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Training With An Anxiety Disorder

How to Train While Feeling Anxious

In the last couple of years I have experienced the worst of my anxiety disorder. The Covid pandemic brought out symptoms of my mental health issues that I hadn’t experienced in the past and I was concerned at times at how I would be able to continue to take part in all the normal day to day activities that I was responsible for like going to work and taking care of my mental and physical health. There were many weeks that consisted of poor sleep, dizzy spells, anxiety attacks, and laying in bed for hours with no motivation to do anything outside of what I was getting paid to do. My health anxiety was heightened during this time and I struggled a lot with constantly thinking that there was something severely wrong with my health, especially after contracting Covid. In the past feeling this way would deter me from continuing to train in the gym until I could convince myself that I was not in fact dying from cancer for example. I definitely did not want to do anything to make any hypothetical health condition worse by exerting myself in the gym. Despite these distorted thoughts though I noticed that even through the worst of my mental health symptoms I continued to train in the gym twice per week every week at a fairly high intensity. I am very proud of this achievement, and I know that my mental health would have been worse if I decided to avoid the gym during that difficult time. Through this experience I realized a few things I did to help me continue to pursue the things that I knew would benefit me despite my anxiety so here are a couple of tips on how to continue training while feeling anxious.

Your Actions are Louder Than Your Thoughts-Just Get There

Feeling anxious can be draining as the thoughts around whatever is provoking the anxiety can be very convincing and your body may be reacting to these thoughts by expressing symptoms like fatigue, heart palpations, dizziness etc. This can obviously make it difficult to get out of bed let alone trying to go to the gym to complete a set workout. The goal here really is to just focus on getting to the gym without adding more pressure to yourself to complete a workout or to lift a certain amount of weight. As your mind and body are in fight or flight mode, attempting to focus on something other than the anxious thoughts can alleviate some of the symptoms and the act of putting on your workout clothes will send signals to your brain and body that you are safe because you are getting ready to perform a healthy and familiar task. The hardest part about training whilst experiencing anxiety symptoms is really that initial part. Once you get to the gym your focus should be on moving your body in ways that make you feel strong and confident, trying to hit a PR is not the goal. Using training techniques that you are comfortable with can be used as great anxiety relieving tool to help you feel better. Getting to the gym is the most difficult part of training while experiencing anxiety and taking small steps to get you there is the biggest hurdle you will need to face but the easiest one to overcome.

Maintaining Accountability-Get Support

In the past during a prolonged period of heightened anxiety, I would become more socially secluded, choosing often to spend more time alone. Although the tendency to hide away when experiencing anxiety is normal, it really only perpetuates its existence in your daily life. The best thing I did for myself to help me to continue my training in the gym was to hire a coach. Holding yourself accountable to the daily practices that keep you healthy and happy can be difficult depending on your situation even for people who do not struggle with mental health issues. Experiencing excessive anxiety can be a huge roadblock in your efforts to remain accountable to yourself but sharing your goals with a friend or a coach or anyone who has your best interest can help you continue to train and enjoy the daily practices that keep you happy. A coach is already trained in understanding how to work with people and their varying life situations that include all sorts of variables that can come in the way of getting themselves to the gym. They can help with managing certain mental barriers by helping you develop short term solutions to keep the ball rolling. Your training goals may also change in a time of heightened anxiety and a coach can help you modify your training to keep you on track. Friends or family who are supportive can also contribute to this by joining you in the gym for a training session or asking you about your goals and how you plan to maintain them. Any support in a time of heightened anxiety is very helpful and can be used as a tool to help manage the difficulties anxiety can bring when trying to maintain your training goals.

Final Thought

Anxiety is very difficult to experience over a prolonged period and unfortunately our responses to this type of problem can sometimes only lead to its maintained presence in our daily life. Just knowing that keeping up with your workout routine will help you feel better may not always be enough to help you get to the gym. Focusing on getting yourself there without any pressure or judgements around performance or weight goals and having a friend or coach by our side can be effective ways to manage anxiety while training.

Guest Writer: Dorothy Rouvas

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