Anxiety. It presents itself in a multitude of ways. It might be a knot in the pit of your stomach, a racing heart rate, or a heightened sense of fear. You might find yourself sleeping less, feeling overwhelmed, flushed or with a tingling in your arms and fingers. However it manifests itself, anxiety can be tough to overcome, but walking can help.
Studies cited by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America report that ”regular exercise works as well as medication for some people to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and the effects can be long lasting.”
Researchers aren’t entirely sure exactly how walking helps to combat anxiety, but the research is quite compelling that it does. Most likely the reason lies at the intersection of the many ways that walking positively impacts your mind, mood and body.
Walking gives you a moment of focus. In our “always on” world, we are bombarded with news, stories, information and cars rushing by. Our schedules are jam-packed, leaving us little time to process our thoughts or our emotions. Walking provides the perfect countermeasure.
Walking gives you the chance to experience awe. Walking, especially in nature and places that are awe-inspiring, has the power to both make us feel small in the grand scheme of the universe, while at the same time, helping us feel connected to something larger than ourselves. This paradox is a cornerstone of feelings of awe. People who experience awe demonstrate lower levels of stress, reduced inflammation and increased joy. They tend to be more curious, open to new ideas and engaged with others and with the world around them.
Walking reduces levels of cortisol. Cortisol is our body’s stress hormone and, though useful in fight or flight situations, many researchers believe that many of us are walking around with too much cortisol too much of the time. One way to lower your cortisol levels? Yep, walking.
Walking helps you sleep better. Anxiety often interferes with sleep, which makes it more difficult to process stressful situations, causing more anxiety and poorer sleep in an anxiety-producing cycle. Oodles of research shows that walking – especially early in the day – can help improve our sleep and disrupt that cycle.
Walking fires up your happiness hormones: Feeling happy when all you feel is worried is quite the challenge. But, taking a walk fires up your happiness hormones— dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and oxytocin—heightening your sense of happiness, belonging and well-being.
Walking helps you reset your mind. Stress and anxiety are driven by the amygdala, one of our brain’s most primitive systems, which is charged with keeping us safe. But when the amygdala becomes overactive, exercise—like walking—can help you get back in control. Exercise activates the frontal regions of your brain, which helps control the reactions of the amygdala. Now there’s some amazing brainpower!
In life, everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. For most people, feelings of anxiety come and go, only lasting a short time. But a full-blown anxiety disorder requires professional help. If your anxiety is interfering with your ability to function or enjoy life, prompting thoughts of hopelessness or suicide, causing you to turn to drugs or alcolol as a way to cope, seek professional help.
National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English, 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish