What happens when the whole idea of exercise triggers anxiety?
It’s difficult not to be anxious in these turbulent times. Just turning on the news can trigger any number of emotional events. For those of us who suffer from anxiety, the outside world can be a scary place when matched with our internal predisposition for catastrophic thinking.
Recent studies have found that exercise can significantly help you reduce anxiety. Scientists believe regular aerobic exercise decreases overall levels of tension, elevates and stabilizes mood, improves sleep, and elevates self-esteem. While there’s no one single reason why exercise helps, we know it increases endorphins. These natural painkillers reduce stress and make us feel good about ourselves.
But what if the idea of exercise causes anxiety?
Being afraid to start something new or even getting back into exercise can be a source of anxiety. We judge and compare ourselves to others who effortlessly pick up moves or look like they were born to be at the front of the class. We can’t even imagine that these people were ever crippled by self-doubt as they approach the gym like a second home. Insecurity matched with our personal narratives about fitness can create more fear. A vicious cycle keeps you from engaging and your brain reinforces these negative relationships.
The best advice is to start off small. Instead of turning to rigorous routines that get your heart rate up, look into activities that you may enjoy. You might benefit from a calming environment instead of a competitive one. Activities like spin, with darkened rooms and loud music, can provide overstimulation for some people — while others will take comfort in the darkness and the way the class relies on predictable routines. Hot yoga can feel claustrophobic with soaring temperatures — but many classes follow a set sequence of poses which can alleviate the worry of what comes next.
Your first step in using exercise to help alleviate anxiety is to find a routine that works for you. Routine removes surprises and putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. Try to exercise frequently for smaller amounts of time so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Then focus… concentrate on every movement you make, your breath, and being fully present. Even if you are just going to a walk, make every step count.
Using exercise to combat anxiety doesn’t need to make you feel more anxious. If you are working with a personal trainer, open up and let them know what you’re dealing with. They can modify your workout to improve both your mental and physical well-being.