How Running for 20 Minutes Before Work Helped My Anxiety

  • Katie Nave is a freelance writer and mental-health advocate based in Brooklyn, New York.
  • In January, she started going on 20-minute runs before starting the workday.
  • The quick exercise has helped ease her anxiety and improve her focus and stamina at work.

At the start of the new year, my COVID-19 anxiety was through the roof. I was ingesting every sensationalized news article I could get my hands on and subconsciously convincing myself that the more I knew, the more I’d be able to control. The constant buzz of Apple alerts throughout the workday was highly distracting and disorienting.

Luckily, I’m a writer for a mental-health company and knew that mine was tanking. I was constantly losing my patience with my 6-year-old, noticing my eyes glazing over during company


meetings, and feeling crushed by the weight of my inbox.

After seeing my reflection in a storefront, sobbing into my phone to my mother, I knew that something had to change

That evening in January as I was deep in my news feed, I ran across an article about how 20 minutes of daily exercise can help to lower our increased levels of COVID-era anxiety. Honestly, this wasn’t earth-shattering information, but as I looked at my nails chewed to the quick, I decided that I’d at least give it a shot.

The next morning, I set my alarm for 6 am, stumbled my way down to my apartment gym (a huge luxury, especially on a winter day), and stared down the treadmill. With the Celebrity Skin album blaring in my ears, I pressed “Go” and immediately hated it.

But after about five minutes, I was just doing it. Putting one foot in front of the other, feeling my heart rate start to rise and a sweat break on my forehead, I become totally present. Twenty minutes felt like an eternity, but the endorphin rush after I finished was undeniable.

I noticed that I started my workday in a much better mood post-run and willingly dove into projects that had sat on my to-do list for weeks. My energy level increased and I felt more awake throughout my day without needing a constant coffee crutch. Being more present and alert also made me feel confident and capable of tackling the more intimidating tasks that came my way.

After just a week, I noticed that I was no longer full of dread as I headed into the gym

Katie Nav

Nave says running before work helps her to be more energized and focused.

Katie Nav

And, as annoying as it is to hear, I actually started to look forward to it.

To make this habit stick, I knew I had to ease into it. I started running four days a week, giving my body days off in between to recover. On non-running days, I focus more on gentle types of movement, like taking strength-training classes on my Peloton app (my health insurance company covers the cost, and yours may, too!).

To help make this lasting change, I really took time to dig into my “why.” Sure, there are mornings when I would rather get extra sleep, but I know that when I skip this part of my day, I feel more sluggish and irritable. Understanding the reasons why I’m choosing to prioritize movement has helped me to stick to it, despite not always being stoked about it.

I’m sticking with this routine because it actually works

Katie Nav

Nave says easing into her new morning-run habit has helped it stick.

Katie Nav

While it never looks perfect, I’m continuing to give myself at least 20 minutes each morning to run.

Prioritizing this moment for myself each day has improved my focus at work and is helping me to feel less burned out. I’m no longer zoning out during meetings or feeling the same energy crash at 3 pm Plus, I’ve noticed that my day-to-day anxiety has lessened and I’m feeling more peaceful and settled in my body. My chest is less tight, and my stomach isn’t constantly in knots.

Taking better care of myself in terms of exercise has also snowballed into more healthy changes. I wake up looking forward to my run and no longer anxiously check the first news thing in the morning. Instead, I’ve silenced my news alerts, given myself one small window each day to check headlines, and started journaling before I go to sleep to wake up fresh and ready for my run.

Just existing is hard right now, and incorporating this morning run into my workday has done wonders to ease my COVID-related anxiety and improve my focus and energy at work. It’s a habit I plan on sticking to, pandemic or not.

Katie Nave is a freelance writer and mental-health advocate based in Brooklyn, New York. Her essays have appeared in Newsweek, Elle, Glamor, and Motherly. She also writes for Sanvello, the top-rated app for anxiety and depression.