I used to freak out every day around 1:30 p.m., like clockwork. I’d realize the workday was halfway done and immediately start second-guessing everything I’d finished while simultaneously worrying about everything I had yet to do. I’d start to get really flustered and shaky, and my nose would get uncomfortably itchy, a strange — albeit personal — tell that I was slipping into uncontrollable stress. Sometimes I’d get so upset I wouldn’t even stand up from my computer to go to the bathroom.
A few weeks ago, I finally admitted to myself that something needed to change. The anxiety I was feeling was not only detrimental to my mental health but working myself into a panic every day only made me more unproductive. I was creating this insane amount of pressure to use every second of the day perfectly, but in doing so, I only struggled more to finish my work. It was the definition of a vicious cycle, like a whirlpool I was willfully swimming toward only to be confused when the current pulled me down.
I knew I needed to take a step away from work. In fact, I needed to take a lot of steps. So, I got up and started walking. I challenged myself to get outside for at least 20 minutes every day, right in the middle of the day, and test how it affected my productivity.
In my line of work as a writer — and I assume in most professions — a good idea is the most important ingredient for good work. There was one afternoon in particular where I just couldn’t brainstorm even a sprinkle of a concept. I was agitated, and my mind started spiraling into a million unhelpful directions. I started to think I was a failure, that I had no skill, that I couldn’t achieve anything. Getting up and going on a walk was the last thing I wanted to do — in my mind, I needed to literally sit it out and finish what I started — but I had committed to trying this new routine, and I didn’t want to give up that quickly.
As my feet wandered, so did my mind. Giving myself the space to explore without boundaries relieved the pressure, and suddenly, the ideas started rolling in. By the time I sat back down at my desk, I had all of these thoughts I couldn’t seem to get on paper fast enough.
It seemed that the moment I got up and got my feet moving, every jumbled thought in my head started to untangle.
While exercise, in general, has numerous benefits tied to physical and mental health, walking has often been linked to thinking. Research suggests it can help the brain form new connections, among other benefits. There are countless creative thinkers known to be fans of long walks, from Einstein and Darwin to Beethoven and Dickens. The people we consider world-changers knew that in order to shake up the world, you had to understand it, and to understand it, you had to be in it.
It seemed that the moment I got up and got my feet moving, every jumbled thought in my head started to untangle. It was like the solution to any roadblock or professional problem was just waiting at the end of a quick stroll around the block.
Leaving work right in the middle of a crisis surrounding how much work there was to do felt wrong. Taking time just for myself felt selfish. But after a week of committing to this schedule, I could never work any other way. By Friday, I was looking forward to my adventure, anxious to discover what I’d realize that day. If I could offer advice to anyone feeling stuck in their daily hustle, it’d be to get outside and explore. You might just be surprised to find what has been inside you all along.