Five Exercises To Help Manage Anxiety—And One To Avoid

Group Of Mature Female Friends On Outdoor Yoga Retreat Walking Along Path Through Campsite

Key Points

  • Anxiety is a debilitating ailment that affects many aspects of daily life.

  • Specific exercises help manage anxiety and decrease symptoms over time.

  • Managing anxiety attacks when they arise takes discipline and presence of mind.

Anxiety is a part of life. Perhaps you feel it when giving a presentation at work or school. Maybe the nerves ramp up, and your heart beats hard if you have to attend a social gathering. Most people deal with anxiety at some point. However, when anxiety disrupts daily life, becoming the norm instead of an occasional occurrence, you may want to consider options to manage anxiety.

Many people even deal with anxiety and attacks that randomly happen. They can't predict when the symptoms might hit, making anxiety even harder to handle. Those with severe symptoms need to find ways to cope. If you find yourself avoiding things that make you anxious, it's time for a change. It's time to learn how you can manage anxiety so when it hits, it doesn't feel like the end of the world.

There are many ways to live with and handle anxiety, lessening it as time passes. Some seek therapy; others use medication. However, exercise is another avenue to try. Professor of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University, Scott Lear says, "Exercise and activity have long been known to improve mood. A study of more than 1.2 million adults in the United States reported those who exercised had 1.5 fewer days in the past month of poor mental health. And the greatest benefits occurred in those people who exercised 45 minutes or more for three or more days per week."

Exercise gets your heart beating and elevates your overall mood. Lear explains, "Exercise may improve mental well-being due to the release of hormones and brain function. Exercise results in the release of endorphins and endocannabinoids. Endorphins are the feel-good hormones that reduce pain or discomfort associated with activity." Use your hormones to your benefit, and try managing your anxiety through exercise.

What Is Anxiety?

Most people associate anxiety with nervousness, chalking it up to nerves. However, loads of people suffer from anxiety disorders and attacks, which are completely different. An anxiety attack, for example, makes you feel a severe sense of panic and terror — you may actually believe you will die. Anxiety patients report excessive heart rates, sweating, shaking, and other symptoms. Those who haven't experienced an anxiety attack sometimes mistake them for a heart issue or even a heart attack.

Some patients correlate their anxiety with things like large crowds, bodies of water, or particularly stressful circumstances. Others have something going on in the background of their life or even something from their past that manifests as anxiousness. Symptoms stemming from anxiety could affect children or come on as an adult. There is no one reason or cause for anxiety, meaning each person has to devise a personalized way to manage their issues.

Woman ties her running shoes before working out

Managing Anxiety Through Exercise

While there are many ways to treat and manage anxiety, exercise is something to try. Working out has positive effects on both physical and mental health. All exercise gets endorphins pumping, which keeps you physically fit and mentally alert. However, some are better for treating anxiety than others.

Here are five exercises that help to calm your nerves and even out the anxiousness you feel:

Exercise 1: Yoga

Yoga is the art of stretching, breathing, and taking your body to new places. As you begin practicing yoga, you learn how to breathe in a way that helps you be intentional, center yourself, and calm your mind. This technique comes in handy if a panic attack arises. Use similar breathing principles to help yourself through the attack. Try to shorten the attack, cut it off at the knees, and return to your life faster.

Yoga has many positive benefits, including increased strength and flexibility, weight loss, better moods, and physical and mental health. Yoga is something to practice wherever you choose. Buy a book and teach yourself or watch a workout program online and follow along. Alternatively, visit your local gym and sign up for classes. Yoga is a great way to fight anxiety and better overall health.

Woman kicks a punching bag during kickboxing class

Exercise 2: Kickboxing

Anxiety stems from different places, depending on the person. Perhaps you have unspoken frustrations; bottling up the frustration only heightens anxiety. Instead of continuing to add more to the pressure building, consider kickboxing to let it all out. These high-intensity workouts allow you to vent your frustrations taking energy out on bags through kicking and punching. You get out what you put into the workout, so put all your frustration and anxiety into it!

After your first kickboxing workout, expect to feel invigorated. Weight loss is likely, and you often gain confidence as you continue the exercises. People report feeling a sense of zen after working out in this manner. Better sleep is another positive benefit. When you sleep better, vent your frustrations, and get a sense of peace after a workout, it positively affects your anxiety issues.

You may find that the anxiety attacks lessen. When they do occur, they are less severe than before. Any positive effect is a move in the right direction.

Woman runs a trail in the outdoors

Exercise 3: Running

Running is one of the most accessible workouts because the location is always right before you. Do it anywhere, any time. Run a route in your neighborhood on a nice day, or do some laps around a community center track.

