The recent events of the last year have many people feeling more anxious than ever before. Now, with winter dragging on, many are looking for new coping mechanisms to move through these feelings without the warm weather. But, instead of locking yourself inside for the colder months, grabbing your walking shoes could be a cheap, easy way to feel better.
According to Mindbodygreen, walking stimulates the part of the brain known as the amygdala, which regulates anxiety levels and decision-making. Since this lobe can only do one thing at time, giving it a place to focus can help quell racing thoughts. The outlet suggests that, when you take a walk, the process actually shuts down your mind’s anxious response — helping you feel better, faster. Essentially, walking helps your racing thoughts subside so that your brain can take a break.
Plus, since walking is considered exercise, you reap those benefits as well. Harvard Health explains that adding a long walk to your routine and moving your body helps relax muscle tightness, an experience that can contribute to feelings of anxiety. Stimulating the amygdala, walking helps activate this center of the brain so it can relax the survival instinct when it’s not needed.
Outside is the best place to get moving
If you can, take your stroll outside — especially since being in nature helps relax the brain even further. Grab your winter coat, double up your layers and get moving! If you’re worried about getting cold, you can use hand-warmers and extra layers of clothes. Mindbodygreen explains that various plants and trees release calming aerosols into the atmosphere, so when you’re leisurely walking through them, it can seriously benefit your mental state. Furthermore, finding an area that helps you feel expansive rather than constricted can make a difference as well.
Since most experiences of anxiety stem from a feeling of constriction, your walk in open spaces may alleviate symptoms. The outlet notes that these types of areas actually spike your oxytocin levels, aka the love connection hormone. Soothing and grounding, your expansive nature walk will have your head feeling clearer with each step forward.
Also, getting outside and moving can build up your brain’s ability to handle intense emotions (per Harvard Health). When you give your mind room to breathe and a place to focus, you’ll likely find it easier to relax when things don’t go as planned. Plus, your celebratory cup of hot chocolate when you get back may be reason enough to get moving outside.
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