I’m the kind of type-A person who loves few things more than to-do lists and has been known to create spreadsheets for vacations in order to maximize the potential fun for each day. This is an asset in my professional life and occasionally in my personal life, too—I rarely forget a birthday or make a late bill payment. But it also means that I’m predisposed to feeling unnecessary stress, and I was ultimately diagnosed with anxiety after a particularly severe episode.
For many people, exercise is an effective way to reduce anxiety symptoms, but that wasn’t always the case for me. I started running shortly after high school as a replacement for field hockey and soccer practices. I was never any good at either of those sports, and they were social activities more than competitive endeavors. But once I started running, my spreadsheet-loving self reveled in how easy it was to track and monitor my progress.
By my sophomore year, I was a decent enough runner to join my college’s cross-country team. I was excited at the idea of hitting my running goals without sacrificing a social life, but by the following year, I no longer felt like the 30 miles we were doing in practices each week was enough. I became hyper-focused on metrics like weekly mileage and average page, started doing extra distance runs on my own, and registered for my first half-marathon on an off-weekend during our season.
Long story short: I wound up with my first stress fracture, then did the exact same thing the following year. After injuring myself two years in a row—and being a stressed-out mess over missing workouts during the required six weeks of rest both times—I knew that something had to change. I stopped putting so much emphasis on quantifying my workouts and started paying attention to how I felt, and somewhere along the lines, exercise shifted from a factor that contributed to my anxiety to a tactic that helps me combat it. Here's what I learned along the way.