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Anxiety And Exercise: Is Exercise A Simple Answer To A Complex Feeling?

Does exercise help anxiety? The short answer is yes. Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce the feelings of anxiety.

As a therapist with over 20 years of experience, I’ve had countless conversations with people struggling with anxiety. Clients talk about how “It sneaks up on you”, it makes your heart race, your hands shake, and your mind foggy. They will be fine one minute and the next – “they have to get out” right now! The effects of anxiety can change how you live.

Here are the most common things people say about having anxiety:

  • “I constantly feel on edge.”
  • “I worry about everything, even the smallest things.”
  • “I often feel physically tense and restless.”
  • “I struggle to concentrate because I’m always worried.”
  • “I have trouble sleeping due to racing thoughts.”

Anxiety can be incredibly debilitating and can change how you go about your day and interact in your relationships. If this sounds like your life, you are not alone.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is an emotional response that is triggered by the anticipation of a FUTURE concern or threat, whether real or perceived. Maybe I should write that part again: Anxiety is triggered by a concern that may or may not happen in the FUTURE. The last 3 years would give anyone anxiety! The endless stream of uncertainty and doom scrolling scenarios readily available to everyone with an internet connection is enough to make even the most steadfast person feel a twinge of anxiousness.

How can I make my anxiety stop?

If anxiety is about concern for the future, one of the fastest ways to stomp on your run-away thoughts is to bring yourself into the present. Of course, that’s easier said than done – but exercise is like anxiety’s kryptonite. It shuts down the anxiety response by forcing your mind to come to attention in the present moment. Exercise is one of the fastest ways to start moving your mind from your future thoughts into your present thoughts. Exercise for anxiety can be free, shared with a friend, and the effects can be felt within minutes of starting.

How does exercise help anxiety?

There are 4 main ways exercise reduces anxiety.

  1. Lowers your stress hormones:
    Exercise can influence the body’s physiological response to stress by lowering cortisol levels, which are the body’s stress hormone.
  2. Raises your feel good chemicals: Exercise can increase endorphins, which are often known as the body’s “feel-good” chemicals.
  3. It distracts your mind: Exercise creates a pathway of distraction for your mind and can break the cycle of worry and negative thoughts.
  4. It allows you to focus: By placing your energy on the physical task at hand, whether it’s jogging, lifting weights, or doing yoga, exercise can bring you into the present moment.

What type of exercise is the best to help reduce anxiety?

The anecdotal truth is, the “best” exercise is one that you enjoy and can commit to regularly. For some, it might be a brisk walk in the park, and for others, it could be a high-energy pickleball game.

However, research has shown that aerobic exercise, like running, cycling, or swimming, has significant benefits for reducing anxiety. These activities get your heart rate up and stimulate those endorphin production lines. Yoga and meditation, on the other hand, focus on the connection between mind and body, promoting a sense of calm and mindfulness that can be incredibly beneficial in managing anxiety.

But what if it doesn’t work?

Everyone is different, and what works for one person might not work for another. Start small, perhaps with a daily 15-minute walk, and gradually increase your activity level. Listen to your body and your mind as you experiment with different exercises to find what suits you best.

Exercise can be a powerful tool in your toolkit for managing anxiety.

The experience of anxiety can often make you feel like you’re in a constant battle with your own thoughts, but exercise provides a much-needed break. A break to breathe, to move, and to simply be in the moment.

If you are struggling with general anxiety, social anxiety, or panic attacks, exercise alone may not be enough to help you understand how to cope and live better. As a therapist, I can tell you that it’s a sign of strength when you take the steps to live better.

If you’re ready to LIVE YOUR POSSIBILITIES – we’re here to help. You can read more about our anxiety therapy program here.

If you’re looking for mental health support, you can book an appointment, schedule a free consultation, browse our therapist profiles, or get in touch with us.

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