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.
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:
- Elizabeth Lines
- Mardie Townsend, PhD
- University of Minnesota
2. Have an achievable goal to stay motivated. The key word here is achievable. Whenever I set goals that are difficult to meet, I both a) don’t achieve them, and b) get down on myself for not achieving them, which makes my anxiety worse.
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.
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.
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.
Peace and love,