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Here’s What to Do If Exercise Triggers Your Anxiety

Woman laying on the floor next to workout equipment in her home.
Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock

Having a good and steady exercise routine is usually recommended for those suffering from anxiety and restless thoughts, but what if working out makes you feel even worse?

While some people may think of exercise as their escape and how they absolutely need it to let all the frustration out; others simply can’t get in the zone and end up feeling worse than before they even started it. If you identify yourself with the latter, here’s what you can do to calm yourself down and still work on your health and fitness goals.

Think About Your Why

Before you even start, think about why working out is good for you and what all the benefits are that it brings to the table. Experts agree how exercise and other physical activity positively affects stress through a neurochemical release of the happiness compounds, endorphins, that decrease overall tension levels, improve our mood, and help us get into a much calmer and positive state.

Thinking of the workout you’re about to do as a chore you need to get over with will never get you in that state of mind, so you need to change it all around. Approach your fitness routine not as something you need to do, but rather something you want to do for your overall health and well-being. Picture endorphins flowing through your body during a workout, healing you from the inside out. There’s so much imagination can do.

Prepare for Your Workout

Now that you got yourself in the right mind-set, don’t just jump into your workout routine or squeeze it in between your other tasks for the day. Get yourself prepared for your workout by writing it into your daily schedule and making sure that time is reserved just for that, no other distractions allowed.

Get dressed up in your favorite activewear and put on some feel-good motivating music. Pump yourself up for sweating it out and then, and only then, begin your workout.

Choose What You Enjoy

Woman doing yoga in nature
Karla Tafra

Don’t just get involved with any form of exercise, find an activity (or more) that you enjoy and genuinely look forward to doing. If you like stretching it out, roll out your mat and get your yoga and pilates on; if you’re more of a fast and energetic athlete, take up kickboxing or sprinting; and if you love the nature and spending time indoors only bums you out, go for a long-distance run, hiking, or take your bike for a ride.

Whatever you choose to do, let it be something you thoroughly enjoy. Only then will you be able to actually get consistent with it and use it to reap all the benefits, physical and mental.

Switch It Up As Needed

You went on a great run yesterday but somehow can’t seem to get yourself to put on your running shoes this morning? That’s totally okay! Listen to yourself and switch up your exercises as needed. Don’t let your lack of will or motivation send you down an anxiety spiral. Turn it all around by doing something else that makes you happy and give your body what it needs. Maybe after a long run, having a day of stretching or light at-home resistance training is exactly what you need.

Everybody Loses Motivation

A day (or two) will come when you’ll feel completely exhausted and won’t feel like working out at all. Instead of feeling like a failure and stirring up your anxious feelings, allow yourself to rest and recharge, postponing to think about your lack of motivation until after you’ve taken a break.

Everybody loses motivation at some point in their fitness journey and stressing about it can only bring you more harm. Listen to the what your body is telling you and give yourself some time to heal and refuel. Not having motivation isn’t the end of the world, so don’t permit your anxiety to guilt you into feeling that way.

Get outside and take a walk in the fresh air, make yourself your favorite meal or order in from your beloved restaurant, or pamper yourself for a night and create an at-home spa sanctuary while you snuggle under your blanket and read a good book or watch an exciting movie. Nurture yourself with other forms of self-care and don’t feel one ounce of guilt about it. Everyone deserves some time off.

It’s Okay to Not Work Out, Too

If the mere thought of working out brings out extremely anxious feelings that prevent you from focusing on your movements, it might be a good time to take a break from your workouts altogether and talk to someone who might be able to help you out.

As much as working out can help, it brings your heart rate up and puts additional stress on your body that you might not be ready to handle yet. Talking to a professional will help you formulate a plan of what type of activities might be good for you at the moment and which ones you should avoid.

Remember that every person is different, and just because something works for some, doesn’t mean it will work for you, too. Don’t be too hard on yourself and respect that your body knows what it needs at any given moment, and if now is the time to heal, let it.


Exercising has many potential benefits, from stabilizing blood sugar levels and stimulating digestion to improving sleep and boosting your mood. Figure out how to best use it to your advantage and lower your anxiety by listening to your body and respecting its needs.

Karla Tafra Karla Tafra
Karla is a certified yoga teacher, nutritionist, content creator and an overall wellness coach with over 10 years of international experience in teaching, writing, coaching, and helping others transform their lives. From Croatia to Spain and now, the US, she calls Seattle her new home where she lives and works with her husband. Read Full Bio »

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