Do you have that feeling of impending doom for no reason? Do you fret and stress about things that probably won’t happen? You probably suffer from excessive anxiety and maybe even mild depression. I have clients in Alexandria, VA, who tell me that while they initially started to workout to help them lose weight or become fitter, they found that working out alleviates anxiety, too. It’s a win-win situation and comes from the other benefits of exercise.
Knowing the causes of anxiety can help you understand how exercise helps it.
The body has a primitive response to danger. It’s called the fight or flight response. In order for the body to be prepared to do either, the brain sends out hormones that make changes. It sends more blood to the extremities, slows the flow of blood to organs that aren’t necessary for running or fighting, increases the heart rate, raises the blood pressure and even dilates the pupils. You’re left with a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach and sometimes trembling and muscle tension. That describes both the changes in the body during the fight or flight response and the change that occur during an anxiety attack.
To make things even worse, the dangers don’t have to be real.
People who suffer from anxiety often have a trigger that stimulates the attack. It can be anything from a smell to a familiar situation. The danger doesn’t have to be real, it can come from some threat real or imagined. In fact, the trigger didn’t have to happen to the person with the attack, it can be a vicariously experienced situation. The brain doesn’t care, it still sends out the hormones. The only way to reverse the hormones of stress and replace them with ones that make you feel good is to run, fight or simulate running and fighting with vigorous exercise.
If you’re a pacer, you know that moving around makes you feel better.
For me, there’s nothing worse than having to sit still when I’m in pain or worrying. I’m a pacer that feels better when I move. I think it’s because pacing mimics exercise, even though it’s not as physically demanding. It helps keep the blood circulating and aids in burning off stress hormones. While it’s not as good as a tough workout, it’s far more appropriate in most stressful situations. When you’re stressed, there are some things you can do that may help relieve the anxiety. A brisk walk, running up and down stairs or doing any brisk activity that will make you breathe harder and maybe even sweat a bit.
- Some therapists combine exercise with therapy for those clinically depressed or anxious. It’s an accepted complementary form of therapy. You can do it on your own by starting a program of exercise and track your episodes of anxiety before and after you started.
- Focused breathing and meditation are also helpful for anxiety. They’re a viable alternative for times that exercise is totally out of the question.
- If you have serious anxiety or depression issues, always seek out professional help first and use exercise and healthy eating as a complement to it.
- Working out helps decrease anxiety in another way. It puts your focus more on the exercise rather than the problem that caused the anxiety.