How to Cope with Social Anxiety at the Gym
Engaging in regular exercise is beneficial for your physical well-being, and also important for your mental and emotional health.However, going to the gym to exercise can be difficult if you have social anxiety, since it involves participating in various social situations. If you learn to take small steps to increase your comfort while working out, you can start to feel more comfortable while at the gym.
Changing Your Mindset at the Gym
Come up with a workout plan before you get to the gym.If you’re already worried about feeling awkward or standing out at the gym, there’s nothing worse than aimlessly walking through the gym. To avoid this, make a specific workout plan before you get to the gym. Decide in advance which machine you’ll start with, which free weights you’ll use, and how many sets and reps you plan to complete with different weights.
- Making plans of your workout can reduce your anxiety by preparing you for exactly what you will be doing.
Start by going for a short workout.It can be intimidating and mentally exhausting to spend a few hours at a gym if you’re not used to working out around large groups. Help cut back on your social anxiety by keeping your workouts brief at first. You can begin by going to the gym twice a week, for only 30 minutes each time.
- As you start feeling more comfortable at the gym and your social anxiety decreases, you can start staying for longer workouts and visiting the gym more often during the week.
Visit the gym during its slowest hours.If you’re concerned about working out next to strangers in a crowded gym, ease yourself into the experience by visiting the gym when it’s slow. Visit the gym early in the morning during the mid-afternoon when most people are still at work, or late at night.
- Be sure to check a new gym’s operating hours online before you show up for an early morning or late-night workout.
Listen to music through earbuds to reduce your anxiety.Music will give you something to focus on, and can pump you up and excite you for your workout. It can also help you relax or reduce your anxiety as you exercise. With earbuds in, you’ll feel less concerned with what other people around you are doing, and be able to focus better on the machine or weights that you’re using.
- Make a playlist of upbeat, energetic songs that will give you energy and help motivate your workout.
- Remember to have polite gym etiquette when listening to music. Don’t turn it up so loud that others can hear, and pause the music if you remove your headphones or earbuds.
Focus on the present moment.When you feel anxious, you may notice your body’s physical responses, which may include blushing, sweating, or shaking. You may fear that everyone knows that you are nervous. This excessive focus can create an endless loop of anxiety. While at the gym, try to focus on what is happening in the moment.
- Pay attention to your physical senses, such as your breathing. Concentrate on how each part of your body is reacting to your workout.
- Focus on your workout and the weights and machines you’re using.
- If you are taking an aerobics class, focus your attention on what the instructor is saying to remain engaged in the workout.
Remember that no one is judging you.It can be stressful to go to a gym and feel as though the entire room is watching you. You may worry that others will judge your body type, your fitness level, or even your gym clothes. Remind yourself that everyone at the gym is there to improve their overall health and appearance as well.
- It may help you feel better to realize that everyone deals with some level of social anxiety when they first start visiting a gym.
Easing into Stressful Gym Settings
Sign up for a small group class at the gym.Start out by signing up for a slow-paced class like a group yoga session. Find a structured class that will let you work at your own pace. Once you are comfortable, you may join a class that focuses on teamwork and group encouragement, like a boot camp or CrossFit class. This way you slowly build up your confidence so you can take on bigger challenges.
- Once you start feeling comfortable in your classes, strike up light conversations with your classmates. You can discuss your experiences at the gym, or your opinion of the class you’re both in. Having a conversation will help you feel more comfortable and less socially awkward at the gym.
Visit the gym with a friend.Consider regularly going to the gym with a friend or family member to help alleviate your anxiety. Being around someone you’re comfortable with can help to keep you motivated. Plus, they can help ease you into a new workout, encourage you to try a new class, or help you meet other members of your gym.
- Having a buddy with you at the gym will also give you someone to talk with. Jokes and light conversation can help decrease your anxiety and ensure that you have a good time at the gym.
Talk to a personal trainer or a fitness coach.Making an effort to engage in small talk can help you overcome your social anxiety.Next time you have questions about the gym equipment or would like to talk about your exercise routine, seek out a personal trainer or coach. Remind yourself that they are there to help, and that they will not judge you for asking questions.
- If a trainer isn’t around, ask another gym-goer for help. Talking with a trainer or gym-goer about workout plans or gym equipment will help you feel included and welcome at the gym, and reduce the anxiety that you feel in a new and unfamiliar place.
Remind yourself that negative thoughts may not be logical or factual.People who have social anxiety disorder are often held back by negative thoughts, like “People at the gym won’t like me,” or “I’m not as fit as that person.” Remind yourself that these are assumptions and not facts.Over time, you can reduce these negative thoughts and have a more realistic, positive outlook about going to the gym.
- For example, you may think to yourself, “Everyone will judge me if I try to use that new piece of gym equipment.” Evaluate these thoughts so you can lessen their impact. Ask yourself, “Will someone truly think I’m incompetent just because I’m nervous?”
Making Healthy Lifestyle Choices to Alleviate Anxiety
Practice deep breathing daily.Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose and hold for ten counts. Exhale slowly through your mouth, and wait a few seconds before taking another deep breath. Practicing this breathing technique for about six to eight breathing cycles each can help reduce anxiety.Incorporate breathing exercises into your daily routine to help you relax and cope with your gym anxieties.
Try reducing anxiety with yoga.Practicing yoga may help you control your anxiety and slow your negative thoughts. Yoga has been shown to reduce the body’s stress responses, which may help alleviate anxiety.Try doing yoga at home regularly or take a class at your gym if they are available.
- If you are new to yoga, try learning a few basic poses that you can do safely on your own, like downward dog.
- Find a beginner’s yoga workout video online, or ask a friend who does yoga for suggestions for guided workouts.
Meditate.Meditation, like yoga, may help alleviate anxiety. The breathing techniques associated with meditation and the focus on the present moment can help ease depression, pain, or anxiety.
- There are many apps that can guide you through a few minutes of meditation each day. Apps like Mindspace and Calm allow you to select a meditation plan and routine that works for you.
Alter your diet.An overall healthy lifestyle can help reduce your anxiety, and that includes eating a wholesome diet.Increase the amount of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins in your diet.Cut back on your intake of processed foods, fried foods, caffeine, saturated fats, and sugar as much as possible.
- Try to fill up half of your plate with vegetables and fruits. One quarter of your plate should be filled with lean proteins, like baked chicken or fish, and the remaining quarter can be reserved for whole grains like whole wheat pasta, quinoa, or brown rice.
QuestionI look a lot younger than the other people in my gym, and that's my main trigger. What should I do?Top AnswererRemember that no one is judging you. Keep the other tips of the article in mind and stick with it, they really do help. Perhaps bring a friend to your gym, someone who looks younger, too? That could be your gym buddy.Thanks!
Video: Overcome Social Anxiety Using These 3 Techniques (Try This)
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