a week. Not that I want to validate her argument, but it is a counsellor-validated method of managing anxiety.

Ways to use Exercise as Self-Care:

Again, referring to my leading argument, exercise is not the be-all and end-all of mental health management. But it is DEFINITELY beneficial for me, just like sleep hygiene.

1. Exercising outside is extra-beneficial, because experts argue that spending time in nature helps people with mental illness:

3. Have an accountability partner to keep you on track, or use a tracking program if you think you are motivated enough to keep yourself honest.

4. Make sure that what you’re doing is something that you enjoy. Otherwise, it doesn’t work as self-care, even if it is good for your body!

5. Be careful not to overdo it. Listen to your body. Speaking from experience, it is a slippery slope to start to do extra, because then you start to feel bad when you don’t, and you can also make it worse by getting to tired and falling off the wagon entirely. It’s important to strike a balance between getting enough exercise so that your body is happy and healthy, but not doing so much that you’re tired and sore all the time.

The next parts of the post are deeper dives into how I make each of these 5 strategies work for me!


Running is my jam, and it’s been my jam since I was thirteen. I was overweight and unhappy, and my dad introduced me to the Running Room beginner running program, which takes you from running 1 minute and walking 5 all the way to running for an hour without stopping. Its step-by-step, foolproof, structured delivery format made it so easy for me to stay on track and it felt almost magical – just as the program promised, when I completed it, I could run for an hour easily.

As I mentioned earlier, running has been a self-care/anxiety coping strategy for me for a long time. Adding to that, it’s always been something I do outside, rain or shine. I actually often enjoy running in the rain (again, see above). So this definitely hits both on the requirement of exercise to help boost those endorphins and make you happy and keep your body healthy, but also on the need to spend time outside. It helps that I get to run on what I would argue is the most beautiful track in the world, the Stanley Park seawall.

I know that running isn’t for everyone, but the emphasis here is to find a kind of exercise that feels good for you!

Half-Marathon Training Program

Half-marathons are my form of achievable running goals that help me stay motivated. I know that running a half-marathon is achievable, because I’ve done it twice already. I make it a bit more challenging for myself each time by working to run it slightly faster each time. And the Running Room program that I follow gives me an easy way to do that, because it has training programs for different speeds. These programs are laid out perfectly, with runs of varying distances on the same days of the week every week – Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. It’s just perfect. I plop all the runs into my bullet journal well in advance, and then I check them off. Check, check, check. At the end of the program, I’m inevitably shocked that I can run 21.1 kilometres exactly in my goal time, but it’s pretty foolproof! Amazing, and definitely motivating.

May 2017 with my Dad and Sharon, having completed my second half-marathon (BMO Vancouver)!

Bullet Journaling

As I just mentioned, I keep track of my training program by writing it down in my bullet journal. Bullet journaling is definitely a whole other post (or even series of posts), but briefly, I tend to use my bullet journal for to-do lists. If I can check it off in my journal, I’m much more likely to complete a task. So instead of having a friend or family member help keep me motivated, having “training run” on my to-do list motivates me to get those kilometres behind me.

But if you’re not a pen and paper kind of person, having an accountability partner is a great idea to keep you motivated!

Just Love It!

It’s important to love what you’re doing for exercise. I know exercise is necessary for physical health, but in order for it to feel like self-care, it has to be something that makes your body and soul and heart feel good. For example, I hate running on treadmills. So I can’t use that as self-care. But I do love yoga, running, and lifting weights. So I can definitely use those!

Not overdoing it

This one is really important. It’s something that I struggled with when I started training for half-marathons. I always want to push myself further than is necessary, and that inevitably results in injury or exhaustion. That sets me back in the long run. It takes a while to set goals that are achievable but not too easy. You want it to be a bit of a challenge to do, because you get a lot of satisfaction from completing it. However, you don’t want to make it so hard that you hurt yourself or give up. If it happens to you, take a deep breath. It happens to everyone, the very best of us! Each time it happens is a new marker for how to measure your own limits.

Best Wishes!

