Anxiety and exerciseMost of us know that exercise gets those feel good hormones pumping. However, if you suffer from anxiety those hormones can be elusive.  That is because they are the kind that gets your body’s fight or flight response reacting in a super sensitive way, by pressing “go” on the alarm when there’s no real threat. So you need to look for ways to reduce feeling stressed out and increase feeling calm. In a previous post, I wrote about gentle ways to help get your anxiety under control.  But I wanted to write about how important exercise is as another tool in your toolkit for assisting you to feel happier, healthier and more at peace.

How to Get yourself to Exercise when you Don’t Feel like it

Few people are those highly motivated types that use exercise as their “feel good” drug and find they cannot go a day without a fix. Mostly you will go through phases of being more disciplined about it and then other times life just get’s in the way.  Daniel Cornish, Exercise Physiologist and Director from “Health in Balance” explains the many physiological reasons why exercise of different types and intensities can help reduce your anxiety:

  1. Higher intensity exercise is great for endorphin release (which helps with mood) and can last for hours after you stop exercising.
  2. Low-intensity walking can help slow down the racing mind.
  3. Even simply standing up and getting away from your computer screen every 30 minutes can reduce your nervous system excitement, and break the stream of anxious thoughts.

“Aside from physiological reasons,  engaging in exercise that has a skill component is really helpful for reducing anxiety, particularly if it’s a new skill you are yet to master. Whether it is yoga, a new gym or strength training exercise, a team-based sport anything you find mentally challenging that requires focused attention – will encourage mindfulness and leave less time for your mind to become distracted by worries.

However, you know this stuff right? It’s the motivation to do it that becomes really challenging.  This is because when your anxiety bites and you have racing thoughts and feel agitated the last thing you feel like doing is talking yourself into going for a run. You’ve got to plan ahead during calm times when you feel more together. This helps you heaps because frankly anxiety can be exhausting and all your poor old nervous system wants to do, is find a way to calm down. So instead of pouring a big bucket of wine or comfort eating a large burger, maybe it’s time to kid yourself along a bit and get some new habits to help it.

You Need to see Looking after yourself as a Job, your most Important One

It’s easy to put work, kids, mortgages, or family / friends ahead of yourself and that’s why Susie Beville of My Fit Body says often you are your most neglected job.

I suggest starting off by trying to shift your thinking around self-care. Help yourself realise you feel less guilt, and have more energy when you take important first steps to get some form of exercise done. We live under the weird assumption we can just drag our poor old bodies around and they will continue to co-operate no matter what we put them through. Take stock and accept if you want to feel better, you need to invest time and energy into this job.

Small Steps Taken Often and Consistently Yield Great Results

So you’ve accepted the sobering truth that it is going to require commitment and hard work, now you need a way to make a plan that you can sustain.  Mostly exercise feels like an effort and if there is no fun attached, it can be hard to sustain.  For me to get a good workout, the results need to be incidental, not intentional.  This is why fitness activities that aren’t focused solely on the workout aspect, but more on the fun, appeal to me most. So I stopped going to the gym alone. I changed a few simple things in my routine — simple being the important word here — and I have never felt healthier, calmer and happier.

In the middle of winter, I started a 30-day online yoga challenge. I would lay out my gym gear the night before, drag myself into my clothes and without thinking stumble into my office. I put the heaters on high to pretend I was doing “hot yoga” in the chilly mornings and I loved that I didn’t even have to be fully awake or leave the house in the freezing cold before I could begin. Some sessions were only 20 minutes and so I told myself you can survive anything for 20 minutes. Some were 45 minutes but I didn’t realise this until I was half way through. I made myself not look at how long each particular session was.  In this way, I kidded myself along every day for 30 days. Then towards day 20 I started to notice, greater flexibility, more calm feelings and a few more giggles. This was the positive feedback I needed to keep going.

After 60 days of yoga I had more confidence in my body and at this stage, I hadn’t spent a single cent on exercise.  I decided I was ready to extend into more heart pumping stuff. I joined a group fitness class so I had the motivation of other people to talk to and a place and time I had to stick too.  Previously I had thrown myself into new exercise regimes with gusto and often I injured myself due to poor posture or lack of conditioning. This time, I applied the baby steps rule and chose a rehab / gentle exercise class, to begin with, to ensure I didn’t create an injury. Shin splints have provided me with an excellent reason not to continue exercising in the past.

Make Fitness Fun

I’ve stopped pushing myself to go to spin classes, instead, I save my energy for activities that I can really get excited about. I love bush walks in the wilderness,  I went skiing for the first time in years this year, and I enjoy riding my bike (particularly when it is sunny and I have a coffee destination and a conversation with a friend in mind.)  I’ve finally found a way to stay healthy without hating it. These things work for me, but they may sound all wrong for you. That’s ok, the important thing is making yourself a priority, showing up reliably to exercise just like you have to with a job, and finding a way to enjoy the exercise you are doing. In this way, by taking small consistent steps you can increase your fitness and get those feel-good hormones flowing. Your anxious brain instead of getting stuck in a whirl of worry ~ will thank you for it!