Exercise Induced Anxiety

In response to my call for help I received a great topic idea from one of my readers. The topic is exercise induced anxiety and whether or not lightheadedness and dizziness are caused by anxiety while exercising or is there something else going on?

If you have spent any time reading this blog or any other online resource about anxiety disorders then you know one of the most common bits of advice given to anxiety sufferers is that they exercise. Sometimes though even something as positive and good for you as exercise can cause problems.

So you walk into the gym with your brand new exercise gear and take a look around. You see that someone has just gotten off the stair master machine so you race over so someone else doesn’t beat you there. You climb on and begin the not so fun process of exercising – so far so good.

After you climb off the stair master you notice something just isn’t right. You’re out of breath, dizzy, lightheaded and the room may even be moving around just a tad. Is this anxiety or is it exercise related?

Let’s look at the connection between exercise and lightheadedness first. Can exercise cause you to feel dizzy and lightheaded? Yes it can.

You don’t have to have an anxiety disorder to feel off balance or dizzy after physically exerting yourself. The process by which this occurs is normal and not anxiety related.

The What, How, and Why

When we physically exert ourselves, a.k.a exercise, there is a lot happening in the body. First things first – your heart muscle will begin to beat faster so it can send blood to the muscles doing all the work. This in turn increases blood flow and causes your blood vessels to expand. This makes it easier for the body to send the needed blood to those hard working muscles.

When you stop exercising the blood circulation slows down because those hard working muscles are not asking for as much oxygen/energy. Although your circulation has been slowed the blood vessels in the body remain expanded and this can cause your blood pressure to fall which may cause dizziness.


Although feeling dizzy after a good work out is not unheard of you should take steps to avoid it or at least decrease its prevalence.

There are a few things you can do to lower the occurrence of dizziness after exercising. For starters you need to eat right and keep hydrated. When we work out we are using a great deal of energy and we need to make sure that our bodies are prepared for the job ahead.

This doesn’t mean that you have to eat a huge meal before working out but you definitely want to make sure you eat at least a small snack and drink water before and during your workout.

In addition, make sure that you breathe. When people workout, especially with weights, they tend to hold their breath without knowing it. This is obviously not a good idea because your body needs all the oxygen it can get. You should think of oxygen as your fuel.

How you breathe I don’t think is as important as the pace of your breathing. Whether you breathe through your nose, mouth, or both just make sure it is steady and constant. Remember the idea is to intake oxygen not to get fancy or complicated with your breathing.

Another very important preventative measure is warming up and cooling down. Like I mentioned before when you suddenly stop exercising your blood circulation slows down but your blood vessels are still expanded. If you take the time to warm up and cool down then you give your body a chance to ‘catch up’ with your heart rate. This will allow your body to be more in sync with your heart.

In order to warm up and cool down effectively stretch before and after your workouts.  When you decide that your workout is coming to a close don’t just stop. You have to come to a gradual stop. If your running slow down to a slow jog and then a brisk walk.

If you are on a stair master simply slow the pace down gradually until you feel relaxed and not laboring to breathe. The key is to gradually stop whatever you’re doing over several minutes.

Even if you are planning only a light workout make sure to keep it steady and be certain to keep your comfort level reasonable. Working out does not have to be a punishing experience.

Lastly, be patient. Sometimes we don’t workout for months or even years. It is unrealistic to not exercise on a regular basis and then think that you can jump back into the saddle and workout very hard.

Take your time and build up your bodies stamina. There is no need to rush because your body will do what you want it to do, but you have to give it time to build the necessary strength.

The Anxiety Connection

Now can exercise bring on an anxiety attack or startled nerves? Yes it can. This is because working out causes the body to undergo a lot of the phyiscal changes that occur during a bout of anxiety.

Profuse sweating, uncontrolled breathing, increased heart rate, dizziness, sound familiar? This is especially true if you are new to exercising vigorously. You may feel a little out of control and off balance. This can cause uneasiness and anxiety. But remember over the long term exercise is good for you!

It is normal to feel uneasy when you physically exert yourself. Your memory is tied into your phyiscal symptoms so much that the very fact that your heart rate is at 150 bpm can scare you. You may be making an unconscious connection between how you feel during or after a workout and your past experiences with anxiety – very normal.

As anxiety sufferers we are simply tuned into our bodies much more than the average person. So if anything feels off it becomes a great concern. We have to train ourselves to understand that not every bump is fatal.


Being dizzy and lightheaded after a workout is not normal. It may happen from time to time but is should not be a regular occurrence. If you ever feel like you’re about to pass out sit down or lie down. This will balance blood flow and let your body correct itself.

In addition if you ever feel dizzy or lightheaded during a workout this could be a sign of a serious problem. In this case go see your doctor right away.

Remember that if you start to feel discomfort with respect to your balance and orientation to slow down. Scale back what you are doing or cut your workout short for the day.

Moreover if you tend to workout outside be sure to avoid intense heat or cold as these weather conditions can also cause problems.


The reader who asked that this topic be brought up did so because he is a healthy male in his 20’s with this very problem. He could not figure out why this was happening. Like many of us do when concerned about our health he went to his doctor and was given a stress test and found to be in good health.

