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How Do I Overcome Gym Anxiety?


“I should go to the gym … tomorrow.”

We all know exercise is important for mental health. Despite knowing this, stress about the gym prevents some from following through on their goals. This stress occurs because we assume others are going to think about us in an overly negative or judgmental way. From this perspective, gym anxiety is another form of social anxiety. Thankfully, the methods to help treat social anxiety can be effective for overcoming gym anxiety. Below are some tips to help understand and work through this common issue.

Anticipatory Anxiety

  • This is the anxiety we feel prior to any event. It is important to remember anticipatory anxiety is always going to be worse than the event itself.

  • When anticipating an anxious situation, our thoughts always stop on the imagined, worst case scenario. This type of reinforcement teaches our brains that the worst case is definitely going to happen. We never stop to think about what happens five seconds, or five minutes after.

  • To change this, imagine the worst case scenario. (Be as specific as possible). Then force yourself to think about how you would recover from this situation. Be as detailed as possible.

  • This teaches your brain to think past the point of anxiety, and move into a situation where you problem solve and have more control.

Focusing on what other people are thinking about you

  • This is the classic gym anxiety (social anxiety) pattern of thinking: We assume other people are thinking judgmental or critical thoughts about us.

  • This type of thinking is irrational, because it is impossible to read other people’s minds. We assume things when we do not have enough information.

  • One way to overcome these irrational thoughts is to use a thought record. Thought records are previously mentioned in this blog.

  • Another tip is to use a behavioral approach. For example, you can smile, politely nod, or say hello to the person you believe is thinking something critical about you.

  • It’s highly unlikely you will still have gym anxiety thoughts after you have had a short, casual conversation with someone.

Not knowing what to do

  • As an adult, learning something new can be incredibly intimidating. We continue to do familiar activities, and we forget what it feels like to start something from the beginning. As a result, we avoid even the smallest steps that can help us learn.

  • To stop avoidance, try a technique called gradual exposure. This is where clients start with a less stressful task, and work their way up to the ultimate goal.

  • For example, if learning by doing feels too intimidating, gradually become familiar with what to do by first looking at information online or talking to a certified trainer.

  • An important part of any learning process is going through the experience, and improving along the way.

  • Try to remember nobody is born with knowledge. Everyone went through the same feelings of intimidation and learned from experience.

Not staying in the situation for a long enough period of time

  • When we are in a stressful situation, the natural reaction is to get out of there as soon as possible. This makes sense, why would someone want to stay in an anxiety provoking situation?

  • Well, if you always leave a situation before your anxiety comes down, you will reinforce / teach yourself that you can only tolerate anxiety to a certain point.

  • But this isn’t true, it’s just something that has been reinforced over time.  If you are honest with yourself, you can tolerate the anxiety. It’s just hard to do at times.

  • The nice thing about anxiety is it will eventually reduce in intensity. This is called the habituation curve. Essentially, this is the “getting used to” effect.

  • The more you are able to stay in the situation, the more you will teach your brain that you can tolerate anxiety, until it eventually goes down.

Feel free to contact Good Therapy SF for more help with this, and other anxiety issues.