This blog post was written by Trevor Conrod, Fitness Coach at Nivati. You can see more of their content on the Nivati platform and on the Nivati blog. If you want to learn more about Nivati, click here.
When picturing a gym environment, the idea many have is a safe and exciting place to reach fitness goals and strive for new heights. But if you are among the 20-30% worldwide that suffer from an anxiety disorder, chances are you see the gym in a negative light.
In today's article, we will be pushing back against gym anxiety and offering tips to help you reframe your mind and ease the tension you may be feeling.
Why do people suffer from anxiety about going to the gym?
Anxiety affects each person differently, but the triggers that increase its severity can remain similar. For example, being in social situations and changing daily routines are just two of the many triggers that those with anxiety can battle when going to the gym.
If fitness is supposed to be so great for mental and physical health, why do I get such bad anxiety about going to the gym? And how do I overcome gym anxiety?
This is an excellent question that many struggling with anxiety are bound to be asking.
When taking a bird's eye view of the triggers we discussed and the gym environment as a whole, it's no surprise that those with anxiety struggle to get started in traditional gym atmospheres. From trying to figure out how to use the seas of machines to getting comfortable with an overcrowded floor, gym anxiety is not uncommon amongst the 20-30% who are already dealing with anxiety prior to the gym. This environment heightens the severity of already present symptoms that have shown up before.
Next, we will learn how to reframe common situations to help us understand how to get over gym anxiety.
Reframe Your Thoughts and Overcome Gym Anxiety
Now that we know how common anxiety is and how the gym environment can trigger it, let's take a closer look at some of the most common situations you may face and see how we can reframe them to reduce nervousness and eventually get over gym anxiety.
Learning Gym Equipment
A big fear in the gym is figuring out how to use the equipment. For someone who is unsure about how to use these machines, this can be a reason to avoid starting in the first place.
Our recommendation for anyone first beginning is to seek necessary help. Push any stubbornness aside to figure things out yourself and ask a gym employee or certified trainer to walk you through some of the most common machines members use. This request is more common than you think, and the staff would much rather help show you the proper form now than have to address it later on if you get hurt. So it's a win-win.
Fighting The Spotlight Effect
Up next, we will be talking about the spotlight effect. A term most often correlated with social anxiety; the spotlight effect is a phenomenon by which people tend to believe they are noticed more than they really are. While this isn't the case, it's much easier said than understood for those battling the effects. If the spotlight effect is playing a part in your gym-going decisions, give a smaller and more intimate environment a try. For example, a small group class or studio where members know and encourage each other on a more personal level may be a better starting point. In addition, those participating in a group class are often more willing to help explain exercises and understand your specific needs.
For anyone looking to jumpstart their journey and reduce gym anxiety, working one-on-one with a personal trainer can be a transformative experience. I've had experience with clients who feel overwhelmed and anxious about working out in a public environment. By getting started with a trainer in a private facility, not only can your personal needs be addressed, but with the right trainer, you will feel comfortable and at ease during your session.
Below is a review from a member who came to my club after having a poor experience getting things started independently. If not from myself, take it from Megan, who soared higher than she first thought possible.
"I've been to many gyms, fitness clubs, training classes, boot camps… the list goes on and on. I've never found a fitness club quite like this! I've always quit, whether it be due to injury (trainers not correcting poor form), not getting what I need, or feeling judged. When I say this is a judgment-free zone, I mean it! Trevor is awesome and supportive along your entire journey. Providing motivation without being too pushy, his energy keeps you going and wanting to come back. This is my first successful experience, and I couldn't be happier to have joined this club for my fitness journey!"
Our final recommendation will be a safety net for those looking to get started on their journeys but are not yet in the headspace to do so in a physical location. On-demand home workouts have gained traction in the last few years and are a great starting point for those struggling with gym anxiety. Not only can they familiarize you with common movements often seen in the gym, but you may become less anxious approaching a gym environment with more experience than if you had yet to take any classes beforehand.
The Big Benefits of Gym Fitness
Now that we have some solid tips to face our gym anxiety, let's refresh the main reason we are getting ourselves into these fitness routines in the first place.
As many know, staying active and caring for your body can serve countless benefits, from increased energy, weight management, and reduced risk of diseases. Fitness is truly a force like no other. But what about the benefits for those who have anxiety?
A Harvard Health article stated that when anxiety is an issue you face, exercise can be extremely helpful in managing anxiety and preventing future symptoms from developing. Below is one of the many ways your body automatically aids in anxiety prevention when working out.
"Getting your heart rate up changes brain chemistry, increasing the availability of important anti-anxiety neurochemicals, including serotonin, gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and endocannabinoids."
Gym anxiety is an unfortunate reality for many people. And as with any anxieties and insecurities you may be struggling with, these will take time to overcome. Even when starting with a solid recommendation, complete comfort with each situation you face is an unrealistic expectation. Take things one step at a time and one workout at a time. Slowly but surely, your body with feel more comfortable and adapt to the situations you are putting it in on a routine basis. Learning how to get over your gym anxiety starts with understanding your triggers. Change your situations to your benefit rather than avoiding fitness altogether. Only then will you begin to see actual change in your behaviors. Take one little step outside your comfort zone. You've got this!
For more on dealing with gym anxiety, check out this video:
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