Overcoming Worry: The Calming Power of Exercisesam
By Bob Livingstone LCSW
There are a lot of us that spend too much time worrying. According to The National Institute on Mental Health, approximately 40 million American adults ages 18 and older, or about 18.1 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety prevents us from being happy, can cause physical ailments, and keeps us from taking healthy risks that may improve the quality of our lives.
Worry may be a trait that is passed on genetically from your family or it may be an outcome of your environment. One or both of your parents may suffer from intense anxiety and you learn to be anxious because it is modeled for you as a way of living. The worry is usually driven by a need to have a guaranteed outcome. Of course there are very few situations that result in a sure-fire conclusion. Therefore the worrying does not seem to have any purpose or any positive effects in one’s life.
The worrying can become habitual where you immediately turn to the feelings of anxiousness in your stomach, the endless spinning of your thoughts and the sense that disaster is about to occur. You believe that there is not an alternative to this way of being because you have been processing information in this manner your entire life.
However, there is a means to transform the worrying to peace through physical exercise. There are many studies that conclude that physical exercise brings a state of well being and calmness. There is research that indicates that working out as little as 15 minutes at a time will enable you to reach this state.
First, make an appointment with your physician to clear you for participating in physical exercise. While you are walking, running, biking or other aerobic activity do the following:
1. Notice if you are feeling anxious or worried when you begin your workout. What is making you anxious? Are you worried about some project at work that is overdue? Are you anxious about your relationship with your husband/wife or partner? Are you having a conflict with a friend or family member?
2. Notice when a sense of calmness comes over you. What does this feel like? Do you notice your worrying decreasing or dissipating? What does your body feel like now? Do you feel strong and confident? Do you see yourself differently? Do you feel better about yourself?
3. Now, focus on the issue that was making you anxious in the beginning of your workout. Do you still feel anxious or has the anxiety decreased? Do you feel that you can develop a strategy for working through this difficulty? If so, do you notice how clear thinking you are? How is the strategy planning going? Is it going smoothly?
A regular exercise program will help ease your worrying. You will notice that the confusion that is created by anxiety will decrease or dissipate. You will discover that issues that once seemed impossible to approach, much less resolve, and become much easier to work through. You can learn to capture this peaceful feeling that you obtain from exercising while you are sedentary. This process won’t happen overnight, but it can with practice.
A regular exercise program can lead you to living a life where you focus on living happily in the present instead of worrying about the future or dreading the past.
Bob Livingstone, LCSW, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for almost twenty years. He works with adults, teenagers and children who have experienced traumas such as family violence, neglect and divorce. He works with men around anger issues and adults in recovery from child abuse. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Redemption of the Shattered: A Teenager’s Healing Journey through Sandtray Therapy and the upcoming The Body-Mind-Soul Solution: Healing Emotional Pain through Exercise (Pegasus Books, Aug. 2007). For more information visit www.boblivingstone.com.