No Pain, All Gain: Why Working Out Is The Key To Helping Your Anxiety

by Gigi Engle

I'll be the first to admit that I struggle with anxiety. It's something I've been trying to contain for a very long time.

Sometimes my anxiety can be borderline paralyzing, making it impossible for me to do anything but shake and cry. It sometimes feels like it's never going to end.

Sure, I'm prescribed medication, but I avoid taking it unless I truly need it. If I'm experiencing baseline anxiety, I've always just pushed it off and saved my benzos for extreme anxiety attacks.

I fear getting addicted to my meds; no one wants that life.

So I’ve always been very curious about how I can treat my anxiety without needing constant medication. A friend suggested I get a gym membership.

I've never been one for physical activity. I've always been in the class of people who think that lifting a wine glass to your mouth is the same as weightlifting.

But I can say now that going to the gym has completely changed my life. Not only is my body looking ripped AF, but my mental health has also drastically improved.

In the last year, exercising has made me very good at keeping my anxiety at bay.

I started small, lifting once a week and taking a few classes. Now I'm addicted to the amazing feeling I get after the gym, the calmness that settles over me and my improved sleep. I'm up to six days a week in the sweat palace, and it is the best thing I've ever done for myself.

Working out truly is the key to helping your anxiety -- despite the idea that the best way to relieve stress is with a relaxing Netflix marathon.

Don't believe me? Aha! I have experts to back me up.

Exercise releases endorphins.

Exercise is one of the top natural methods recommended by healthcare professionals in treating anxiety and depression. This is because of the release of endorphins, which give you a natural high. They're also very powerful and come out en masse when you exercise.

Endorphins are what health coach Ricki Friedman, founder of Break the Weight, an exercise program, calls "happy and feel-good brain chemicals."

She says, "Stress greatly affects our minds and the way we think, so we when MOVE our body, we just FEEL better and more in control."

Lora Percival, CPT at 12th Street Gym in Philadelphia, says that exercise can produce a state of euphoria that can last for several hours.

She tells Elite Daily:

Anxiety is this heightened state in which your body never gets to relax, and you are constantly in a state of panic. Working out or any type of physical activity can really reduce the stress levels in your body and help keep you even keel.

And there's more. Exercise can also have the same glorious effects as marijuana. BOOM!

As Dr. Sarah Villafranco, MD, founder of Osmia Organics, tells Elite Daily:

Your body also creates endocannabinoids after exercise (a natural substance that stimulates some of the same receptors as marijuana), so those may play a role, too.

That "high" you get is a real high. Go figure!

Dr. Villafranco says that exercising increases your body's available "seratonin, norepinephrine and dopamine," which disappear when you're depressed.

Exercise improves so much of your daily life and mental health.

Working out is the multi-faceted element to improving your mental health.

According to Dr. Villafranco, "Exercise can condition you not to panic when you feel certain symptoms, such as a rapid heartbeat or increased respiratory rate."

Percival adds that if you work out in the evening, it will help you get ready for bed; if you work out in the morning, it will help you get ready for your day.

Working out can improve your overall sleep and focus. As someone with anxiety, sleeping can be very difficult. When you can't stop the spiraling negative thoughts before bed, it can be impossible to slow your heart rate enough to fall asleep.

Exercise will also help to improve your sense of motivation. When you're anxious, getting yourself pumped up to complete a task can be extremely difficult. If you've worked out, you will feel chilled out and ready to take on anything.

Exercise will improve your immune system. As Percival points out, "People who have a regular workout routine spend less time with colds or the flu." I haven't gotten so much as a runny nose since I began working out.

Working out can even help you cope with a loss. Friedman says that exercise “allows us to connect to our feelings in an emotional way, but the movement gives us the release that we need so we don't feel overwhelmed by our sadness."

Exercise will literally just make you a happier person. Seriously.

Working out is easier than you think.

As a beginner, it's hard to get into a steady gym routine. I'd tried working out before, but I'd always ended up f*cking myself up by making my ambitions too intense from the get-go.

The key is to set goals that you can actually accomplish and work yourself up to a more rigorous schedule. If you're new to the gym, working out seven days a week isn't realistic. Percival advises beginners to “get out of bed in the morning and do 10 pushups. The next morning do 15. Then move on from there."

Percival also recommends a good support system. Ask a friend or family member to join your workout regime with you. That way, the two of you can motivate and push each other toward your goals.

Friedman says her clients benefit from "a 20-minute walk, some yoga or even just a short run. It sets the tone for their day."

Friedman and Dr. Villafranco suggest yoga, running, walking and weight training to help with anxiety. It all depends on whether you prefer cardio or more concentrated workouts. The key is to figure out which one you like.

I suggest getting a gym membership that includes classes. Go "class shopping" to figure out what you like and what works for your body.

Friedman says yoga helps with anxiety particularly because it's so focused on breathing. It helps to calm and center you, and "the physical act of stretching helps release tightness or stress that we often hold in our bodies.”

If running is more your style, “that ‘runners high' makes a lot of people feel alive at the end of their workout. They feel happy, excited and ready for the day," Friedman tells Elite Daily.

If you feel like you're up for a run, go for it. For me, I started small with cardio. I hate feeling crazy out of breath. Start with short sprints, and go from there.

Or maybe you like to walk. I'm a huge walker. It's an easy way to get in a good cardio workout and bring yourself into a good state of mind.

"Walking daily is the game changer. It eases the stress in our minds and gives us a second to connect to our thoughts,” adds Friedman.

Or if you hate any form of cardio altogether, weight training is perfect for you. Friedman tells us, "It helps people feel strong physically, which helps us feel strong mentally."

I weight train three times a week, and trust me that is huge. If I can weight train, you can.