Why exercise helps anxiety….

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Okay, so that maybe a pretty bold statement about anxiety …and I may not have all of the studies to prove it…

BUT it is suggested by many anxiety support platforms (including anxietyuk) that exercise does help anxiety. When we exercise we release lots of chemicals into the body. These chemicals boost our mood, lower our stress levels and all around make us feel more happy and positive.

I’m not here today to share my thoughts and some of my journey with anxiety and how exercise has helped me throughout my life. Some of these things may resonate with you. You may have felt this way at one time or another. Or maybe you live with/know someone who has been through some of these things. Either way I hope you find this of great benefit. I will go into to this is further details as this post goes on but firstly I want to address something very important…

I am not and you are not “mental”

We are becoming better all the time as a nation talking about things like “anxiety” and “depression” (I will be focusing on anxiety for this post). We are solidifying peoples understanding and helping open up conversations. I still have one big problem though. This use of the term “mental”. Use it on it’s own and it sounds like what it is – “mental”…add the word “health” and people feel it makes it less offensive. Although we are aiming to destigmatize this word – we still can’t help our initial subconscious reaction to the word “mental”.

I want you to think about that for a moment. Your reaction to that word and instead I want you to replace it with “Mind” – how much calmer that word suddenly becomes. This is just a small thing that was a BIG thing for me. I didn’t want to discuss having anxiety because I didn’t want people to think I was crazy or mental (this was how I lived for a long time in my teens). So lets put that straight out there – having anxiety does not make you mental (I am sure you already know this but I also know how much worrying about others perception of a word or of us can hold us back!).

I want you for the rest of this post to focus on the word “mind” . All will become clear as to why but we need to be on the same page from the out.

The Mind to Body connection

I’m not going to go deep into how they are connected or studies etc. I want to take you straight to the root. If your mind is stressed and anxious – your body reacts. When my anxiety gets severe I can’t focus, I feel sick, my body starts to shake and my breathing becomes erratic. Mind – Body. Mind thinks something and the body reacts. These reactions are not conscious either – I can’t control them or make them just “go away” – they happen. Sweaty palms when you are nervous before an interview – heart beat increasing before you go on a date. These are examples of how our mind controls our bodies reaction. I want you to take a moment to think about when you last had an unconscious reaction to something.

Body to Mind connection

Now this is something we DON’T put a lot of emphasis on. Reversing it. There have been many days when I don’t want to get up and out of bed. That I am in a spiral of worry – a cycle which is hard to break. I am letting my mind control my body and its reactions. So what do I do? I force my body to take back control.

If you have anxiety you will know that getting your mind to focus when you are in a worry is a NIGHTMARE – you jump from thought to thought – question to question. I can only liken it to playing something like Wikipedia race (if you haven’t done this give it a go haha!) Where you start on one page and link to another and then another and another and before you know it you have gone from apples to the Battle of Hastings and no idea how you got there.

So how do we break this? How do I break this? Well I get myself up and I move my body. It maybe something small like a walk up the road and back – something to get me out. It maybe going for a climb. Or it could be just doing a simple set of exercises. Anything to break that mind reaction pattern and release those chemicals and start to ease that worry.

Exercise and Focus

So yes exercise breaks this cycle a little but its the chemicals that really boost us. These chemicals though are only released during and after exercise. So HOW do we get ourselves to that point? Focus. We focus. The thing I love most about exercise is that is requires in the moment thinking and reaction. I have to concentrate on and focus on the moves I am doing right then and how my body is reacting.

What I want you to think about is how we take that focus and help our anxiety. I can only speak from my own experiences throughout this BUT for me anxiety comes from spirally worry and thoughts. Lack of “in the moment” thinking can be combatted by exercise. I move my mind to connecting with my body – what does that move feel like? Where is tired and aching? What is happening with my breathing? I look at those and it begins to break the cycle.

My journey

As I say I am attempting to explain the above but can only do so through my own experiences. I have struggled since I was young with anxiety and worry, sport was the only thing I could ever find to combat it. It made me feel more positive, it gave me focus, community, friendship. I didn’t create At Home HIIT to be the next Jo Wicks or Kayla Itines – I created it because I LOVE exercise – I needed a new reason to push everyday. A focus, a drive. I created At Home HIIT because I know how isolating it can feel if you can’t get to classes, if you can’t get out of the house often. It is there to offer community and support – to offer friendship.

Each time you are hit with anxiety. Each time that wave of stress and worry strikes think of this post. Stand up. Put one foot in front of the other and start to move. Tell yourself that your body is in control of your mind. Focus on the movement in the moment. Focus on how your body can control your minds reaction.

Techniques I use to move forward.

I am most DEFINITELY still working on these and my anxiety but the best things I have found are:

  • Exercise (as above – just start moving and see how you feel)
  • Talk to people – be open about how you are feeling. Don’t have anyone to talk to email me!
  • Ask for help – seriously. Speak with your doctor and explain how you are feeling or if you are in England you can check out IAPT.
  • Take time out and take the stress off – many people can feel anxious because they are stressed about something. We put so much pressure on ourselves. You have to be kind to yourself. You can’t be everything to everyone or do everything FOR everyone!
  • Focus on your happiness. What makes you happy? It can be the smallest thing or the biggest thing but focus on it and build it into your life.

I hope this post has been helpful in understanding why I feel exercise is such a benefit when you suffer with anxiety. I know it doesn’t have studies – just one girls experience and battle BUT from talking to people I know I am not alone and now you know you aren’t either.

Have a wonderful day whatever you are doing.

Laura x

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