I also had the exact same experience. I had a couple of workouts that caused me to feel dizzy and uneasy. I was tested for this and that and the doctor simply told me to breathe while I worked out and to not push myself too hard.

In other words, this is all very common. If you have this problem than going to your doctor is a safe bet. In fact if you are experiencing this problem and are afraid or if this problem is stopping you from exercising go and get checked up.

Once the test are run and you are cleared than you can feel confident about exercising safely. Be sure to follow the tips laid out in this post and don’t be afraid to burn off your excess adrenaline.

Fear comes so easily to us but at the same time we have to find a way to accept it. Accept that you’re sometimes fearful, uneasy, and anxious. But don’t accept any limitations on where you can go or what you can do. We can all be brave when we need to be.


Clearance Sale


  1. kenyanscorp says


    Since thyroxine increases heart rate when you are supplementing the same with running, can it lead to side effects, this is something you need to ask the doc. Dont merely research on the net.

    Secondly Citroplan is an psych drug and these do have ill effects such as exercise intolerance.

    Pls bear in mind that most docs dont exercise and have no practical awareness of sports physiology.

  2. says


    You have probably figured this out for yourself, but the advice I would give regarding running as mentioned by someone earlier would be to avoid doing it during the hotter parts of the day and also to go easy on hills, don’t include any really steep inclines. I used to run uphill in the heat and when I did the probability of post exercise anxiety was always higher. Good luck.

  3. says

    Thank God I found this! I thought I was going insane! I finally had gotten my anxiety under control when I was hit with a day long panic episode a couple weeks ago. My doc said it was induced by my being unhealthy, drinking, re-introducing meat into my diet, and basically, overloading my liver with toxins. So, I decided to quite the drinking, only lean white meat every other day, and getting rid of this unsightly gut.

    To my surprise, my anxiety this week has been worse than it has been in well over a year! After reading this, it makes perfect sense (and actually ended my anxiety….first time reading about a condition has actually helped me….hypercondriac here).

    Clair, I would like to offer you some advice. I am on an anti-depressant, anti-anxiety med, and Levothyroxine (soon to be off the first two hopefully). I don’t know how long you have been on your thyroid med, but I do remember very well how until mine was regulated I experienced rather intense heart palpitations and high pulse rates. My first advice would be to have your levels checked again. My second advice, would be to go to an experienced trainer at a gym (you can often get free consultation if you show interest in joining). With any luck, you will get a trainer who has dealt with people in your shoes. Also, a stress test might not be a bad idea. It’s always rough with chest pain and anxiety because it could be in your head and it could also be something very serious.

    My anxiety ALWAYS manifests itself in the form of “omg, I’m having a heart attack” (with other symptoms). My father suffers from the same thing. A few years ago he actually had a heart attack. He told me he NEVER ‘thinks’ he is having a heart attack anymore. He said if you are having one, it isn’t a matter of “I think I am.” So, while it’s important to listen to your body, it’s also important to keep it in perspective.

  4. Adam says

    I stopped exercising about a year and a half ago. I had noticed a definite connection between my generalized anxiety and social anxiety and how much I exercised. But it was not the connection that all the docs/articles tell you to expect. So I finally stopped exercise altogether, and my anxiety is probably 80% better. I used to have anxiety issues in all sorts of random situations. Gone. It’s very odd. But glad to see this article, and know that I’m not alone. I have found that I am able to do yoga, but that’s about it. What I would really love to know is physiologically what is going on. I know the above post touched on that, but why am I shaky when I’m exercising (as in, all the time I’m slightly shaky if I am involved in any sort of exercise routine), but almost never if I keep away from exercise. Ironically, I’m one of those people who loved to put on the head phones and use the gym as my 45 min of alone time. But I just can’t sacrifice the other 23 hours of the day. Oh, and lastly, sleep. I sleep much better when I’m NOT exercising. Once again, contrary to common medical wisdom…

  5. Sarah says

    The missing piece in this post, and the one that I’ve noticed people in the comments asking about is the fact that cortisol levels are shown to increase after 20 mins of exercising! My holistic nutritionist friend first told me this and you can research it anywhere on the web. Exercising does induce anxiety because of the rising cortisol levels. It makes sense then that people who are already riddled with anxiety and a propensity for it, will be affected. Today was the perfect example…I have GAD and 2 days ago I decided to try running again after months of giving it up because it would always leave me in a state of heightened anxiety for the rest of the day. So thinking that maybe it’ll be different this time, maybe my body is somehow “stronger” now, or maybe it was all in my head…I go running. Same thing: shortness of breath all day and evening, uneasiness, the constant vague hum of anxiousness that hangs over me. So I make the connection. But today, I wanna experiment again just to be sure. Maybe I ran too fast? So I slow my running down and go for 30 mins while trying to breathe more from my belly. Same anxiety symptoms for the whole day although a little less intense. So I’m concluding that the 30 mins of exercise must be raising my cortisol levels and it’s harder for me to relax afterwards. So I will stick to yoga and pilates and other more calming strength exercises – running I just cant do! It aggravates my Vata bodytype (look up ayurvedic body types, find out which one you are and find out how to balance it through lifestyle and diet!)


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