If anyone has ever gotten on your case about running away from your problems, anxiety is one problem that running (or biking, or swimming, or playing your favorite sport) may actually help you to solve.
Exercise has been shown to have physical and mental effects that are highly beneficial for people who suffer from anxiety, whereas a lack of exercise has been linked to increased anxiety problems.
The following article will explain how a lack of exercise can negatively impact your anxiety, and why you may want to consider exercise as a free (and potentially fun) form of anxiety treatment.
Why You Should Exercise to Ease Your Anxiety
As anyone with anxiety knows, being anxious all the time is highly inconvenient. It interferes with your daily functioning, making situations that should be easy to deal with into an emotional hassle.
Like anxiety, exercise can seem inconvenient – it takes time, makes you sweat, and might make you sore, particularly if you don’t exercise regularly.
The only real difference is that the inconvenience of exercising ultimately has beneficial effects that can help to control anxiety, while the inconvenience of anxiety only has negative effects.
With that in mind, replacing one harmful inconvenience in your life by introducing a beneficial one starts to seem pretty convenient.
Getting regular exercise promotes the following anxiety-minimizing effects:
Balancing Hormones: Most people with anxiety have excess amounts of the stress hormone known as cortisol floating around in their systems and keeping them on edge. Exercise has been shown to reduce cortisol levels in the body. When done regularly, exercise helps to encourage your body to produce healthy rather than excessive amounts of cortisol.
Improving Mood: Like most common anxiety medications, exercise is useful in its ability to boost mood. It does so by triggering the release of endorphins, a type of brain chemical or neurotransmitter that promotes positivity and relaxation. Exercise causes the release of these chemicals in order to minimize the bodily discomfort that can be caused by exercising. However, regular exercise can help your body learn to maintain a healthier chemical balance.
Immune System Maintenance: Illness can take an unquestionable toll on both physical and mental health. Exercise is crucial for maintaining a healthy body, which, in turn, provides you with a stronger immune system.
Natural Sleep Aid: People with anxiety who also have trouble sleeping make up a large percentage of anxiety sufferers. Getting “worn out” from an exercise session functions as a natural sleep aid, which is both healthier and safer for your body than your average sleep medication.
Establishes Routine: Routine can be a great help in settling your mind. For the same reason that children like to be sung to sleep every night, adults can also find comfort in familiar patterns of activity. Maintaining a routine of exercising for 30 minutes three times per week, or doing a set of simple exercises every morning or evening can provide you with a source of stability when other elements of your life are making you anxious.
Healthy “Self-Medication:” While there are many forms of “self-medication” with short-term benefits that can make anxiety problems worse, such as smoking, overeating, or substance abuse, exercise is a form of self-medication that actually has long-term benefits. It can also be fun, if you are able to find a form of exercise that you enjoy.
Now that you know about the various ways in which exercise can potentially decrease your anxiety, the next step is finding a way to incorporate exercise into your life in a fun, sustainable way. The following section will provide you with tips for getting started.
Helpful Tips for Exercising Regularly
Exercising regularly can seem like a daunting task, especially in a modern world of busy schedules and relatively sedentary lifestyles.
These tips may help you make exercise an easier and more positive habit to maintain:
Make a Checklist: Putting exercise-related checkboxes into your personal calendar provides you with visual reminders that you want to exercise, while checking off those boxes provides you with a log of achievements you can be proud of.
Start Small: You don’t have to start by signing up for a marathon, though for some people, challenging goals are good motivators. You can start with subtle changes, such as always taking stairs instead of escalators, walking or biking instead of driving whenever possible, or moving around during lunch breaks rather than sitting still.
Experiment with Different Types of Exercise: Exercise doesn’t have to mean going to a gym and paying for a membership. It can be done outdoors, as a sport, in the water, with a hula-hoop, and in a hundred other ways. As long as you do it regularly and it gives your body a workout, it counts as exercise.
Exercise with a Friend or Team: Exercising with others is an excellent motivator. When you are exercising alone it can be easy to get bored and discouraged. Find someone or some people who are at a similar athletic level and make an agreement to exercise together certain days every week to make exercise something to look forward to and motivate one another to do.
Be Gentle With Yourself (But Not Too Gentle): Pushing yourself too hard can be just as problematic as not pushing yourself at all. If you hurt yourself by exercising too hard, or stop exercising entirely after getting sore muscles, it can be hard to get yourself back into the habit. The best policy is to avoid exercise if your body hurts too much to do it, and to expect soreness when you start out. Give your body a break when it needs one, but don’t use temporary discomfort as an excuse to stop exercising permanently.
Finding an exercise routine that works for you may require some trial and error. However, once you do, you are likely to find that it makes a relatively pleasant and worthwhile way to stop your anxiety.
(published November 7, 2013)
Ryan Rivera is the founder and publisher of Calm Clinic, a one-stop resource for anxiety sufferers. After attempting and failing with dozens of different types of anxiety treatments, including anxiety medications and therapeutic practices, Ryan committed to making his life better through overcoming these emotional problems. Calm Clinic was founded on the idea that knowledge is power, and Ryan continues to dedicate himself toward providing information designed to help others permanently overcome their anxiety issues. For more information on dealing with anxiety, visit www.calmclinic.com, or call 1-616-232-6556.