Why does exercise make me feel anxious?

And how to overcome this

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There can be several reasons for this. It’s actually really common to find that people have anxieties around exercise. One reason might be that you’re new to it. You don’t know what to expect. You don’t know if you’re going to be any good, how you’re going to get on with it. You really want to like it because you want the benefits, or the doctors told you to do it. Or your partner exercises, and you want to do that together, but you don’t know what to expect. That’s normal. Just go for it. Find a personal trainer if that suits you. Someone who can ease you into the exercise, and pace, and give you the appropriate type and intensity of exercise. Or just get started. My stepfather has just had great results with a Couch to 5K programme, so I’d recommend that. You can find it on the NHS website or just Google Couch to 5K.

If you’re new to exercise, try and mitigate some of that anxiety by just getting started, and start small. Another reason you might find it anxiety inducing is that your nervous system is already elevated. If that’s the case, the worst type of exercise for you is going to be high intensity exercise. Start with something that’s gentle, restorative. Yoga would be a great thing to do. Light jogging would be another. Perhaps a sport that’s not super high intensity. An easy game of tennis, for example, where you’ve also got some social element. Where you’ve got somebody at the other side of the court, and you can have a drink afterwards perhaps.

What I mean by an elevated nervous system is that you’re stressed; you already have high levels of anxiety, your sleep and your mental health might be affected. High intensity exercise is definitely not the right intensity for you. Maybe it’s that you’re worried about breathing, and this is something I hear quite a bit. If you’re worried about your breath, perhaps you’ve had anxiety in the past, and you associate being out of breath with panic or anxiety. That’s also pretty common, so start slow. What I do when I work with people who feel that way, is we just start with doing a short run. Get used to having your breathing elevated. Get used to breathing yourself back into a relaxed state, and then increase the periods of time that you’re elevating your breath for. That’s really effective, and it just helps you to overcome that initial reluctance to get your heart rate up and your breathing up because it associates with panic.

Last thing is to set small goals if you’re nervous about exercise, for example, because you’re new to it. Set small goals, and that applies to all the other points I’ve made as well. Forget your ego. Forget that, “I ought to be good at this. I used to be good at this. I’m good at everything, why am I not at this?” That prevents, I think, a lot of people from really enjoying exercise because they think they ought to be better at it than they are. It’s something that we should all be doing along with plenty of activity in the day.

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Leanne Spencer is an entrepreneur, coach, TEDx Speaker, author of Remove the Guesswork, and founder of Bodyshot Performance Limited. Bodyshot is a health and fitness consultancy that helps busy professionals get more energy by removing the guesswork around their health, fitness and nutrition. Visit www.bodyshotperformance.com or email [email protected] to register your interest in our services and connect with us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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