I used to think that whenever my boyfriend was running late, he’d been hit by a car.
Well, not just him. All my loved ones, actually. If my parents’ flight had been delayed after a trip, I assumed it had crashed. If my sister wasn’t answering her phone, I thought she’d been abducted.
Paranoid thoughts plagued my mind every day. How long will it be before the police contact me? I’d think to myself. I knew my intense anxiety was ridiculous, but I didn’t know how to stop it.
It happened so often, planning funerals in my mind became routine. I rehearsed eulogies as habitually as I’d plan an outfit for the next day.
Like a lot of people, I didn’t do anything about it. Maybe it was silly, maybe it was just another part of the problem. Either way, I gradually accepted this was what my life would be like, and as best I could, learned to deal with my anxiety.
As lonely and unique as it can feel, this is actually an incredibly common problem. A study released this week, surveying more than 10,000 Australian women, found a “concerning number of women who dealt with anxiety. More than 40% of those surveyed said they had, at one time in their life, been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or depression.
The researchers also discovered that 60% of Australian women felt they weren’t doing enough physical exercise. As the survey director, Helen Brown admitted, this is “counter-intuitive”, considering physical activity is a known way to deal with anxiety.
That’s where my accidental cure comes in. When one day, the thoughts just…stopped.
At this point, I should say something. I am a vain person; some would even say narcissistic. And in the past, I’ve been told it’s a personal failing on my behalf. That obsessing over my looks is a waste of time (mine and other people’s).
But in this case, I disagree.
I credit my current state of good mental health to my vanity. Or, more specifically, my desire to have a Beyoncé butt.
Hear me out.
On my quest to whip my body back into shape after a long exercise hiatus, I cured my anxiety. And it was a total accident.
If you clicked on this article because you wanted a quick fix, I apologise. Doing cardio isn’t fun. It’s actually pretty horrible. But the benefits I’ve experienced just by simply setting my alarm an hour earlier and going for a jog far outweigh the discomfort.
Because running every morning, even after just a week, my mind began to clear.
I first realised it while I was checking myself out in the mirror one day. My boyfriend was an hour late—but something happened. I didn’t assume he was dead. I didn’t even hypothesise he’d been arrested or crashed his car. I actually had a rational thought:
He’s probably stuck in traffic. Or maybe he’s just working late.
As soon as I noticed this I was kind of stunned. Why wasn’t I freaking out?
As I discovered over the next few weeks, my anxiety had been drastically reduced. This is because, as Gretchen Reynolds writes for The New York Times, “Exercise can induce an overall pattern of calm in certain parts of the brain.”
In my experience, she’s right. I’ve kept running, and my anxious thoughts—so far—have kept away.
It’s important to stress that I’m in no way saying you shouldn’t seek medical help if you’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression. You should. They’re illnesses that need be taken very seriously, and they’re not something you want to mess around with.
But this is my story of how I significantly lowered the level of anxiety I was going through, just by going for a run.
And my butt? Who cares.
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