How to Get Over Gym Anxiety

How to Get Over Gym Anxiety

Are you someone who has never worked out in a gym? Or has it been a long time since you hit the rec center? Either way, you may feel apprehensive about going or even intimidated when you get there. If this sounds familiar, you may be experiencing gym anxiety.

Gymtimidation: Anxiety at the Gym

Yes, anxiety about going to the gym is a real thing. It can escalate to the point of triggering full-blown panic attacks, and it is more common than you might think. Among Americans, one in two express feelings of intimidation at the mere thought of heading to the gym for a workout. Almost one-third admit to feeling anxious when considering starting a gym membership. 

Anxiety disorders affect 30% of adults at different points in their lives, according to the American Psychiatric Association. This places anxiety disorders at the top of the list of common mental disorders. It is highly treatable, however, and most who experience anxiety lead normal, productive lives.

Why Do People Get Gym Anxiety?

Gym anxiety has its roots in four main psychological factors that foster uncomfortable feelings which may keep you out of the gym. 

  • Feelings of uncertainty. It's normal to feel anxious when we don't know what we're supposed to do. Uncertainty is an uncomfortable feeling that can quickly morph into anxiety. If you don't know what to do in the gym, such as how to work the exercise machines, you're going to feel uncertain, and that's fertile ground for the growth of anxiety.
  • Comparing yourself to others. When people interact with each other, making social comparisons among ourselves is something all of us do, sometimes unconsciously. These comparisons help us figure out where we stand in relation to those around us. Unfortunately, sometimes those comparisons can have negative connotations that foster anxiety within us.
  • Feeling judged by others. Personal insecurities feed into the notion that others in the gym are judging us on our appearance, our lack of knowledge about the exercise equipment, or our inexperience in doing the workout routines. Of course, people at the gym will assure you they're there to work out, not to judge anyone, but such assurances rarely alleviate the fears of being judged. 
  • Feeling like you don't belong. If you're a novice to the gym and find everything unfamiliar, it's easy to feel overwhelmed, out of place, and awkward. Anxiety rooted in these feelings can balloon at a rapid rate, urging you rapidly toward the exit door.

While there are other causes, these are the ones that top the list of reasons people get gym anxiety.

Common Triggers of Gym Anxiety

Gym anxiety, like other forms of anxiety, has an individualized component and can be complex, but there are some common scenarios that people consistently mention as triggers.

  • You're a beginner. If it's your first or even second time working out in a gym, or it's been a long time since you last visited the gym, feelings of intimidation are almost a given. This trigger can bring situational anxiety roaring to the forefront.
  • Switching to a new gym. If you've been working out at one gym regularly for a while, changing gyms can be a strong source of stress and anxiety. You'll have to navigate a new physical layout, locate the locker room and the restroom without looking like you're lost, find the equipment you want to use, or locate some equipment you know how to use. Any of these are fuel for a gym anxiety fire.
  • Body insecurity. If you're insecure about the condition your body is in, putting yourself out there at the gym can be extremely daunting. You may find yourself forced to change in front of others, including people you don't know. While you're working the machines, you'll be sweating, grunting, straining, and assuming some awkward positions that are less than flattering, and you'll be doing all this in full view of an uncertain number of others. Cue the gym anxiety!
  • The gym is crowded. Some people become uncomfortable when in crowded indoor spaces. This is especially prone to trigger anxiety in the post-COVID world. 
  • You're a woman in a male-dominated environment. A study in the U.K. found 75% of women would like to utilize gyms more but fear being judged on their appearance and ability to use the equipment properly. This trigger for gym anxiety can easily lead to someone remaining at home.

Beating gym anxiety is not as tough as it may seem, however.

How To Overcome Gym Anxiety

There are many different ways to beat gym anxiety. Here are some of the best ways to start the process:

  • Start slowly and build your way up. If you only spend 15 minutes on a cardio machine, to begin with, set that goal and be proud when you reach it.
  • Hit the gym with a friend, preferably one who knows their way around the gym you've chosen. This takes a lot of the unknown components out of the equation.
  • Hire a personal trainer. If you only work with a trainer for one session, it can help you learn which exercises to do, how to manage the equipment, and help you program your workouts.
  • Bring your headphones or earbuds. Tune out the rest of the gym by spooling up your favorite workout mix. 
  • Schedule your trip to the gym during off-hours. Many gyms are open well into the night, if not around the clock. Schedule your workout time during off-hours to cut down on the number of people sharing the gym with you. 
  • Try signing up for a class. You'll be one of many novices if you sign up for a beginner class. 

These are only a few suggestions to overcome gym anxiety. The bottom line is this: find what works for you and stick with it.

Kick Your Gym Anxiety to the Curb

Yes, gym anxiety and exercise anxiety are real. They also can be conquered through a bit of self-reflection and some personal initiatives geared to overcoming the anxiety keeping you out of the gym. Learn more about nutrition, supplements, and workouts, from beginner-level to competition-level, at Tiger Fitness.

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