Some things in life seem too good to be true. Taking a walk to get rid of your anxiety, does that really work? For journalist and health expert Sarah Wilson, it sure did. She suffered from heavy anxiety – at some point, she even feared going to sleep, let alone leave her house. Then she discovered the therapeutic effect of walking.
Wilson had been having trouble with anxiety all her life. In her latest book, First We Make The Beast Beautiful: A New Journey Through Anxiety, she tells alla bout what it’s like to live with mental issues. The book is filled with tips and tricks for people who suffer from anxiety.
Wilson researched the several ways to handle anxiety problems. As it turns out, one of the best ways to find peace when feeling anxious, is by walking. Just put on your shoes, go into the forest or to the beach and just go with the flow. No destination. She discovered the fascinating facts behind this easy, accessible and free form of therapy.
This is how it works in the brain
The amygdala is the part of the brain involved in managing and processing several emotions. Fear is one of these emotions. It’s one of the eldest and most primitive parts of the brain, and it works relatively simple: it’s able to do one thing at a time.
Research shows that with people who suffer from depression (which is often combined with heavy anxiety), the amygdala works at a much lower level. Walking activates the brain. It gives you new stimuli and other feelings, which helps to reactivates the connections in your body. The anxious part of the brain gets less attention.
Interesting fact: the amygdala also enables us to make decisions. This means there’s a part of the brain where both our fears and our ability to decide are located. This makes it almost impossible to make decisions when you’re scared – and it’s the reason why taking many decisions at once can cause fear.
What does walking do for you?
It makes sense that more and more people do walking meetings for a brainstorm or to make plans. When you’re walking, your heart beats more quickly and your blood flow increases – towards your brain, too. It enables you to think more clearly, and to think deeply about one specific topic.
The current pace of society and the way we’re supposed to live, isn’t suitable for complicated thoughts like this. Quick thoughts cumulate, there’s no time to really think about how you feel. Walking takes you into a rhythm that’s peaceful enough for you to focus on one thought at a time.
Japanese research acknowledges what you probably already suspected: nature is the best environment for your daily walk. Trees and plants spread little particles in the atmosphere that pacify your mind and have a big impact on your wellbeing.
Besides, breathtakingly beautiful places with a great view or gorgeous light are great destinations for an intense walk. Enjoying beauty increases the level of oxytocin, which makes for a feeling of love and connection.
Even if you don’t have a forest, a beach or another special location near you, walking is a good idea. Just try it and find out what a daily 20 minute walk does for you.
Text: Eline Hoffman - Photo: Micah Hallahan