Engaging in regular exercise is not only beneficial for your physical well-being, but it is important for your mental and emotional state, too. Exercise can help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety disorders, as well as depression, panic disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. However, going to the gym to exercise can be difficult for those who have social anxiety since it involves participating in various social situations. If you learn to identify your triggers, refocus negative thoughts, and take small steps to working through your anxiety, you can overcome social anxiety while at the gym.
EditChanging Your Mindset at the Gym
- Identify your triggers. Many people experience social anxiety in some form or another. Social anxiety is often associated with particular situations, places, people, or events. To rein in your anxiety, write down what it is about the gym, the people, or the classes that make you feel nervous or worried. Once you have identified what triggers you, you will be better able to identify them and face them in the future.
- Make a list of the situations that cause anxiety. Perhaps you are worried that other people are judging your fitness level, or perhaps you are worried that you won’t be able to complete an exercise. Are you anxious about the social aspect of the gym, such as running into someone you know?
- Use your smartphone or bring a little notebook with you when you go to the gym, as you may be able to more easily identify your triggers in that environment. You should also write down how you deal with the triggers — Do you cut your workout short? Are you more reckless with your safety? Does your form suffer because you’re too distracted? These behaviors will need to be addressed as well.
- Shift the focus away from yourself and to your surroundings. When you feel anxious, you may notice your body’s physical responses, which may include blushing, sweating, or shaking. You may fear that everyone knows that you are nervous. This excessive focus can create an endless loop of anxiety. While at the gym, try to focus on what is happening in the moment.
- Try listening to some upbeat and motivating music to help distract you.
- If you are taking an aerobics class, focus your attention on what the instructor is saying to remain engaged in the workout.
- Or head straight to the treadmill when you get to the gym and do a five-minute warm up while listening to your favorite music. This may help you immediately focus on your workout and stay out of your head.
- Remember that your reactions and anxiety aren’t as noticeable as you may think.
- Challenge negative thoughts. People who have social anxiety disorder are often held back by negative thoughts, like “They won’t like me,” or “I’m not as fit as that person.” Challenge these thoughts by evaluating them logically. Remind yourself that these are assumptions and not facts. Over time, you will reduce or redirect these negative thoughts and have a more realistic, positive outlook about going to the gym.
- For example, you may think to yourself “Everyone will judge me and think I’m stupid if I try to use that new piece of gym equipment.” Analyze this thought and acknowledge if you are nervous to try something new. Ask yourself, “Will someone truly think I’m incompetent just because I’m nervous?” Evaluate these thoughts so you can lessen their impact.
- Remember that your anxiety will likely increase as you begin to challenge your thoughts and behaviors, as you are stepping outside your comfort zone. This is totally normal, and it will get better as you begin to adjust.
- Remember that no one is judging you. It can be stressful to go to a gym and feel as though the entire room is watching you. You may worry that others will judge your body type, your fitness level, or even your gym clothes. Remind yourself that everyone at the gym is there to improve their overall health and appearance as well.
EditMaking Healthy Lifestyle Choices to Alleviate Anxiety
- Practice deep breathing daily. Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose and hold for ten counts. Exhale slowly through your mouth, and wait a few seconds before taking another deep breath. Practicing this breathing technique for about six to eight breathing cycles each can help reduce anxiety. Incorporate breathing exercises into your daily routine to help you relax and cope with your gym anxieties.
- Try yoga. Practicing yoga may help you control your anxiety and slow your negative thoughts. Yoga has been shown to reduce the body’s stress responses, which may help alleviate anxiety. Try doing yoga at home regularly or take a class at your gym if they are available.
- If you are new to yoga, try learning a few basic poses that you can do safely on your own, like downward dog. Begin on all fours and walk your hands a few inches forward. Keep your fingers spread open on the mat and press your hips toward the ceiling. You will be in an inverted “v” shape. Keep your knees bent slightly, and hold this pose for three deep breaths.
- Find a beginner’s yoga workout video online, or ask a friend who does yoga for suggestions for guided workouts.
- Meditate. Meditation, like yoga, may help alleviate anxiety. The breathing techniques associated with meditation and the focus on the present moment can help ease depression, pain, or anxiety.
- There are many apps that can guide you through a few minutes of meditation each day. Apps like Mindspace and Calm allow you to select a meditation plan and routine that works for you. Guided meditation and soothing sounds and music can help you relax and focus on the present. If a meditation app that is compatible with your phone, computer, or tablet.
- Alter your diet. An overall healthy lifestyle can help reduce your anxiety, and that includes eating a wholesome diet. Increase the amount of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins in your diet. Cut back on your intake of processed foods, fried foods, saturated fats, and sugar as much as possible.
- Try to fill up half of your plate with vegetables and fruits. One quarter of your plate should be filled with lean proteins, like baked chicken or fish, and the remaining quarter can be reserved for whole grains like whole wheat pasta, quinoa, or brown rice.
EditPutting Yourself Out There
- Sign up for a small group class at the gym. One way to work through social anxiety is to face your fear little by little to help build your confidence. If you worry about taking a group class, start out by signing up for a more introspective class like a group yoga session. Once you are more comfortable in these smaller, quieter classes, consider signing up for an aerobics or a dancing class. Eventually, you may join a class that focuses on teamwork and group encouragement, like a boot camp or CrossFit class. This way you slowly build up your confidence so you can take on bigger challenges.
- It might be helpful to make a create a hierarchy of the things that cause you anxiety and work your way through them slowly. Refer to your list of triggers and try to rank them, then start with the activity that causes you the least amount of anxiety.
- For instance, if you are most anxious about working one-on-one with a trainer because you worry they will judge you, don’t jump right into that and sign up for three sessions a week. Instead start with a group yoga or aerobics class where you won’t feel singled out, or even watching videos about form and technique at home.
- Find a gym buddy. Consider going to the gym with a friend or family member to help alleviate your anxiety. Being around someone you’re comfortable with can help to keep you motivated. Plus, they can help ease you into a new workout, encourage you to try a new class, or help you meet other members of your gym.
- Your gym buddy may also be someone you can confide in. This person may be able to listen to your fears and give you an outside perspective. You may find that your friend shares some of your anxieties and they have some coping techniques you can try.
- Talk to a personal trainer or a fitness coach. Making an effort to engage in small talk can help you overcome your social anxiety. Next time you have questions about the gym equipment or would like to talk about your exercise routine, seek out a personal trainer or coach. Remind yourself that they are there to help, and that they will not judge you for asking questions.
- If a trainer isn’t around, ask another gym-goer for help.
- Push yourself in other ways. If you have social anxiety about going to the gym then it is likely present in other areas of your life. Consider that challenging yourself in other areas of your life outside of the gym can help build your confidence and make it easier for you to face your anxieties at the gym. If you are concerned about being “on display” or “performing” in front of other people, consider taking an improv class or a course on public speaking. Challenging yourself in this way may help reduce your social anxiety in all areas of your life and help you feel more comfortable at the gym.
- Remember that this will be very uncomfortable at first. Show yourself some compassion and try to be patient. It will take time to see improvement, but if you stick with it, you should begin to notice a different.
- Seek professional guidance. If you find that your anxiety is not improving or if it effecting your quality of life, seek the help of a professional. Talk to your doctor or a therapist about working through your social anxiety triggers. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication prescribed by your doctor have been shown to help alleviate anxiety symptoms.
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