I don’t keep it a secret, and I’ve written about it many times before: I suffer from anxiety. Actually, right now, “suffer” is a strong word. The anxiety isn’t that bad in recent years. For many years it was…very, very bad to the point where, at times, I could hardly function.
One of the first things that helped me get anxiety under control was exercise, more specifically, walking. Research suggests that people who exercise regularly report a 20% decrease in anxiety symptoms compared to those who don’t exercise. Personally, I would say that my anxiety is reduced by 50% to 75% through exercise, particularly cardio.
I used to walk a lot. I also used to run a lot because I trained for, and completed, a half-marathon a few years ago.
Unfortunately, I injured myself in the process, so my running career came to a halt. Although I’ve been exercising pretty consistently, I need to focus more on walking (a good heart-pumping pace) and even a little bit of running just to prove that I still can. What I like about a fast walk, however, is that I never get sore afterwards.
Sometimes when I walk, I try to be more mindful. It’s a two for one really. Exercise and meditation all wrapped up together. Granted, I don’t do this every time, but doing it now and then is very helpful in calming frayed nerves.
I’m not a meditation or mindfulness teacher, but here’s the technique I use if I’m taking a mindful walk. You might want to give it a try.
Stand still – I start my walk by taking a moment to tune into my body and notice what’s present: thoughts, feelings, sensations.
Focus on the feet – It’s my trusty feet that are going to move me along so I try to be aware of their contact with the ground, how they feel inside my shoes, and whether there are any particular sensations like warmth, coolness or tingling. Sometimes I don’t feel much while other times, my feet send lots of signals.
Feel – I like to start slowly and pay attention to the sights, smells and sounds around me. I also try to focus on the shift in weight as I lift each foot, take a step, and lightly make contact with the ground. In this way, I can feel the subtle shifts my body makes for balance. It’s like embodying the experience of movement.
Find a pace – Just because I start slowly doesn’t mean that I continue that way. I always pick up the pace to get my heart rate up. That’s what helps with the anxiety. But I still try to focus on my breath and remain aware of my surroundings.
Watch the thoughts – If I’m doing a mindful walk, I try to stay in the present moment. If unrelated thoughts creep in, I notice them
and let them go, refocusing attention on my surroundings and physical sensations like the wind against my face. Drawing the mind back takes practice – this is the practice of meditation.
Keep going – Sometimes I have a time or distance limit. Other times, I continue walking until I feel mindful and present. It’s a great feeling and very relaxing.
Mastering coping strategies for anxiety takes time but I guarantee that moving helps a whole lot. Try a mindful walk. You may find that a world of calm awaits you on the other side of the door.