Anxiety And The Gym

As long as this blog has existed I have always encouraged my readers to exercise because whether it’s running, biking, swimming, or whatever it’s a well known fact that exercise can relieve stress and anxiety.  I’ve worked out myself off and on for some time but always in my home.  I’ve always been too self conscious to run down the street or worst yet join a gym.

It’s not like I’ve never been a gym member, just not for a long time.  Recently I rejoined a local gym and the adjustment has been steep.  This is because for anxiety sufferers exercise poses lots of problems.  One of the primary problems is related to the fact that exercise makes us sweat, makes our heart pound, and causes us to lose our breath.  Sounds like a panic attack huh?

That’s exactly what makes moderate to intense exercise so difficult for me and countless others who have anxiety issues.  When we get all warmed up and busy many times we start thinking we’re having a heart attack, or panic attack, all kinds of attacks.  It is very hard to keep your mind on exercise when this happens and many times just makes you want to quit altogether.

In addition to all the phyiscal symptoms there is the added problem of being in a crowded place, with music blaring, and machines cranking away.  It’s almost like a night club with very casual attire.

Just a week ago I started working out again at the gym.  Since signing up I’ve gone 3 times and each time it has been a struggle.  I can’t say that I’ve had any panic attacks, but certainly I’ve felt out of shape, nervous, and on more than a couple of occasions ready to bolt from the place.  Even the whole locker room thing was making me nervous.

Now granted this was all low level anxiety, but when the blood starts pumping and I feel light headed or winded I get very nervous and just want to stop.  Here is what I think is going on to me and lots of people like me when they go to the gym and have an anxiety disorder.

1.  Most people go the gym because they are out of shape.  Therefore you will get winded easily, feel lightheaded if your lifting weights, and have very little stamina.

2.  Most of your exercises at a gym are naturally more intense because the machines make it much easier to work up a sweat and as a result freaking out also becomes easier.

3.  There are lots of people at the gym and this makes anyone with an anxiety problem somewhat uncomfortable.

4.  You probably already have a bunch of preconceived ideas of what might happen to you in the gym before you even step in the door.  In other words, before you even get on the treadmill you figure that you might die of a heart attack, stroke, asthma, or whatever.

These are just the things that bother me but I have to think that many people with anxiety have similar thoughts and feelings about going to the gym.

But the bottom line is that a gym is a great way to get in shape.  There are tons of expensive machines that make working out a snap, other people working out which can provide motivation, and it’s a lot cheaper than trying to setup a home gym which can cause thousands of dollars.

Plus, exercise does make you feel good, it makes you breath deeply, and can help to reduce stress and anxiety.  I really think it just takes time to get over the irrational fear that you will die at the gym or that you will simply freak out in front of everybody.  Once your body gets accustomed to all this busy work much of the related apprehension will subside.

Hell I get scared out of my mind when I’m at the gym but I’m focused on getting serious about this excercise business.  Starting at home is a great idea for people starting out, but at some point you have to get out there to see results.  And I’m not talking about big muscles, but training your body to endure and recover from excessive stress more effectively.  Exercise also helps to train your mind to deal with strange sensations and weird feelings. It’s a win, win.  And if I ever do finally get back in shape I’ll let you know exactly how I did it.


  1. Kristin says

    When I am experiencing anxiety it’s also hard for me to go workout. If I’m lightheaded, having trouble getting a full breath, etc, hard physical activity is the last thing I want to push upon my body. But once I go I always feel so much better and I have noticed a DIRECT connection between a regular exercise routine and my anxiety. Since I began a regular schedule (4-5 times a week) my anxiety has all but disappeared. I still get the random bout but it is extremely manageable. And if I miss my workout for a few days in a row, my anxiety starts to return. It’s a great motivator to keep up my workouts and obviously a great natural anxiety treatment. Thanks for another good post.

  2. says

    Hey Kristin, Just out of curiosity how long was it before you were able to exercise on a regular basis without worrying about how hard you were exercising?

