When you're dealing with anxiety or stress, one of the first and most common suggestions people will give you is to try exercising. But if that isn't something that's part of your usual lifestyle, it can be kind of difficult to know where to begin, or what the best workouts for anxiety might be. Like, is it best to slow it all down with some gentle breathing, or try to go all-out with intense cardio?
Well, the first thing to keep in mind is that the exercise that'll help your anxiety will, first and foremost, be one that you enjoy. "The best exercise for anxiety is any form of exercise that reduces your stress, makes you feel better, and is one that you will stick with," Julie Kull, LCSW of Kull Counseling, tells Elite Daily.
Now, in terms of specific workouts to try for anxiety relief, clinical psychologist Dr. Carla Marie Manly says there are a variety of exercises that can get the job done, and they're all effective for different reasons. "On a neurobiological level," Dr. Manly tells Elite Daily, "certain forms of exercise are particularly helpful for anxiety-sufferers."
Any exercise that focuses on breathing, Dr. Manly explains, "tends to reduce anxiety by allowing the parasympathetic nervous system to calm the body."
When you're experiencing anxiety, Dr. Manly says, your body is pretty much in a "fight-or-flight" response, and as a result, you're getting constant surges of adrenaline and cortisol. Those are the things you want to try and temper with exercise, she says.
The California-based psychologist suggests workouts like yoga and tai chi, which she says are very helpful for practicing breathing and mindfulness. Plus, she explains, these types of workouts can help take your focus off of anxiety-inducing thoughts, thus bringing you back to the present moment. "Exercise such as brisk walking, swimming, and gentle bicycling can [also] be soothing," she tells Elite Daily.
Overall, Dr. Manly says, keeping your workout at a slightly lower level of intensity might be best for busting anxiety.
"Adrenaline-inducing workouts may distract from anxious thoughts in the moment," she adds, "[but] those are sometimes less helpful than those that encourage mindfulness and meditative states."
Additionally, Josh Hlavacka, a designer for corporate wellness programs at FitLifted, finds that exercises that incorporate more direction and movement, such as rock- or rope-climbing or vinyasa yoga, promote an even more powerful sense of mindfulness and self-awareness. "Pair that with a moment of meditation and conscious breathing," he tells Elite Daily, "and your mind starts to refocus itself on being in the present movement."
But if you're looking for something with just a bit more intensity, it might be time to learn about what's called the POUND workout, which you might recognize from the NBC show This Is Us.
The POUND workout, created and co-founded by Kirsten Potenza, combines cardio and light-resistance strength-training with constant, simulated drumming — yes, drumming!
“With exercise in general, chemicals are produced in the brain, like serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins," Potenza tells Elite Daily, which all work to make you feel happy, she explains. Drumming, she shares, has been shown to inspire the same stimulation. "In POUND, you get an exercise high and a drumming high, as well. It’s a double whammy!"
Potenza also makes a great point about the fact that there aren't too many places or opportunities in life where you're allowed to be super loud and aggressive in your movements — even though doing so, she explains, can be a wonderful way to release pent-up stress and anxiety.
"We don't get the permission to do that very often," Potenza says. "Getting to act childlike and and be loud, that really allows people to have a release they don't have in other places."
So consider giving yourself that permission this weekend, or even tonight when you get home. You don't have to be an actual drummer, or even have a real drumstick. Grab some chopsticks you stashed in your drawer from the last time you ordered sushi takeout, go over to your coffee table, put on a song with a sick beat, and just start drumming. Scream if you have to, start singing along to whatever song you picked — let all that anxiety out, girl. You deserve it.