I Ran or Walked 1 Hour Every Morning For a Month: Here's How It Helped My Mental Health

We've all had our emotional moments the past few months during this pandemic, but last month, I just broke down uncontrollably crying one day because I felt so overwhelmed — it's been a lot to deal with. I had three months of homeschooling my two kids while also juggling working and getting all the house responsibilities done, with no breaks. Parents out there, I know you feel me.

I've also felt anxious nonstop about my family getting sick, and although I'm so grateful we've all remained healthy (knock on wood), the thought is always there that any day, one or all of us will get COVID-19. When school ended, my husband and I had to reluctantly make the decision to send our kids to camp even though we were nervous about them being exposed — we had to work and had no other choice. So I was also dealing with the guilt of that.

To make matters worse, since the end of March, I've felt terrible physically because I wasn't taking care of myself. I wasn't sleeping well and my normal eating routine did a complete flip (#bakingrelievesstress). I also wasn't working out after my gym closed because feeling emotionally drained isn't exactly motivating. There was a growing strain in my marriage as we both dealt with the stress and uncertainty of everything. It all came crashing down and this wave of sadness rushed over me, bringing me to tears.

Lamentations of an Introvert

Aside from all of this to cope with, as an introvert who's been used to working from home alone for the past 13 years, the biggest adjustment I've had to navigate is that I am never alone. Being by myself is crucial to my well-being, and when I don't get that time every single day I'm a total bitch extremely unhappy. It was making me super moody, I was snapping at my husband and kids, and I just felt overall down. I knew things were bad in the world, but this was making them feel even worse. I had to change that. I needed to make alone time a priority.

One Hour to Myself

With work and family obligations, the only time I could carve in some "me time" was early in the morning before everyone woke up. That night, I set my alarm for 5:45 a.m., put my sneakers by the door, laid out my workout clothes in the bathroom, and got into bed by 9:30 p.m.

In the morning, I went outside for a walk/run from 6 to 7 a.m. While I could have worked out in my basement, if I wanted to be truly alone with no interruptions, I knew I had to get out of my house to get the space I needed. That time alone allowed me to just let my brain wander as I listened to inspiring body-positive podcasts, personal stories from The Moth, or healthy eating YouTube videos.

That first day of alone time changed my mood so much and inspired me to keep going. I intended to take it day by day, but ended up doing it for a full month. Some days I didn't feel like running, so I walked, but no matter what, I woke up and got outside.

How It Affected My Mental Health

Within the first five minutes of every morning, watching the sun rise and feeling the warmth on my skin, I felt a wave of calmness and joy wash over me. I had no responsibilities, no one needing me, nothing to do but just be. I could lose myself on the country road, completely alone (not counting the cows, of course). It felt so good doing something just for me, to sweat and breathe deeply, knowing it was not only benefitting my physical health, but my mental health as well.

Having alone time first thing in the morning allowed me to set my intentions and positive mood and wrap my brain around my to do list. I felt more prepared having that time to think and process my emotions and tasks. I felt accomplished having gotten my workout done before 7 a.m., and was energized for the day.

My husband also noticed that I came home with a smile and an upbeat mood, and that overall, I was more loving. Alone time made me a kinder partner and a more compassionate parent, and I'm so glad I remembered that and decided to take this time for me.

What Alone Time Outside Taught Me

To be honest, having my alarm go off that early in the morning sucked every time. I would have much rather stayed up late and slept in, but when I felt like hitting the snooze button, I immediately thought about how good I would feel during that hour, and how necessary it was. Even though I might have been feeling exhausted in the moment, if I could gather the energy to pull on my sports bra and sneakers, I knew I'd feel excited as soon as I set foot out my front door.

I also realized that if I was planning to get up early, I needed to plan to go to bed early. This affected the alone time I had with the hubs, though, and not getting enough of that also affected my mental health. Since he understood how important my morning alone time was, we tried to get the kids in bed by 8 p.m. so we could spend an hour or so together playing guitar or watching TV.

After two weeks of my morning hour alone, I learned that one hour alone every morning was awesome, but it started to not feel like enough. So for the last two weeks, I started setting my alarm a little earlier and went out for an extra 15 to 30 minutes. I used this time to walk after my run, and on the weekends, I'd go even longer since everyone was sleeping in.

Over this month of morning alone time, I also learned that the weather was inconsistent and some days it was 70 and breezy, while other days it was pouring rain and a truck would drive by splashing buckets of dirty water all over you and into your mouth (yep, that happened!). It's helped me deal with the ups and downs and curve balls life has thrown at me with a little more patience and grace. Who knew something as simple as this, something I could do every day, could have such a huge impact on my life? I'll definitely try to keep this up!