Exercising is your secret weapon for reducing Anxiety and boosting Mental Health. If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, you’re not alone. In fact, about 40 million people deal with anxiety in the US. The symptoms of anxiety can have a huge impact on your life.
Anxiety can make you irritable, fatigued, unfocused, on-edge, and stressed out, among other things. Fortunately, there are many ways to manage your symptoms and reduce your anxiety. One of the most effective and readily available options is exercise. While working out has plenty of benefits to your physical health and fitness, it also has impressive impacts on your mental health.
What is Anxiety?
Before discussing how to improve the symptoms of anxiety, we must first understand what the condition does to the body and brain. Times of high anxiety can make your body release stress hormones, putting you into fight or flight mode. This is an involuntary physiological change that occurs when you feel threatened. Although your body puts you into this state to protect you, it can be damaging over time – especially when there’s no real threat present.
This stress response triggers your autonomic nervous system or ANS. Your ANS sends messages throughout the body to prepare you for danger. This is why anxiety causes rapid breathing and an increased heart rate. It also increases your blood pressure and causes tense muscles. In all, it puts you in an agitated or alert state.
It’s worth noting that anxiety increases your risk of getting other psychiatric disorders, like depression. Anxiety can also play a role in cardiovascular issues and diabetes. Plus, some research shows that people with anxiety are more likely to be sedentary and to take on less intense forms of exercise if at all. This lifestyle can exacerbate the symptoms of anxiety and the other conditions it’s linked with.
How Does Exercise Reduce the Symptoms of Anxiety and boost Mental Health?
Interestingly, exercise is one of the best nonmedical options for both preventing and treating anxiety. Exercise may seem like the last thing you’re interested in doing when you’re dealing with anxiety, but it can make a big difference in your mental health. Research shows that aerobic exercise – any kind of activity that gets your heart rate up – eases the symptoms of anxiety.
Exercise is effective for a few reasons. First, getting regular physical activity triggers the body to release feel-good endorphins called endogenous cannabinoids, as well as other natural brain chemicals. Exercise literally changes your brain chemistry by releasing serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). These chemicals boost your sense of well-being, helping you feel less anxious and more positive.
Exercise also serves as a distraction. When people get anxious, they tend to focus on one or two negative thoughts. We ruminate on our thoughts, feelings, or memories, which only serves to make us feel worse. It’s a tough cycle to break – once you’re stuck in a negative thought, it can trigger further bad thoughts that lead you in a circle. When you engage in exercise, you’re forced to think about the physical activity you’re doing. This gets your mind off the worries that are making you anxious and breaks the negative thinking cycle.
Anxiety also causes your muscles to tighten up. When you exercise and move your body, you decrease your muscle tension. This can help you feel less anxious. Additionally, exercise activates the frontal regions of the brain which are responsible for executive function. This region of the brain plays a role in controlling the amygdala, which functions as the reacting system. When you exercise, you activate this part of the brain and encourage it to focus on exercise, breaking you out of the threatened state.
What Exercise is Best for Mental Health and Anxiety?
Studies show a variety of exercises being effective for improving anxiety and mental health. In general, anything that gets your heart rate up should help decrease your anxiety. This includes cycling, jogging, dancing, walking briskly, and more. In fact, some research suggests that even a single exercise session can lessen anxiety, so it’s worth trying out even if you aren’t a regular exerciser.
Still, you’ll get the most health and fitness benefits by working out regularly. It’s a healthy coping strategy that boosts mental health and confidence over time. If getting active is a difficult task for you, try the following:
- Pick a form of exercise that you enjoy so that you don’t mind doing it often
- Switch up your exercise routine as needed to keep yourself interested
- Get a workout buddy or join a workout group to boost your motivation
- Rather than focusing on health and fitness goals, the focus on getting your heart rate up
- Exercise outdoors whenever possible, as nature is also shown to improve anxiety
Working out isn’t just for physical health and fitness goals. It’s also vital for mental health. Although it can be hard to get started, especially when you’re dealing with anxiety, the results are well worth the effort.