  3. says

    Thanks for the post! Deep breathing exercises are excellent for anxiety and many people report positive results from meditation. Some other natural anxiety remedies to look into are St.John’s Wort, SAMe, L-Theanine, and Tryptophan.

  4. Kristin says

    Just a few days. Immediately I could look back on my workout and realize that even at a high intensity I wasn’t having trouble breathing, chest wasn’t hurting, etc it just showed my symptoms were all in my head. Which really helps me flush the anxious thoughts away. When I have a bad day anxiety wise, I force myself to do a workout, even an easy one, b/c 99% of the time I feel better afterward.

  5. Ali says

    I would go to the gym every day and have 2 hour workouts. But for the last 6 months it’s been very difficult me to go the gym. I don’t know why I’ve developed such anxiety and anxiousness while I’m at the gym but I can only work out for a maximum of 10 minutes and get light headed anxious and feel even more nervous because I feel as if I’m going to pass out and I immediately leave. It’s gotten to the point where I know I’m going to feel like I’m going to pass out before I get to the gym. I’m young and do not have any type of medical conditions and I don’t know how to get over this and I’m worried that because of this I won’t be able to get down to the weight I want to or get into shape.

  6. says

    Hi Ali, If you know that you’re in good health then this could boil down to two things. Either your anxiety is very high in general and or you are out of shape.

    If you’d like to get some ideas on how to reduce your anxiety please read this article:

    If you’re out of shape then I’m afraid you’re going to have to work through the dizziness and lightheadedness for a bit.

    When you’re out of shape it can take about 2-4 weeks for your body to adjust enough so that you don’t get dizzy spells. It’s just a part of getting into shape. After your lungs and heart begin to work more efficiently working out will become much easier.

    Hope that helps.

  7. RIDS says


  8. says

    I have to say, what freaks me out at the gym – people. It’s bad enough just that there are other people in the room, but when someone gets on a machine right next to mine, I start getting all neurotic and weird. I tense up, which makes it impossible to breathe fully. The lack of oxygen has my muscles screaming for mercy. The physical discomfort I can deal with (I ran a 10k on a sprained ankle… just because), but it’s that weird feeling of being watched, of having my space invaded, of being judged… inevitably I either move to another machine or just leave altogether because I.CAN’T.TAKE.IT.

  9. Josh says

    I too have major issues with working out! I am by no means thin but I have always been able to work out pretty intensely. Since my anxiety acted up again, I have such a HARD time getting to the gym because I feel that I am going to die of a heart attack. I constantly monitor my heart rate and never go above 140 because in my head I feel that I will probably die. This is so STUPID and I need to accept that this is just anxiety and get back on a healthier track.

    I commend everyone on working towards a healthier lifestyle and not allowing anxiety to dissuade you from getting better. Good luck to everyone!!!!!

  10. Jarrad says

    Wow, seems there are so many others like me. I spend alot of time monitoring my heart rate, and sensations in my body when I go to the gym. So much so, that often i end up walking out early and just walking around the city freaking out of my mind. I have walked straight out of training sessions and into emergency rooms thinking I was going to die. I have had multiple ECG’s, every heart scan imaginable you name it, yet I cant get past the irrational notion that I am going to die, or am somehow overdoing it in the gym. It is a surprise that I achieve any results at all the way this is going, but i still go, and do as much as I can do. doctors have told me time and time again that I am perfectly healthy and fit, yet soon as the strange sensations begin, I start questioning them…

  11. Ray says

    Wow I didn’t realize so many people suffer from gym anxiety. I’m fairly healthy and anxiety has never been an issue when working out but lately I’ll work out for 45-hr and my anxiety comes. I get light headed and leave the gym before I freak out. I feel like my heart is gonna stop. FUCK ANXIETY!!! I’m gonna work threw this. It’s all in our heads people. Control our powerful minds and kick the gyms ass! ✌️

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