This One Exercise Can Seriously Help Your Anxiety

Feeling anxious can make it hard to enjoy life, and it's not easy to just "fix" being overtaken by a racing reel of negative thoughts by keeping a gratitude journal, or taking deep, cleansing breaths, or whatever else it is your non-anxious friends say helps them deal with their worries. That's because anxiety isn't just "being worried," and it comes with a whole host of pretty serious physical symptoms, ranging from a faster heartbeat, trouble sleeping, to difficulty concentrating (per Healthline). But there is one exercise that indeed helps anxiety sufferers: running. Indeed, studies cited by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America have shown that running and other forms of vigorous exercise can reduce anxiety symptoms and help you relax.

"Running can help to reduce the feelings of anxiety and clear space in your head," trainer Jaime McFaden explained to Aaptiv. "I have clients with anxiety who have felt a great sense of calm through running." This is because when you run, you put stress on your body. Stress? Hasn't your body been through enough? But in fact, your body reacts to this self-induced stress by flooding your brain with pain-blocking neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin. The result? You feel better. A study even found that running three times a week over 10 weeks was almost as effective at treating anxiety as the medication, clomipramine (per Psychology Today).

Running changes your mindset

It's not just the rush of feel-good neurotransmitters that makes running the perfect exercise for someone who's anxious — it's also the chance to clear your head, mile by mile. You can think through what's been bothering you and maybe, by the time you're rounding the corner and passing by the house with the funky mailbox, you might even have put your concern into proper perspective.

Having a running goal, whether it's a couch to 5K program, or training for a marathon, or even just going a little further or faster than you did last week, also helps. "When we're overwhelmed with anxiety and depression, shifting from the big picture — all the frustrations, worst-case scenario thinking — to the small, in-the-moment task of doing something that approaches a goal, like running a four-mile loop with two hills, will kick off a positive feedback loop that continues throughout the run and takes our thinking and emotions out of the trench of negativity," Laura Fredendall, Psy.D., told Runner's World.

What if you don't have a full-blown anxiety disorder, but are still grappling with worry? Running will benefit you, too. "Exercise is one of those things that is a guaranteed win for anyone who wants to feel better emotionally," said Karen Cassiday, Ph.D., the president of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and owner of the Anxiety Treatment Center of Greater Chicago (per Runkeeper).