If you enjoy running, use a treadmill to get you by on cold or rainy days. Not everyone enjoys running, and it's tough to get started. Commit to trying it and put one foot in front of the other. Once you get used to the motion, you may very well enjoy it. On the days when you don't run, you don't feel like yourself.

Running releases those endorphins, which make you feel better all the way around. When you feel good, even temporarily, you have less anxiety. Your body adjusts to the regular endorphin flood and lessens the negative emotions surrounding anxiousness. When you feel an anxiety attack building, go for a run. Even if you can't predict the attacks, a consistent running routine helps manage your emotions.

Swimmer does laps in a pool

Exercise 4: Swimming

Swimming is a great, full-body workout with many calming effects. When you watch a swimmer, they look like they are effortlessly gliding through the water. If you enjoy swimming, that weightless feeling is all yours. Swimming is an excellent workout for those with injuries, as you have much less stress on joints and tendons. It helps you to address muscles throughout your body at the same time.

Perhaps you were on a swim team in high school, and swimming seems like a natural workout for you now. Join an area gym with a pool and commit to a regular swim. There are also pool workouts, like water aerobics, weight lifting in the water, and other such things.

Being with others pushes you to continue your goals. Remember that weightless feeling when you step out of the pool and keep it with you all day.

A couple dances salsa in the club

Exercise 5: Dancing

When was the last time you let go and danced to your favorite song without worrying about how you looked? It's hard to let loose, but dancing is a great exercise and benefits your anxiety at the same time. Turn on some music and bust some moves. You'll feel a release when the song ends. There are many ways to get an excellent workout through dancing. Take a ballet class if you appreciate that genre. Go to a Zumba class at your local gym. Turn on an old favorite movie with dancing and try to keep up.

Dancing gets your body moving, and feeling good when you're in motion is a good outlet for your exercise goals. It tones your body and gives you the endorphins you need to feel good. The next time you feel anxious, close your blinds, turn on some music, and let the beat take over.

Workouts To Avoid

While there are a variety of exercises that help you to enhance your physical and mental well-being while aiding anxiety management, there are some activities to avoid.

The Exercises You Hate

Any exercise you hate or dread doing is a workout that adds to your anxiety instead of alleviating it. If you abhor running, for example, try hiking and enjoying time in nature. If you never learned to swim, consider kickboxing to take on your frustrations and feel the burn.

Most exercises are beneficial for your body, but not every workout is a match. You must find the workout you enjoy that also helps you feel calm, centered, and strong. Don't force yourself into something you don't enjoy, or anxiety may grow instead of fall away.

Managing Anxiety Attacks as They Hit

Exercise helps with anxiety, but it is a long-term solution that aids you in managing and lessening anxiety gradually. As you decide what workouts to try, these tips help you handle anxiety attacks when they hit.

The 3 3 3 Rule

Therapists suggest that whenever you start feeling anxious or when a full attack hits, employ the 3 3 3 Rule. First, look around you and name three objects. If you are in the office, those might include your computer, a stapler, and a phone. Outside, perhaps you would see a bird, a car, and a mailbox.

Once you name three things in your head, intentionally listen to your surroundings and list three sounds. Inside, perhaps you hear the refrigerator humming, the clock ticking, and your dog snoring. Outside, it could be a horn honking, a construction crew working, and birds chirping.

Last, move three body parts. Shrug your shoulders, pick up one foot, then the other, and roll your head on your neck.

The idea behind the 3 3 3 rule is to ground yourself and refocus your mind in a different direction. Instead of tunneling into the anxiety, you turn your mind and body to other tasks, which helps the attack fade and lessen.

A couple dances ballroom salsa in fancy clothes

Identify Warning Signs

Most people report that certain things lead to anxiety attacks. They might start sweating, for example, or their heart might beat faster. Be aware of your body and what it's trying to tell you. When you notice the telltale signs occurring, start the 3 3 3 rule, go for a walk, enlist help from deep breathing methods, and so on. These elements may help you circumvent an attack before it begins.

What Works for You?

You are a unique individual with fingerprints no one else has. There is no one else in this world like you. While your anxiety symptoms may be similar to what someone else experiences, what works for them does not always work for you. You are on your path to healing and must find the right road to get you to that destination.

Exercise helps those with anxious tendencies or full-blown anxiety disorders, but you must decide which workouts suit you best. Running isn't a good option if you have bad knees, but swimming works well. If you don't like nature, hiking isn't the best fit, but walking the track at your gym will do the trick, too.

Finding a workout you make a habit and appreciate could help you lessen your anxiety symptoms, but the process is often a trial-and-error situation. Try kickboxing and if the impact gives you a headache, move to yoga and see if it suits your personality and style better.

You know exercise is good for your physical and mental health. It's also suitable for issues you may have, such as anxiety. Now, get out there, determine which workout suits your needs, and get started to a healthier you!

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