One of the first things I do with every client is to put them on a regular exercise regime. It’s healthier than drugs, it’s cheaper than drugs, and in the long term it’s more effective than drugs.
When we experience stressful life events, our brains release Corticotrophin Releasing Factor (CRF), a hormone which speeds up the neural firing in our brains. Our brains do this to help us become more vigilant and motivated. In the distant past this was helpful because we needed to become more motivated to find solutions to stressful life events like food or water shortages. However, nowadays our stressful life events are more likely to be psychological rather than physical, so brain agitation often makes things worse, suddenly giving rise to anxiety.
Exercise produces endorphins, which make us feel euphoric and relaxed, directly countering the effects of the CRF. This is like a temporary re-calibration of our mental state. Exercise does this without producing addiction or dependency. Exercise also has other benefits like making us feel strong, powerful and in-charge as well as enhancing our cardiovascular system and improving coordination, flexibility and balance.
The exercise regime can be very relaxed. First, I ask people to walk regularly and slowly build-up until they can easily manage 30 mins. Then I encourage them to replace some of the distances say, between electricity poles or trees with a very slow jog that is NEVER hard or gruelling. Gradually the slow jogging distances increase, while always keeping a walk at the start (for a warm-up) and a walk at the end (for a cool-down). Alternatively, I might ask people to swim a couple of slow laps of a 50m swimming pool (resting as often as necessary) and then very gradually add laps as they feel stronger and fitter. It is remarkable how quickly mood and anxiety improves with a little exercise.
Exercise is only one measure required to recover from anxiety, but it goes a surprisingly long way.