Hopefully these strategies, if you haven’t thought about or tried them before, will help you like they help me. Exercise is definitely one of those things that I find it hard to motivate myself to do. It’s enjoyable and it makes me feel good, and it’s still hard. It’s especially hard to motivate myself to run when it’s really dark out all the time and almost always raining (a.k.a., November through March here in Vancouver).

But something that’s been my mantra for the last little while is this: Doing Feels Better.

If I run on Monday or Tuesday, I find it’s easier to go for more runs that week. If I don’t, it’s harder to motivate myself and I feel worse and worse because I haven’t been going.

Doing. Feels. Better.

Get moving!

Peace and love,


Sleep Hygiene: Self-Care for Anxiety Strategy 1

This post is all about the first (and I think probably one of the most important) of the 50 anxiety management strategies I wrote about in my last post: SLEEP.

The Background

When I was in the depths of my worst anxiety and depression, all I wanted to do was sleep. I would drink a coffee, sit on the couch with my book (my favourite coping mechanism aside from napping at the time, which is a terrible option), and promptly fall asleep. ON CAFFEINE.

I’m not one of those people who can tolerate a lot of caffeine. Two cups of coffee and my hands start to shake. At this time I was so anxious that my body was working some serious OT and I was always tired. And then I could never sleep at night. Partly because I’d napped for a lot of the day, and partly because my thoughts kept me up until all hours. And not sleeping at night is a classic “makes anxiety way worse” thing. It also made me want to nap more. And so the vicious cycle continued.

The Three Top Elements of Sleep Hygiene

When I started seeing my family doctor about my anxiety, the first three things she told me were about sleep hygiene:

  1. Aim for about 8 hours of sleep per night. Less might make you feel sleepy during the day. More than 9 or so can increase anxiety and make you feel groggy, in my experience.
  2. Your sleep should start and end at the same time every night. Even on weekends. You can relax your wakeup by about half an hour on weekends if you want. I find that most of the time I don’t need this, because I’m now getting enough sleep through the week anyway). For me this looks like falling asleep around 10 and waking up at 6. On the weekends I’m usually up by 7. I know this can be hard for night owls, especially if they need to start work between 7 and 9, like I do. Fortunately for me, I am a homebody. I’m rarely out late with friends or for events. I prefer to hang out in the afternoons and see 7-o’clock movies. Also fortunately for me, I’ve always been a morning person, so going to sleep a little earlier than my usual 11 ish was not too difficult, especially because…
  3. NO NAPS. My doctor said that I should do everything possible to avoid napping – have a snack, go for a walk, get outside, have a coffee, move around, listen to upbeat music, clean, anything I could think of. Naps feel great when you’re anxious. You get to blissfully forget everything for a while, but then you wake up and everything is a thousand times worse, and you’ve ruined your quality of sleep for overnight.

    I would argue that the no-nap technique helped me even more than a rigid sleep schedule did. I often awoke from a nap in a full panic, more anxious about the things that were on my mind and with less time in the day to tackle them. It’s also, however, been the hardest technique to perfect. Every night now, like clockwork, I get super sleepy at 10 and head to bed, if I’m not already there reading. Every morning my alarm goes off and I get out of bed within about half an hour. I get 8 or more hours of sleep per night. But sometimes the blissful allure of forgetting everything and succumbing to a dreamy, cozy, afternoon nap is just too much to resist. I’m human.

Sleep Struggles

Another problem I’ve had my whole life has been falling asleep. I rarely have trouble staying asleep now, but I did as a child and teen. I was a very light sleeper and would wake up to any sound. My mom tells me that every single night when the local cargo train would go by I would wake up. I remember snippets of this, and I definitely remember the sound.

Thankfully, living in first-year residence at university helped. So did later living in an apartment with terrible, rattling windows. Our windows barely provide a barrier between us and the ambient rainforest-proximal city noises. These include cars, yelling, drunken revelers, emergency vehicles’ sirens, dogs, car alarms, and ferocious wind and rainstorms helped me to overcome my flighty, feather-light sleep style. However, falling asleep has remained a problem.

