Updated: Sep 13, 2020
Anxiety is a ravenous beast that can dominate your whole life and leave you feeling abandoned and hopeless. The first step to defeating this monster is to acknowledge its existence and seek help. Through counseling, cathartic exercises, physical exercises, and/or medication, you can take firm control of your life. Be the best You that you can be!
I’m neither a psychiatrist nor a primary care physician, so I won’t say any more about counseling and medication. You should seek professional help for both. But I can tell you how exercise can help you achieve a better state of mind in combination with the right professional assistance.
The connection between physical and mental health has long been recognized. A few of the many mental health-related benefits of physical exercise include:
· Boosts self-esteem and confidence,
· Improves sleep,
· Improves focus and concentration,
· Setting and achieving fitness goals improves motivation, and
· Exercise releases endorphins that improve mood and make you feel good.
But physical exercise doesn’t necessarily mean hitting the gym for a grueling workout. It can be as simple as housework, gardening, or walking through the park.
How much physical exercise?
The CDC recommends that adults spend at least 75 minutes per week engaged in “vigorous-intensity aerobic activity” or 150 minutes of “moderate-intensity aerobic activity” as detailed in their National Health Statistics Report. For most people, this translates to a ½ hour of exercise 5 times a week.
What kind of physical exercise?
Remember that your aim is to improve your mental and physical health, not compete in the 2020 Olympics. Too much exercise, or the wrong kind, can lead to other health issues.
Common forms of exercise include weight training, running, walking, cycling, swimming, and aerobic exercise classes. If you are concerned about damage to your limbs and joints, swimming and cycling are considered by physicians to be the least damaging forms of exercise.
If you can identify a physical activity that you enjoy, like playing lawn tennis with a friend or walking your dog in the park, it’s easier to incorporate regular daily exercise into your life. But if you have a demanding time schedule, you may need to focus on home-based physical exercise routines.
Physical exercise at home
A whole bunch of celebrities from Jane Fonda onward have made a fortune providing home exercise videos that show you how you can perform aerobic exercises in the safety of your own home. However, I’m more likely to use one actually recommended by health professionals. For example, the British National Health Service provides 24 instructor-led exercise videos on its website. These are aimed at a variety of beginners with different interests and abilities.
The kind of exercise in the home that causes the least possible damage to limbs and joints is stationary cycling. Recumbent bikes provide an excellent cardio workout and burn those calories. Recumbent bikes also offer superior back support when compared to a more traditional stationary bike.
However, if you are tight on space, you might want to consider a folding exercise bike. These are easier to store when not in use. They’re also lighter and easier to move around without straining your back.
Cathartic & Mental Exercises
Not all exercise is physical. Cathartic exercise is about recognizing and facing up to the beast. A great way to do this is by keeping a journal or blog. Record your daily struggle against the enemy. Be honest about your setbacks and your successes. Getting it all down in black and white can have a therapeutic effect.
Another exercise you may recognize from popular culture is using a mantra as an effective relaxing technique. Mantras are short phrases a person recites to focus their mind and provide a counter-anxiety narrative.
A popular mantra is “This too shall pass.” The speaker recognizes that the circumstances causing their current anxiety are fleeting—there is light at the end of the tunnel. Of, if you are religious, you may find comfort in an ancient Buddhist mantra or one of the Psalms. Psalm 23 is frequently recited in moments of acute stress, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…”
You may wish to create your own personal mantra by listing the positive things in your life, or the things that you can control in your life. When you’re feeling under stress, or feel a panic attack coming on, take a deep breath and meditate on your loved ones, or a happy memory, or a great personal success.
Sometimes we place too much pressure upon ourselves which can trigger anxiety. A change of pace or scene can be good for your mental health. Meditation in a quiet place, maybe reciting your favorite mantra, can recharge your biological batteries. You may wish to study some form of relaxation exercise, such as tai chi or yoga.
A common problem in modern life is not allowing our bodies enough time to sleep and recover. If you have decided to improve your mental and physical health by establishing an exercise routine, you will need to ensure you allow enough sleep to compensate for your extra level of physical exertion. Lack of sleep leads to mental fatigue, a loss of concentration, and mental health problems. You need enough “me time” in your life.
Small Changes & Big Improvements
I want to emphasize here that both physical and mental exercises are an essential part of overcoming anxiety-related disorders. Anxiety can leave you feeling exhausted and incapable of squeezing any kind of exercise into your daily routine. However, the extra level of self-confidence and energy that regular exercise provides is worth finding the time.
Also, it’s worthwhile to point out that physical exercise can quite literally save your life. The CDC National Health Statistic Report demonstrates that across the nation people are not doing enough to ensure their own future wellbeing. Anxiety is not your only enemy. If you don’t treat your body as a temple, it will crumble around you.
But don’t expect everything to change overnight. You must focus on making small changes and moving forward. It is the many small changes we make to improve our lives that will build up into a much bigger change over the years. Pushing yourself to cycle an extra 5 yards every day will lead to an extra mile in a year’s time.
Be The Change You Want To See
And now it’s up to you. Reading this won’t make you a stronger, healthier, and less stressed individual. You must take charge of your own life. Set aside 30 minutes each day for moderate physical exercise. Set goals. Ensure you get enough sleep to recover and write about it all in your journal or blog.
About the Author
Baker had the good fortune to be born in a first-world country at a time when fast international travel became possible for average people. Having shared meals with families in huts with no electricity and dirt floors, he appreciated the "little" things that his fellow Englishmen take for granted. Over the years he has worked in many different fields. He's been an archaeologist in the Scottish Hebrides, an accountant in London, and taught English in China. However, he has never enjoyed any other job as much as writing.