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Combatting Anxiety with Exercise

In the last few months I’ve cracked my tooth twice. Twice! I wish I could tell you that it was while doing something exciting, or that I had some great freak-accident story to share. Unfortunately, it’s all rather boring: I clench my jaw when I’m stressed. And I clench so hard sometimes that it might crack a tooth. And apparently I’ve been so stressed lately that I’ve cracked the same poor tooth twice.

We all deal with stress and anxiety at some level. And we all experience seasons where that level is higher than usual. Maybe we’re facing a job search, or a loved one is in trouble. Maybe we just gave our all to a project that didn’t succeed, or received a serious diagnosis. Whatever the cause, stress and anxiety can wreak havoc on our bodies. We carry it in our backs, shoulders, and necks. We develop tension headaches that can last days or weeks. We can gain weight and lose sleep. And yes, we can crack our teeth.

Stress will come. Anxiety will rear its head. Conflict is a regular part of human existence. Yet when it strikes with force we tend to allow it to bowl us over. We stop doing the things we enjoy, we dip into depression, and we become more withdrawn and sedentary. And we come by it honestly. After all, it seems logical that when we’re overwhelmed we would pull back, lay low, and conserve our energy—we’re exhausted!

Yet research on anxiety reveals that laying low may not be as helpful as we think. In fact, getting up and moving seems to have a significant impact on overall mood, reducing anxiety levels. This happens in part because it gives our minds and bodies something different to focus on, pulling us out of the downward spiral of worry. But perhaps even more importantly, exercise causes our bodies to release endorphins, a brain chemical that makes us feel good in a similar way CBD.

Thirty minutes or more a few times a week can improve our moods and reduce anxiety in significant ways. But if that’s daunting, don’t sweat it—even a small amount of exercise has a positive effect. If we want to drop the anxiety we have to drop the pressure, too. Anything that gets us off the couch, out of bed, and moving can help. Instead of assigning ourselves more stress with an unattainable, let’s choose small things—take a brisk walk between meetings, complete twenty minutes of yard work every day, download an app with free, short, no-equipment needed workouts.

As a bonus, as we begin to hit our smaller fitness goals we’ll not just be more relaxed, we’ll also gain confidence when we realize that we can complete tough challenges, we can take control of our own lives, we can rise to the occasion even when we’ve been knocked down.

So what are some tips to incorporating exercise into our routine?

Enlist a partner. Find a friend, neighbor, or co-worker who is a good match for your goals and fitness level. Commit to walking together over your lunch break, hitting hot yoga together twice a week, or going for a relaxing bike ride over the weekends.

Be realistic. Choose activities that you enjoy. Choose times and durations that work for you—for your fitness level and your schedule. The more realistic your goal, the more likely you are to achieve it. Best part? As you keep meeting your goals, you’ll be able to stretch yourself a little further each time.

Prepare to fail. Have you ever set a goal to read a book each week, run every day, or give up refined sugar? We tend to do great—until we don’t. Typically, it only takes one slip up, one missed day, one set back from our idealized plan, and we give up on the whole thing.

As you begin your exercise regimen, expect to fail sometimes. Expect to miss a day. Expect to come up short, and then get right back at it. Give up the idea of perfection and keep up your momentum even with some bumps along the way. After all, resilience pairs great with your newly improved mood.

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