Going to bed reminds me that tomorrow is coming. It’s my brain’s cue to start worrying about that tomorrow, and all the tomorrows after it. It also dwells on things that happened during the day that were anything less than ideal, and berates itself for not having accomplished enough. No day is ever enough. On particularly bad days, my brain runs through all the horrible things I’ve ever said. It remembers the worst interactions and experiences I’ve ever had with the people who are the most important to me. It imagines possibilities of how I might die a gruesome, premature death. It’s exhausting, but rather than putting me to sleep, it keeps me awake.

Falling Asleep Magic

Recently, and so, so thankfully, in my travels online I discovered this fall-asleep technique from SFU adjunct professor Luc Beaudoin, which is a total dream (pun intended). It is nothing short of magic, seriously.

Essentially, when you want to fall asleep, you pick a four-letter word. It must have no repeating letters, like “bear,” “last,” or my personal favourite when I’ve had a bad day, “f*ck” (let’s not psychoanalyze my word choices). Then you take the first letter and imagine every word you can think of that starts with it. Let’s go with the bear example. Starting with ‘b,’ I might think of bear, bears, beast, beasts, beastly, bent, bend, bending, bends, bender… Of course, when I pick a verb I go through all of its possible forms. This is me we’re talking about. Once you run out of words for the first letter, you move on to the next letter, and so on. I usually barely make it to the third letter before I’m dead to the world.


Another thing I’ve done my whole life that helps me get ready for sleep is to read. I put my phone on charge away from my bed, and I turn to my analog comfort. Books are probably my favourite thing in the world, besides my family. Their smell, their weight in my hands, their stories, the way they make me feel. They’re almost as good an escape from my as sleep, but they can also make me feel productive, and they help me learn, keep my brain active, and improve my vocabulary and writing.

There are very few nights in my entire life when I can remember going to sleep without having read at least a page of a book. I used to beg for “one more” from my parents when I was tiny, would read under the covers with my Fisher Price tri-colour flashlight  when I was a little older, and would boldly just keep reading past my bedtime with my bedside table lamp or overhead light as a pre-teen and teen. Books and reading have always been a comfort to me, and it helps that reading is often cited as a useful way to relax before bed, improve your sleep, and reduce anxiety in general. It’s a relief to know that at was at least doing one thing right!

Best Wishes!

Hopefully these strategies, if you haven’t thought about or tried them before, will help you like they help me. Now, I’m the first person to admit that they’re hard. It’s especially difficult to make sure you’re doing all of them at once. I’ve recently been finding myself using the plate-spinning analogy for my difficulties with self-care. Imagine that all 50 of my self-care strategies is a plate spinning on a stick that I need to carry at once. Impossible, right? That’s how it feels some days.

How can I keep my apartment clean, stay on top of my work, regularly practice excellent personal hygiene, get enough exercise and sun, get enough nutrients through cooking healthy meals, meditate and practice yoga daily, and have great sleep hygiene all at once? Even just keeping the three sleep plates spinning at once is hard. I’m at a solid 2.5 and I’m struggling to get that third one all the way in the air. It’s been over a year after I started spinning the three of them. That feels too long. But knowing that I’m working on it is half the battle.

Peace and love,



Self-Care for Anxiety: 50 Strategies

There are many “how not to be anxious” and “self-care” lists out there. Those titles alone are just plain ridiculous, because anyone with anxiety knows that you can’t just make it go away. Unfortunately, you can’t just “not.” Usually the absolute worst things you can say to me when I’m anxious or having a panic attack are “Calm down” or “Just breathe.” Let me tell you, I nixed those really early in the game. Dealing with anxiety is about using prevention methods, avoiding triggers, and managing symptoms to make sure that the effects of having the disorder have as little impact on your life as possible. There is no cure for mental illness, but there are my three types of management strategies.

