A couple of days ago, Lena Dunham posted the image above on her Instagram feed with the quote:
"Promised myself I would not let exercise be the first thing to go by the wayside when I got busy with Girls Season 5 and here is why: it has helped with my anxiety in ways I never dreamed possible. To those struggling with anxiety, OCD, depression: I know it's mad annoying when people tell you to exercise, and it took me about 16 medicated years to listen. I'm glad I did. It ain't about the ass, it's about the brain. Thank you@tracyandersonmethod for showing me the light (and@bandierfit is where I bought my Florida mom inspired workout look.) #notsponsored #stillmedicated
Dunham specifically mentions, via hashtag, that she's #stillmedicated — so she's using the workouts in addition to whatever meds she and her doctor have decided on. But it sounds like the exercise on top of her medication is getting her better results than just the pills were.
I follow Dunham on Instagram, and as soon as I saw this post, I wanted to yell, "Yes!!!" because the young writer/producer has many, many young female fans and this advice will certainly be heard. I was excited because like Dunham (I've always wanted to write that!), I have anxiety issues. I was diagnosed in my mid-20s, and I've found that exercise makes a huge difference for me too.
Unlike Dunham, I've chosen not to take medication, since the idea of taking pills creates even more anxiety for me. (I have a history of addiction on both sides of my family, so taking any type of pill makes me nervous, even aspirin.) Instead, I've gone without. Of course everyone has to make this decision for themselves. After over a decade of dealing with my anxiety, I've learned what works for me — and I'm happy to say I haven't had a panic attack in more than five years, and day-to-day anxiety hasn't prevented me from doing something I wanted to do in even longer.
Exercise is one of my main bulwarks against my nerves going nuts. I work out five to six days a week, and at least three of those days are fairly strenuous. I trail run, swim, go for long bike rides, take barre class (my current fave), and do a weird yoga-breathing-meditation that I came up with myself (it may be best described as a moving meditation) when I feel out-of-whack.
There's plenty of good science to back up both Dunham's and my experience. A 2006 study of almost 20,000 subjects found that "Exercisers were on average less anxious, depressed, and neurotic, more extroverted, and were higher in dimensions of sensation seeking than non-exercisers. These differences were modest in size, but very consistent across gender and age." Other studies have backed up or further explored these findings.
Working out is just the starting point for my "keep calm and carry on" routine.
Other tactics that help me keep my anxiety in check include starting most days off with meditation, getting plenty of sleep, taking a full 24 hours off from work at least once a week, and eating lots of vegetables. I spend as much time as I can in nature, even if that's just sitting in the sunshine in a park for 10 minutes on my way to or from an appointment or the grocery store. And for me, after a few days of being in a completely natural environment — living outdoors for example — my anxiety completely disappears. Keeping my life as simple as possible helps too.
I also use herbs, including regular cups of chamomile tea and tinctures if I feel nervous.
For me, the key is consistency. If I exercise, sleep, eat healthfully, get sunshine and outdoor time, and enough downtime, my anxiety is minimal. In a way, it forces me to take much better care of myself than I might otherwise. So, in a strange way, my bad nerves serve me well — they force me to slow down, be mindful, and live healthfully. I can live with that.
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