Gym Anxiety: Finding your Safe Space
Updated: Oct 1, 2019
Since I was 11 years old I have suffered from anxiety disorder.
This journey through my parents divorce, moving house and puberty took a toll on my mental and physical wellbeing from a young age. Thankfully as most teenagers do, I grew out of my shell and developed a new sense of self when I moved onto college. My panic attacks settled down and I went almost 2 years without a single relapse of anxiety. I hit the gym often, was doing well in all my classes, had a flourishing relationship, a happy home life and a great part-time job... and then the prospect of university hit me. I was going to have to move out, leave my job, become financially independent. Scary stuff, but still, everyone goes through it.
Sadly my anxiety disorder spiked and knocked me off my feet for a good month. I wouldn't go out, see my friends, talk or eat properly. The panic made me cancel my gym membership and convinced me I was too skinny and sick to exercise, all toxic thoughts that are irrationally caused by anxiety, yet I believed the lies my mind was feeding me.
The moral of this strangely personal introduction is that mental illnesses and disorders can take away your health just as much as a physical injury such as a broken leg or sprained wrist. Yet no one seems to talk about it. I am speaking from my own experience and would like to share some of my coping mechanisms and tips I have learned about using fitness to help keep your mind peaceful and happy rather than rejecting it out of fear.
This one I know all too well. There's me, sitting on the floor of the bathroom cubicle, quietly crying into my towel as I mentally prepare myself for the gym class I so willingly signed up for the day before. If it gives you even the slightest bit of comfort then just know I used to freak out every single time I went to the gym, even though I walked out full of endorphins, the gym anxiety is real. We all feel it once in a while when there's a super busy class or you can't seem to find a quiet place to work out.
Membership and Money
I can not stress enough how important it is to examine each prospective gym or leisure centre and find out all the little fees they don't want you to know. For example my gym has a 'no contract' element where I will never have to pay money to leave or cancel my membership. While gyms often leave it in the fine print, they can charge upwards of £15 just for ending a contract. It gives me peace of mind knowing the place I am working out at cares about its customers.
Every good gym should have a studio, a quiet place where the shy ones (me) can feel comfortable. The weight section, filled with intimidating looking machines, really isn't my cup of tea on a Monday morning. A key tip here if you want an empty studio is to check on your gyms website to see the classes timetable. That way you will know when the Zumba or yoga class finishes so you can use the space privately.
Overall, the moral of this post is that although it seems daunting to go to a gym and exercise, the benefits are largely beneficial for your mind and body. I hope that if you're struggling this post has helped even in the slightest. I have linked numerous helplines below, so please don't be afraid to reach out.
Charity providing support if you have been diagnosed with an anxiety condition.
Phone: 03444 775 774 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 5.30pm)
A charity helping people living with manic depression or bipolar disorder.
CALM is the Campaign Against Living Miserably, for men aged 15 to 35.
Phone: 0800 58 58 58 (daily, 5pm to midnight)
Men's Health Forum
24/7 stress support for men by text, chat and email.
Mental Health Foundation
Provides information and support for anyone with mental health problems or learning disabilities.
Promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems.
Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)
Voluntary charity offering support for sufferers of panic attacks and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Offers a course to help overcome your phobia or OCD.
Phone: 0844 967 4848 (daily, 10am to 10pm)