I was recently talking to a co-worker, and she said that she has a friend who is a counsellor and they won’t treat anyone for mental health issues until they are sleeping 8 hours a night, doing 30 minutes of physical activity outside 5 times a week, eating well, and taking both vitamin D and omega 3. It’s a bit severe of a stance to take that could alienate people with severe mental health issues and could also be a barrier for people with any severity of mental health issues to getting help, but it makes an interesting point. Take care of your biological health, and there is a high chance that it will positively affect your mental health.

I went a different route — at the time that my anxiety was at its worst, I was not exercising regularly, sleeping well, or taking vitamins, but I went to see a counsellor and worked from there. I’m pro whatever method you use to try to help yourself. You do you!

Once my overwhelming anxiety began to be managed by therapy (and later meds, but that’s a story for another post), I slowly started working on the physical health aspects with exercise, yoga, and meditation. The physical/biological management strategies have definitely improved my mental health, but I still have anxiety. Many physical self-care items are included in my list because they are helpful. But I want to emphasize that I’m not trying to perpetuate the myth that you can “fix” anxiety by just “going for a walk outside” or “exercising regularly,” as I hear so often. The soundtrack of my life can sometimes seem to sound like a repeating cassette tape that says “I have anxiety,” which is responded to with, “Oh, have you tried exercise?”

Insert eye roll here.

Thankfully, there are many lists out there that are of the “here are my anxiety management strategies, maybe some of them might help you” variety. I want to add a list to that growing library of lists that I turned to when I was first crafting my own coping mechanisms.

I’m not purporting to be the be-all and end-all of “do this and your anxiety is managed,” because I know that these things are absolutely very personal. But I also know that reading other people’s lists helped me to create my own through trial and error. So I hope that at least one thing on my list is something you might not have thought of. Perhaps reading mine will inspire you to create your own! I find that it’s often helpful to read my list to remind myself of things I can easily do to make myself feel even a bit better.

Finally, after working on this post for months, I realized that it was becoming a behemoth, so I decided to simply post my list today, and then in future posts I’ll elaborate on each strategy with personal anecdotes, links, and recommendations.

So without further ado, here’s my (by no means exhaustive) list, categorized into the three types of management strategies I outlined above:

Self-Care 1: Prevention Methods

First, here are the prevention methods that I’m trying to make sure I hit regularly each week.

  1. Regular sleep schedule
  2. Exercise
  3. Medication
  4. Meditation (yes, I had to look twice when I typed this as well)
  5. Yoga
  6. Hydration
  7. Writing
  8. Talking about it
  9. Anxiety-reducing foods
  10. Eating regularly
  11. Hygge
  12. Vitamins
  13. Fighting procrastination

Self-Care 2: Avoiding Triggers

Second, in terms of avoiding triggers, it’s important for me to note that everyone has different triggers. Hopefully you’ll feel less alone reading a (by no means exhaustive) list of some of mine.

  1. Messy workspace
  2. Messy home
  3. Email backlog
  4. Traffic
  5. Crowds
  6. Coffee
  7. Hunger
  8. Deadlines
  9. Evaluations at work
  10. Long days
  11. Being cold
  12. Texting
  13. Sending emails
  14. Running out of food at work
  15. Forgetfulness
  16. Not having a plan
  17. Social gatherings
  18. Medical appointments
  19. Phone calls
  20. Being late

Self-Care 3: Managing Symptoms

Finally, a lot of the things I do to manage my symptoms (such as, if I’ve just had a panic attack or if I’m feeling particularly anxious at any given time) are the same as things I use as prevention methods. I’ll list them again.

  1. Tea
  2. Anxiety-reducing foods
  3. Hygge
  4. Meditation (the t-one this time!)
  5. Yoga
  6. Writing
  7. Reading
  8. Talking about it
  9. Getting shit done
  10. Taking a bath
  11. Lighting candles
  12. Going for a walk or run
  13. Exercise in general
  14. Playing video games
  15. Listening to music
  16. Listening to a podcast
  17. Dance parties

That’s it for now! Can’t wait to share my first in-depth post on self-care, talking all about regular sleep schedules!

Peace and love,