Physical Outlets for Relieving Anxiety
Anxiety is a confusing, scary thing. You can’t exactly explain how you’re feeling, or what has caused you to feel that way in the first place. Due to this uncertainty and the fear that can come with it, people who don’t adequately know what’s happening to them or know how to deal with it can unknowingly turn to the wrong things for relief.
Some people self-soothe their anxiety with alcohol, others take abnormally long naps. These coping methods only mask the issue, though, leaving it to return once you get sober or wake up. Luckily, you don’t have to keep putting a band-aid on an invisible wound, there are healthy, proven-to-work methods out there instead.
One technique that many people have discovered that helps ease their anxiety is through physical outlets, such as exercise. Just like expressing yourself creatively can relieve anxiety, so can physical activity. Let’s dive into some physical outlets for relieving anxiety for you to try the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed.
There are so many benefits to practicing yoga. Not only are you strengthening your muscles and becoming more flexible, but yoga also teaches mindfulness and control. For Maggie Van de Loo, a mental health professional working in both clinical research and for nonprofits, yoga has been a godsend.
“I tend to turn to yoga when I need to organize my anxious thoughts, to work through whatever it is I’m worried about. Doing so while pairing breath to movement is grounding, centering, calming — allowing me to explore those feelings without being overwhelmed by them,” Van de Loo said.
Yoga decreases tension and increases relaxation. And since anxiety is an illness that creates stress and constriction, working through it with a practice that offers the complete opposite can prove extremely useful.
Exercising releases endorphins and endorphins have many positive effects on the body, which can in turn lower anxiety. Participating in sports such as beach volleyball, club soccer or taking a surfing lesson can release endorphins and decrease anxiety.
Endorphins are nicknamed the “feel good” chemicals for a reason. They are natural peptides produced in your body that interact with receptors in your brain to increase focus, lessen the effects of pain, create a better mood, lower stress and relieve anxiety and depression.
Doesn’t that all sound great? Sure does! So the next time you’re feeling anxious, grab a friend, head to a park, and throw a ball around.
Not only is dance a form of exercise that will produce endorphins, but it’s also a creative outlet on top of being a physical one. Dance is both exercise and art so it offers two ways to help with anxiety.
When dancing, a person can express themselves through their movements. They can be creative in the ways they contort their bodies and move to rhythms, which allow an anxious person to have control over an aspect of their lives, leading to relief.
On top of that, dancing is not easy, it takes a lot of physical strength and flexibility — it’s a workout. So, at the same time that a dancer is expressing themselves and letting out their anxious thoughts through movement, they’re also producing feel-good chemicals in the brain.
For Van de Loo, running has also played a huge factor in helping her manage her anxiety, which she developed in college. According to her, running helps make sense of her anxiety.
“When I am the kind of anxious where I feel it the most physically, running brings my body to a place where that makes sense, so I can more adequately address it. For example, if I’m running, it make sense that my heart rate would be high, that I would be sweating, a little short of breath. As a lifelong runner, I know how to push through that, manage it, take care of and listen to my body,” she said.
Running also forces Van De Loo to focus on one thing only, leaving little room for her negative, anxious contemplations.
“It reduces my to-do list to putting one foot in front of the other, and remembering to breathe, quieting down my thoughts,” she said.
When I look back on my own childhood, I often picture myself running around outside, barefoot, soaking up the sun. It’s a time when I remember being unquestionably happy and at ease and I believe that is partially due to being outdoors.
There’s something about nature stirring around you as the sun beats down on your back that makes all other factors and problems in life disappear. When you are surrounded by beauty, it’s hard to focus on anything hurtful.
Being outside awakens your senses, which are often left unused when working in an office or moping around in your apartment. When you take a walk, for example, you’ll no doubt hear birds chirping, see wildflowers overflowing through bushes, smell the dew from the morning and feel the wind whip against your skin. All of these intakes will lead to mindfulness, which is a top treatment for anxiety.
Mindfulness is the act of focusing on one thing, with your full attention, at one time. When done, the extra voices and thoughts floating around in your head are quieted. This gives you a calmed, new perspective and can show you that the things you’re worrying about aren’t as monumental and are more manageable than you previously thought when you were trapped, musing over them.
So while we are all busy typing away at our laptops, it’s important to find time to take a break and head outside every once in a while. A simple, mindful walk along the beach, a hike, or heading to a park to watch your dog play are all easily done, but offer tremendous relief to anxiety.
Similar to playing a sport, a quick trip to the gym or taking a workout class can also release endorphins and lower anxiety. If you’re like me and can’t catch a ball to save your life, an alternative to playing a sport can be taking any workout class or buying a gym membership.
Whenever I leave a Pilates class, for example, I not only feel good about my body, but I feel energized and reinvigorated, ready to face the day. If just one hour of a workout can lead to all that, then it can certainly help ease anxiety.
As you can see, there are many physical outlets a person can turn to in order to help lessen or rid themselves of anxiety. You do not have to be stuck with unhealthy coping methods and you don’t have to remain a prisoner to the crippling effects of anxiety. As hard as it may be to get yourself out of bed when you’re feeling anxious, if you’re able to do so and can then try one of these physical outlets, there is no doubt you will feel better with time.
Photo credit: Jennifer Regnier