What is one of the easiest and most practical way to reduce anxiety? Take a walk. A long walk.
This was concluded from my own personal experience with depression and anxiety.
Few years ago I sought for medical treatment at a neurologist for my migraine episodes. The aim was to get a consultation with an expert to attain a potential long term cure, or at least a method to manage the frequency of my debilitating migraine episodes.
The recommended treatment came with prescription drugs that had to be taken daily. One of the medications I was given was Fluvoxamine which is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, and back then with limited knowledge we naively didn’t think of potential side effects that may come with it. Basically I complied with the treatment, with the hopes it will decrease the severity and occurrence of my migraines in the long run.
Six weeks later, I started to develop high levels of anxiety which eventually led to depression. I had difficulty concentrating at work, lost interest in my regular hobbies, and had difficulty sleeping at night although I was drowsy at most times during the day. The sleeplessness became so bad that I had to resort to taking sleeping pills to fall asleep at night. Small events like our dog chewing on the car would set me off, and I started to have thoughts of low self-esteem and doubted my capabilities at work. It came to a point where I felt like quitting my job. I even lost my appetite to eat. Another symptom was that my monthly cycles stopped, and that was unusual for me as my cycles were always regular prior to this.
I can say I have experienced what appears to be clinical depression based on the symptoms I had. I recall in that period family and friends tried their best to counsel me out of my depression, and I even had to take time off from work to figure out how to manage my thoughts and condition. Some options included taking a holiday or doing date nights with my husband, but I found myself disinterested most of the time, even losing focus and feeling upset in the middle of a movie we were watching together.
Nothing really worked, I continued to take the prescribed daily doses of migraine medication and my depression and anxiety persisted.
What worked then? During these times of gloom, the one key thing that eased my symptoms and brought me out of my shell of anxiety and depression was physical activity and exercise. My husband would take me out for long walks in the evenings, in the park or around our neighborhood, sometimes upon my request. The change in scenery, the fresh air and perspiration helped.
Usually towards the end of the walks, I would get my appetite back and I would feel my energy levels returning. It would last an hour or two after these walks before my mind became cloudy again, but I recall the feeling of relief I felt after each walk and thinking to myself that I was getting better. On some of those walks, I would even comment to my husband that I wanted to get back to work and was bewildered at how I was feeling few hours earlier.
It appears that physical exercise releases feel good endorphins in your body that alleviates your mood naturally. It also takes your mind of these negative thoughts and worries that causes the anxiety, a temporary distraction, with a simple focus of getting from point A to B while taking in the changes in the environment as we move along the trees and scenic paths. Another advantage is that it improves the ability to sleep at night and these helped me with my insomnia episodes.
How much exercise is enough? According to this source from Mayo Clinic, a 30 minute walk on alternate days in a week is enough to reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. Even a short walk of 15 minutes a day will be beneficial.
It feels very surreal to look back at this period in my life. I eventually figured that it was the medications I was taking daily, which upon further research indicated that depression, anxiety and panic attacks was a common side effect in estimated 10% of those who took this prescription drug. It also indicated that some young people had developed suicidal thoughts upon first taking this medication. Thankfully, two to three weeks after I stopped taking these medications, the anxiety and depressive thoughts lifted, and I returned to my old self.
So if you ever feel your mind clouded with anxious thoughts or feel depression creeping in, take a walk. Walk around your neighborhood at night, with your kids in the park on evenings, or even out and about in the city if you lack greenery where you live. This is the easiest and most practical way to alleviate your anxiety.