Exercise has long been touted as a great way to reduce stress and anxiety, as well as other mental health benefits. But is it possible that exercise can make anxiety worse?
In short, the answer is yes, exercise can contribute to worsening anxiety. Fortunately, making a few small changes to your exercise routine can be all that you need to turn it from an anxiety inducing event into an anxiety calming activity.
Why Do I Feel More Anxious When I Exercise?
When you exercise, your heartrate speeds up, you begin to sweat and you feel short of breath. Does that sound similar to something else? It should, because those are the same symptoms you may be experiencing during a panic attack.
When we feel these symptoms, it can also cause the mind to speed up or even take you back to how it felt when having a panic attack. As your heartrate increases, you may start to fear that you are going to have a heart attack, increasing your anxiety. Fear is what drives panic attacks, and it only takes one fearful thought to start growing and resulting in a panic attack. If you are finding that the increase in heartrate is making your anxiety worse, then pushing through it is not the answer. You need to slow down and let your body and mind slow down too.
Another factor that comes into play is that exercise actually increases cortisol. Cortisol is the stress hormone, so increasing its production can lead to an already stressed person feeling even more stressed. Excessively long or intense workouts raise the cortisol levels even further. This just leads to further problems like sleep disturbances which can contribute to the worsening of anxiety symptoms.
So, for some people, exercise can increase anxiety but this is usually when you are exercising too much, for too long and at too high an intensity.
Which Type Of Workout Should I Avoid?
Long, endurance type of workouts are typically the worst for anxiety. Strenuous exercise can also have the same effect. The important thing to remember is that everyone is different, so you should listen to your body. If the exercise that you are doing is making you feel worse, then you should stop doing it and try a different approach. If your workout is having the desired effect on your anxiety, then that is the one you should stick to. Sometimes it will take a little bit of trial and error before you find what is right for you, but generally the more stressful the exercise is for your body the more stressful it will be for your mind.
How To Exercise The Right Way
We’ve all heard about how great exercise can be for our mental or physical health, but if you are planning to exercise to reduce anxiety and improve mental health then there is a certain way to go about it.
To start with, don’t try to do too much. Remember exercising for longer or at a higher intensity is counter productive to improving mental health. In the beginning, focus on going for a 20-30 minute walk at a reasonable pace. This may leave you feeling tired initially, depending on how much your body is used to exercising. The important thing here is to create the habit of daily (or close to daily) exercise, and it is very hard to do every day if you are trying to do too much.
Just walking 20-30 minutes each day is enough to give you the positive benefits of exercise for your mental health. Hopefully you will feel less stressed, have more energy, and sleep better.
Another factor to be aware of is the environment in which you are exercising, as this can lead to increased anxiety. If you are using a treadmill at your local gym to exercise, you may feel judged by others in the gym, or if there are too many people there it may increase your anxiety levels. If you do your walking outside, you may be doing it in a chaotic environment with a lot of traffic and people, which can also lead to heightened anxiety. Try to exercise away from the hustle and bustle, and stick to the quiet and peaceful back streets.
One last factor I want to discuss is what time of the day you are exercising. If you are exercising too close to bed time the temporary increase in cortisol levels from exercise may make it difficult to get to sleep. Laying in bed awake with just your anxious thoughts will often lead to those anxious thoughts becoming worse, making it even more difficult to get to sleep. For some people, exercising early in the day before breakfast may be detrimental as your blood sugar is not at a suitable level before you begin to exercise. What is important to remember here is that everyone is different, and you may need to experiment with exercising at different times of the day to find which time is right for you personally. Once you do find the right time of day, try to maintain a routine of going for your walk at the same time each day.
Exercising the right way is a proven strategy for reducing stress and anxiety. There have been enough studies and research into it that it can be considered a fact. But remember, exercise is not the only thing you should be doing for your mental health.
It is important that you are eating the right foods and cutting back on the wrong foods. Just diet and exercise alone can be enough to make a massive difference in even the worst anxiety.
There are also other strategies that can be useful for your anxiety. CBT is a great option and will help you to process those negative thoughts in a different way. Daily mindful meditation can also reduce anxiety significantly as well give you improved mental health overall.
I used to suffer from terrible anxiety and panic attacks, as well as major depression. It was a horrible way to live. I got on top of my anxiety and panic attacks using just 2 methods. The first is a daily walk, which also helped greatly with my depression. The second is a product called Panic Away, which taught me how to master my own anxiety and put me back in control of it. Since going through the course I rarely have panic attacks, and when I do they barely bother me. It has also reduced my anxiety levels significantly, to the point where I can now do things like enter a crowded space which used to cause me much anxiety. You can learn more about Panic Away using the link below.
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