How to Manage Gym Anxiety
Are you wondering how to get over social anxiety at the gym? Gym anxiety is very real and can prevent you from enjoying working out and being around other people. But there are many things you can do to feel better about going to the gym.
What Is Gym Anxiety?
If you have gym anxiety, I probably don’t have to tell you what it feels like. But for anyone who isn’t familiar, gym anxiety is just an extension of what social anxiety feels like (but in a specific location).
You might have symptoms of anxiety while at the gym, like a racing heart and shortness of breath, that have nothing to do with exercising. Your stomach might end up in knots or you might even have a full-blown panic attack.
You might have negative thoughts about yourself and feel like you don’t belong. You might also leave earlier than you planned or avoid talking to people or attending classes.
And some people might even avoid the gym altogether because of social anxiety. The gym environment might just feel too anxiety-provoking, and you’d rather get exercise on your own at home.
Triggers of Social Anxiety at the Gym
Now that we’ve talked about what it feels like to have gym anxiety, what are the specific things at the gym that can trigger it?
Below I’ve listed some of the common triggers. If you have social anxiety at the gym, these probably sound familiar to you.
- You fear anxious about using locker rooms or changing in front of other people because of how your body looks or just feeling self-conscious.
- Other people who are in better shape than you make you feel bad about yourself or anxious that you don’t measure up. You might be self conscious about your weight or question your level of fitness.
- You have anxiety about using unfamiliar equipment and so you avoid it or feel too anxious to ask for help. You might also worry about making a mistake and people judging you for it.
- Just being in the gym makes you feel like everyone is watching you and judging you, even though most people are more focused on their own workout.
- Attending group classes makes you feel anxious and like you don’t belong.
- You feel anxiety about some of the natural effects of exercising such as sweating, labored breathing, or a racing heart, because these are also symptoms of social anxiety.
- You struggle to make small talk with other gym-goers or try to avoid other people at the gym.
- You feel anxious about using the public restroom at the gym.
How to Manage Anxiety at the Gym
Now that we’ve discussed what gym anxiety is and how it is triggered, let’s move on to how you can manage anxiety at the gym.
It probably won’t come as any surprise that if you want to start to feel comfortable at the gym, you’ll need to feel uncomfortable for a while. As with any type of anxiety, avoidance makes it worse while gradually facing your fears makes it better.
That doesn’t mean that you need to go out tomorrow and do a two-hour workout while filled with social anxiety. Instead, let’s examine some simple ways that you can ease yourself into working out at the gym.
Manage Your Anxious Thinking
One of the simplest things you can do to manage social anxiety at the gym is to start managing your anxious thinking.
This is the basis of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a proven treatment for social anxiety.
It involves a simple little trick. When you find yourself feeling anxious, write down 1-3 thoughts that you were having at the time.
For example, “I’m so out of shape, everyone is laughing at me.”
Now, what you do is examine this thought for what we call thinking errors. If you’re new to this process and would like to use it to manage social anxiety, I suggest signing up for my resource library at the top or bottom of this page. You can download a simple worksheet to walk you through it.
Anyway, back to the process.
This thought you had is an example of black and white thinking.
We know this from a few clues.
Your use of the word “Everyone” is a big clue. Anytime you catch yourself saying “Everyone,” you know that your brain is probably playing tricks on you.
How can you possibly know what everyone is thinking about you?
Sure, there might be some people who are laughing at you (though in reality, I would doubt even this fact).
But surely not everyone is laughing at you.
What’s a more reasonable thought? “I’m out of shape, and some people might notice.”
See the difference? The original sets you up to fail. The revised version helps you see things from a more realistic and kind perspective.
Your thoughts impact your emotions and behaviors, so it’s important to become aware of them and how they are affecting you.
Gradually Face Your Fear
How do you do anything hard? One small step at a time. The same is true for gym anxiety.
It will be much easier to build your confidence and reduce your anxiety if you take it small steps at a time.
The more you go, the easier it will be, and the more you avoid, the harder it will be. But you also don’t want to push yourself too much all at once.
Below are some things you could gradually do to warm yourself up to the gym.
- Drive past the gym or look it up online.
- Schedule a tour to have someone show you around.
- Make your first visit very short and stick to something you know how to use such as a treadmill.
- Try out some other equipment or have a coach show you how to use different machines in the gym.
- Sign up for a group class such as Zumba or Yoga.
Manage Your Gym Anxiety Triggers
There are also things you can do to manage your level of anxiety or specific triggers. Below are some ideas.
Change into your workout clothes at home if using the locker room causes too much anxiety.
Go at off-peak hours so you are not facing a crowd of people. For example, there is a 24-hour gym near my house and I’ve always thought the best time to workout would be late at night when nobody else was there.
Wear headphones and listen to music or audiobooks if it helps you to stay calm.
If going to the gym is too stressful, consider doing a home workout instead. The important thing is that you get regular exercise, not that you necessarily do it in a public space. In fact, a 2014 systematic review study showed that exercise is an effective add-on treatment to medication and therapy for anxiety. You could do online classes or just go for a walk in your neighborhood.
Wear clothes that make you feel confident! That might be something different for each person. But there’s no sense going to the gym in something that makes you feel uncomfortable. Try on different gym clothes to find something that you like.
If you are a student worried about gym class in school and it gives you severe anxiety, talk to your parent or teacher about how you are feeling. It might be possible to give you credit for activities done outside school if you have a diagnosed anxiety disorder. And just having other people know that you are feeling anxious might help to relive your anxiety about gym class.
That’s it from me. How about you? Do you have social anxiety at the gym? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.
Related Posts about Exercise and Anxiety
- Laughter Yoga for Social Anxiety
- Yoga for Social Anxiety
- How to Cope with a Fear of Crowds
- How to Stop a Panic Attack in Public
- How to Get Over a Fear of Public Restrooms