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Understanding and managing gym anxiety

"Gym anxiety prevents you from getting all the benefits of regularly exercising in the gym in terms of physical and mental health" - Brian N.

Photo by Andres Ayrton on Pexels

Gym anxiety is a condition that affects a significant portion of people when they are beginning their fitness journey. The phenomenon manifests through feelings of nervousness and apprehensions about going for workouts in the gym. Gym anxiety can result from being too self-conscious, fearing being looked at and judged by other gym members, and feeling inadequate. Therefore, gym anxiety can become a significant barrier to achieving fitness goals and may even negatively impact mental health.

Why is it Important to Address Gym Anxiety?

It is essential to address gym anxiety because it prevents you from getting all the benefits of regularly exercising in the gym in terms of physical and mental health. The benefits of exercising regularly include stress reduction, mood improvement, increased energy levels, and boosted levels of self-confidence. Giving in to gym anxiety can lead to a sedentary life which could be detrimental to physical and mental health.

What are the Causes of Gym Anxiety?

Gym anxiety develops as a result of the interaction of multiple factors. The first factor is getting into a new environment whereby one may need to familiarize themselves with the culture and layout of equipment. Anxiety may also develop due to comparison to other people who are already advanced along their fitness journeys. Anxiety may also develop due to being too self-conscious and wandering about other people's thoughts and judgment.


What are Some of the Coping Strategies?

Preparation before attending the gym

Adequate preparation before a gym session helps with anxiety. Planning for a gym session entails having well-laid-out plans and goals for that particular session. The goals should be realistic and align with one’s fitness level and interests. For example, a weightlifter might have different goals than a bodybuilder. Preparation also entails knowing which exercises will be done, the equipment that will be utilized, the proper form for doing the exercises, and the intensity. Such preparation leaves little room for concern with other people’s reactions since one is focused on the goals.

Techniques to manage anxiety while at the gym

One can also use techniques to manage anxiety if it presents itself while at the gym. One easy technique is to try and regulate breathing. Taking slow deep breaths helps to calm the nerves as well as to slow down the heart rate. Alternatively, one can listen to music. Music helps to synchronize workout movements and distract oneself from the external environment. Listening to podcasts also helps to focus on the workout session instead of developing crippling anxiety.

Podcasts also have the added benefit of increasing motivation levels. Whereas negative thoughts can creep up, being conscious of such negative thoughts helps identify and replace them with positive thoughts. For example, when you are worried about not achieving your fitness goals, remind yourself that you are doing your best by showing up and that the results will manifest eventually.


Seeking professional help

Social anxiety could be an underlying issue predisposing an individual to develop gym anxiety. In such a case where the underlying anxiety as a psychological condition needs to be addressed, a suitable course of action would be to seek professional help. Therapy sessions can be provided to deal with anxiety. If medication is needed, it can be prescribed with proper instruction on whether it can interfere with training sessions.

Overcoming Gym Anxiety

Starting with small steps

Starting with small incremental steps helps to avoid gym anxiety. With realistic goals, the frequency and intensity of workout sessions can be increased gradually as one becomes more confident with the capabilities, familiar with the gym environment, and conversant with the gym equipment and exercise variations. This incremental approach helps to build self-confidence in place of anxiety.

Gradually increasing exposure

Another strategy for overcoming gym anxiety is gradually increasing exposure to the gym environment. This can involve spending time at the gym without working out. For example, one can read, listen to music, or do some light stretching. As comfort increases, people can start incorporating small workouts or exercises, such as using a stationary bike or walking on the treadmill. Gradually increasing exposure can help build familiarity and reduce anxiety.

Photo by Abdulrhman Alkady on Pexels

Building a positive gym routine

Anxiety at the gym can also be overcome by making the workout sessions enjoyable. Alternatively, one should make the training sessions calm and relaxing. Some activities might be more fun, depending on personalities and preferences. For example, one might enjoy riding a stationary bike or working out on a treadmill if one enjoys cardio exercises. For people who enjoy weight lifting, benching might make a workout session for them. The goal should be to get an endorphin rush instead of anxiety. A workout session could be relaxing and calming by incorporating meditation and yoga.

The Importance of Consistency

Once one has embarked on a fitness journey, one should strive to achieve their fitness goals. The fitness goals can effectively be achieved by being consistent. If gym anxiety develops, it simply means that it has to be overcome for the fitness goals to be achieved instead of acting as a barrier. Being consistent ensures that one is always motivated to push through, no matter how minor the progress is. Consistency compounds slight improvement and achievements into fitness success. Continuously showing up builds the strength they need to overcome gym anxiety.


Creating a Support System

A support system can provide motivation, accountability, and encouragement during the gym journey. This can involve seeking the help of a personal trainer who can provide guidance and support throughout the fitness journey. Some gyms also offer membership programs whereby one benefits from being a fitness group member. A simpler approach is to look for a gym buddy/partner. Creating a supportive social network can help individuals feel less isolated and more connected to others with similar goals and experiences. This can provide a sense of belonging and reduce self-consciousness or inadequacy. A support system can also provide a positive outlet for sharing experiences and celebrating achievements, which can boost self-esteem and confidence.

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