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How To Figure Out The Best Workout For You, If You Have Anxiety

Written by Prachi Gangwani

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We know that exercise is great for anxiety management. But, to generalise that all exercises work well for everyone who has anxiety, is a grave mistake. Consider this scenario: Say your anxiety peaks when you are in close proximity with others. Perhaps you experience some level of claustrophobia because of which you avoid taking public transportations, elevators, and crowded concerts. When you do find yourself in a room full of people, you gravitate towards windows and doors, so you feel slightly at ease, knowing you have easy access to an exit. Now, if you end up joining a partner yoga class, with the assumption that yoga helps elevate symptoms of anxiety, you might find yourself disappointed. That said, a one-on-one yoga class in an open room, with no physical contact, may be extremely helpful.

You see, not all workouts are the same. Nor is all anxiety. To put it simply, exercise cannot be a one-size-fits-all prescription. To figure out which workout is the best for you, you have to first understand your triggers and pacifiers. That said, research does suggest that aerobic exercises, such as jogging, swimming and cycling, that improve cardiovascular health are generally the way to go. At the very least, they work to combat one symptom of anxiety, which is elevated baseline heart rate. But, then again, for somebody who is afraid to step out of the house alone, or generally uncomfortable in solitude, such solo activities may not work.

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Here's a breakdown of the steps you can take to figure out the best anxiety-management workout for you:

  1. Figure out your triggers: A mood journal is one of the most effective ways to gain insight into when, what and how you are at your most stressed.
  2. Solo or group activities? This is an important question to address, and will help you shortlist the kinds of workouts you can consider. Ask yourself this, generally speaking, where do you find yourself most comfortable? When you're surrounded by people, or when you're by yourself?
  3. Try, and fail: For someone with anxiety related to performance, the idea of not being able to excel at something may be daunting. But, trying out something you may not be able to follow through with, and learning to be okay with that, is in itself therapeutic. So, try different activities, and accept if something doesn't suit you. There's always something else out there!
  4. Track the "before-and-after": On a scale of 1-10, rate your level of anxiety before you do a workout, and after. This can help you understand if and what works well for you. Though, it is important to bear in mind that some workout regimes may initially leave you feeling out of sorts simply because it's something new you are trying. So, perhaps, give anything you try three sessions before you give a verdict.
  5. Stick to what elevates your mood: Let go of what you "should" be doing, and find what you enjoy doing. Once you find it, do it more.
  6. Build up slowly: Don't be in a rush to perform at a high level, not even your 100% at least initially. Take it slow. Do your 80%, and then some more the next time.

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As a general rule, look for activities that bring you into your body, and out of your mind. Different tactics work for different people. Perhaps for you, it's yoga, and for someone else, it may be running. Ideally, you require a combination of cardio and relaxation. These two counter the physical manifestations of anxiety such as increased heart rate, and tightened muscles. Often, we fight anxious thoughts with thoughts. We need to fight it at the physical level.

Pro tip: Contrary to popular advice, we'd suggest you stay away from meditation, until you reach a point where your thoughts are not all-consuming. It is a common mistake that many make, jumping into meditation too soon, or when they are not ready. For someone with an anxious predisposition, meditation may be counterproductive.

 

Image Source: Pexels

 

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