Working out is one of the best stress busters on the planet. But, the flip side is also true—and for many people, fitness can be seriously anxiety-inducing.
I’ve experienced both sides of that coin. Fitness used to be a huge part of my life; I ran five days a week, did a race at least once a month, and even finished all 26.2 miles of a marathon. But, then…well, life happened.
Over the past two years, I got engaged, bought a house, moved to a new city (and state!), planned a wedding, and took on a truckload of new clients in my business. It’s been a crazy few years, and with everything going on, fitness fell to the bottom of my priority list.
I’ve been trying to get back into running, but after such a long break, I can barely run a 5K. Plus, the anxiety I feel around my diminished fitness makes it really hard to lace up my shoes and run. (Although I will say, having my Aaptiv trainer in my ear once I hit the pavement has definitely made things easier!)
Whether you’re just getting started with a fitness routine or you’re coming back after a long (or, in my case, very long) break, it can be challenging to push through your anxiety and find your groove. Challenging, but not impossible.
Here are a few expert tips on how to get over your fitness anxiety, get back on track, and start enjoying the stress-busting benefits of your sweat sessions:
Start off slow
Start off with something as small as three to five minutes per day, adding time as you get more comfortable with meditating.
Stop putting pressure on yourself…
One of the biggest factors at play in fitness-related anxiety? The pressure you put on yourself.
If you’re brand new to fitness—or you’ve been out of the game for a good chunk of time—you can’t expect yourself to run ten miles, bench press 200lbs, or crank out 300 squats in a row. And putting pressure on yourself to do so can give you a serious case of anxiety (not to mention put you at an increased risk of injury).
“[Fitness] isn’t an overnight game,” says Fitness Trainer Jared Hamilton. “Too many people get anxious about fitness because they’re in such a hurry, and [they are] trying to mitigate time and patience.”
If you’re feeling anxious about working out, take a look at the expectations you’re putting on yourself. Are you expecting yourself to perform at an unrealistic level? Are you setting goals too high and too fast? If so, take a step back. Give yourself the time and space you need to increase your fitness slowly. Celebrate your small successes (like hitting the gym twice in a week or running a full mile without stopping) instead of berating yourself for not being further along in your fitness journey.
Remember, there’s no pressure in the type of workout you do either. It’s better to start off with a low impact workout that you’re comfortable with, rather than a HIIT workout that may leave you feeling deflated.
Additionally, if you’re not comfortable in a gym, start with small at-home workouts. There’s a lot you can do with just a mat, including a gentle yoga flow, bodyweight strength exercises, or full body stretches to nourish your muscles.
When you stop putting pressure on yourself to perform, it’s easier to relax into your fitness routine—and easier to let go of your anxiety.
…or Feeling Pressure from Other People
Another major cause of fitness-related anxiety is the idea that other people are somehow judging your athletic ability. And it makes sense. If you have the idea in your head that people are watching you work out (and secretly judging how long you run on the treadmill or how many reps you finish in a set), the pressure can make it hard to get things done—and make you feel super stressed out and anxious.
But we’ve got news for you: no one is paying attention! Most people don’t go to the gym (or to a running trail, or a hiking spot, or wherever else you might be working out) to point and laugh at other people. Instead, they are there for the same reason—to improve their own fitness. “The reality is [that] we are all in a gym, working out, and on our fitness journey for the same reasons—to get better,” says Hamilton.
So, the next time you feel self-conscious because you feel like people are judging your workouts, try to take a step back and assess the situation from an objective place. Are you spending your workout time secretly judging or critiquing your fellow gym members? Of course not! You’re paying attention to your own workouts. And the good news is that everyone else is doing the same thing. “Everyone else is so caught up in their own world, they aren’t worried about whether you’re doing curls right or wrong,” says Hamilton.
Get out of your head and into fitness
A lot of anxiety is a direct result of your thinking. One of the best ways to fight your fitness anxiety is to get out of your head and into fitness.
If you find yourself trapped in a cycle of anxious or self-defeating thoughts (I can’t do it. I’m in such bad shape. I should just go home.), it’s important to find ways to remove yourself from the cycle and ground yourself in the present moment. “Find something in the process to focus on to distract [yourself] from self-conscious thoughts,” says Clinical Psychologist Susan Masterson, PhD, founder of Health Psychology for Living. “Pay close attention to your breathing, immerse yourself in the music (and sing along, if you’re so inclined), [or] look around you and really see what’s there.”
Grounding exercises like deep breathing, meditation, and tuning into your senses can help you detach from your thoughts. This makes it easier for you to tackle your fitness routine without the anxiety those thoughts produce. Remember, fitness isn’t just physical—it’s mental too. Take some time every day, whether it’s with meditation or another form of mindful relaxation, to keep yourself grounded.
Make a plan
Failing to plan is planning to fail. That’s true in life—and that’s true in fitness. Going into a workout without a clear plan of what you’re going to do is not only anxiety inducing, but it can actually make your workouts less effective.
“Too many people walk into a gym, have no idea what they’re going to do, then get scared and go walk on a treadmill,” says Hamilton.
Taking the time to map out your workouts (for example, how long you’re going to work out, what muscle groups you’re going to target, what exercises you’re going to do, and how many reps you’re going to complete) will give you a sense of ownership over your fitness routine. And when you know what you’re doing, your workouts won’t seem so scary or anxiety inducing.
Have a plan, know what every exercise is before you even pull into the parking lot,” says Hamilton. “That will fix so much [fitness-related] anxiety.”
Get over your fitness anxiety with Aaptiv
Fitness anxiety can make it hard to get in your workouts. But, with Aaptiv, you can tackle your fitness anxiety and make working out easy, fast, and fun.
With so many classes to choose from, you don’t have to worry about planning your workouts. All you have to do is choose the class that suits your mood, pop in your headphones, and go!