When you are suffering from anxiety, it can be difficult to think about getting routine exercise. After all, you are often just trying to get through your day and get the basics accomplished while dealing with your anxiety symptoms. Still, making it a priority to get routine exercise can actually decrease your anxiety and begin to create a cycle of improvement in your quality of life.
How Does Exercise Fight Anxiety?
We know that routine exercise can improve our physical health, from lowering our blood pressure to making weight management easier. It can decrease our risk of a huge variety of health problems. But exercise also improves mood, and it truly can fight anxiety. Here are some of the reasons we think this is the case:
- Exercise triggers endorphin release. Endorphins are those “feel good” hormones that result in the “runner’s high” that people talk about surrounding exercise. Endorphins increase feelings of security and well-being, and those emotions are naturally contrary to those of anxiety.
- Physical activity increases confidence. When you routinely practice a certain type of exercise, you get better at it. That increases your self-confidence and combats anxiety.
- Exercise can increase social interaction. This isn’t always the case, but if you get outside or go to a facility to do your exercise, your interaction with other people outside of your normal work situation can feed your sense of community and well-being, which decreases anxiety.
- Movement breaks the thought cycle. Anxiety can become a vicious cycle of thinking yourself into a frenzy of worry, guilt, and other negative emotions which can then spiral into worsening anxiety and then lead to more negative thoughts. Exercise breaks that thought cycle by giving you something else to focus on for a period of time. Routinely breaking your brain’s unhealthy anxiety thought cycle can retrain it to reach for on positive thoughts and feelings first.
How Can You Start an Exercise Routine?
Exercising for 30 minutes 3-5 days a week is a great goal for combating anxiety. You can start right off with that or build up slowly, doing 10 minutes at a time when you can and aiming for more every week. Here are some other tips for getting started:
- Think about what you like to do and choose an exercise routine that incorporates it. If you like group classes where a teacher drives the type and intensity of your workout, join a facility and sign up for classes. If you like bicycling, start fitting that into your routine. Don’t limit yourself. Think about exercise as movement and activity, and see how many different ways you can fit it into your day and really enjoy it.
- Do little things to increase your activity. If you can, bike or walk to work or to do errands. Take the stair, park further away from the door at work or the store, and take an evening stroll before or after dinner to see what the neighbors are up to. It all adds up to anxiety-fighting physical activity.
- Give yourself grace. If you fall off the exercise bandwagon for a time, don’t self-criticize. Just get back at it. If you have a bout of anxiety symptoms, don’t tell yourself that you should be doing better. Just do one small physical activity and praise yourself for it. If you get sick and can’t exercise for a few days, don’t give up entirely, thinking about how much physical activity time you missed. Just start up again when you feel better.
- Consider making a plan with a friend. This can help you on several levels. It provides accountability, which can help you stick to exercising. It also adds the anxiety-fighting benefits of friendship to your plan.
Talk to your doctor about your anxiety symptoms if they’re interfering with your quality of life.
Create an Overall Anxiety Fighting Plan
Physical activity and exercise can be one arm of your fight against anxiety symptoms. You can also talk with your doctor about talk therapy and whether or not you should consider medications. Some other ways to fight anxiety include:
- Getting outside routinely. Vitamin D might help fight anxiety and depression.
- Take up mind-body techniques like yoga and meditation. These practices can provide another way for you to break the negative thought cycle that is usually present when you have anxiety.
- Aromatherapy can help ease the symptoms of anxiety. Many people find that triggering the powerful mood-altering power of smell can help lessen their anxiety symptoms.
- Spend time with friends, family, and pets. Anxiety can have an isolating effect on people, so do what you can to stay engaged with those around you because doing so can increase your feelings of well-being and happiness and decrease anxiety and stress.