Breathe In, Breathe Out

Jake Striebeck

Breathe in, breathe out.

That’s what I tell myself during my daily bouts of anxiety. Each thought is more negative and paranoia-filled than the last; I used to let these thoughts run free.

A stranger would take over my brain, one who controlled my decisions and my choices. I was left to watch from afar as this anxiety-fueled creature lived my life for me. Each day brought me deeper into depression. This went on for years, during important stages of my teenage life.

But after many rock-bottoms and heart-to-hearts with myself, I began to remember who I was. I had just enough fight in myself to want to better my life and take control of my thoughts and decisions once again.

The hardest part of overcoming anxiety and getting out of a state of depression is wanting to, so once you do find that glimmer of hope, follow that thought of self-improvement and run with it. That thought will lead you to the next.

And so, my journey started.

I began researching different ways to curb anxiety and found a million different results. Exercise, diet and sleeping patterns stood out as common themes to improve mental health and reduce anxiety.

During my days of heightened anxiety, my diet was fueled by Whataburger meals and pints of ice cream. I’m not saying that’s not a delicious combination, but to have meals like that on a daily basis is not a healthy habit.

I cut the fast food and late-night snacks and replaced it with plates of vegetables and hummus, white meats and redfish, fruits and grains. If you can spend the time and money at H-E-B, you’ll find a wide selection of all types of foods in an assortment of flavors and varieties. Things like chocolate hummus, flavored trail-mix and Meal Simples (oven-ready containers of chicken and salmon with a side) make healthy eating easier and more accessible.

I also started to exercise. It was a scary thought at first, telling myself I had to exercise in order to reduce my anxiety. Even the thought of exercising gave me anxiety, but the desire for self-improvement overcame these fears. I started small. Something as simple as walking around your neighborhood for 15-30 minutes is exercising. If you can get some sweat on your forehead and a focused breathing pattern for a few minutes, that is all it takes.

Breathe in, breathe out.

I’ve found that exercise is good for reducing anxiety because it is essentially a form of meditation. Your breathing patterns become more focused, you become more in-tune with the mechanics of your body and are able to achieve a better sense of self-awareness. Another benefit is an improved self-image as the depression weight starts to shed.

Exercise also helped me sleep at night. Exercise helps exert wound-up energy, so the bed feels more comfortable at the end of the day. A healthy sleeping pattern is a huge factor in mental health. The more sleep one gets, the stronger the mind will function in all facets. Sleeping longer leads to more energy which leads to a healthier routine.

On days I exercised, I found my anxiety at ease. On days I didn’t exercise, I found myself more anxious and depressive, so I exercised as often as possible and slowly became good at it.

My choice of exercise has been “running.” I call it “running,” but when I first started it was mostly walking. Walking in my neighborhood, walking through parks, walking along the downtown riverwalk, walking across the UTSA campus.

Then after months of this, I began to jog. I was so proud when I was finally able to jog a whole mile without stopping. After one mile, I was able to do two. Then over the years, it has grown to three, four, six and eight miles. The distance grows by the day. I am currently training to do a half-marathon run (13.1 miles) at the end of the year, and I’ve never been more excited to accomplish a goal.

Breathe in, breathe out.

The daily “meditation sessions” I get from exercising, the encouragement it gives me to eat healthier and the improvements of my sleeping patterns have done wonders for my mental health.

The confidence in myself grows with every step I run and every drop I sweat. As my mileage increases, my anxiety lessens. I no longer fear my own thoughts.

It is hard to find positive thoughts in an anxiety-driven mind. It’s easy to get consumed, to lose yourself. If you can find that light in the dark, that want for improvement, follow it. Take it slow and at your own pace, but always work towards it.

Make resilience a habit. My habit was exercise, and it helped me turn my life around. It’s given me a reason to put on my shoes and get out of the house. It’s given me a sense of pride with all of the hard work I’ve put into it.

Ease the anxious mind. Go outside and sweat a little. Take it easy. And remember: breathe in, breathe out.