5 Things to Do When Exercise Makes Anxiety Worse

DISCLOSURE: I am not a mental health professional. If you need help finding a mental health care provider, call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit Online Therapy to call, message, or video chat a certified therapist online for an affordable monthly price. This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. I may receive compensation from Online Therapy or other sources if you purchase products or services through the links provided on this page. You can read my full disclaimer.

It seems like everyone and their mother talks about how beneficial exercising is for mental health. But what happens when exercise makes anxiety worse?

What happens when exercising feels like a panic attack? 

Today, I’m going to dive deeper and talk about the steps I’m taking to regain my exercise freedom.

Must-Have Anxiety Checklist: 10 Essentials to Manage Your Anxiety

I’ve been dealing with anxiety for as long as I can remember, and I am incredibly sensitive to panic attacks.

Even if I just think about a panic attack, my body starts to react like I’m having one

This poses a big problem for me for a number of reasons.

Exercise Feels Like a Panic Attack

Despite my love for gym class growing up, there were some units I absolutely despised.

Some were plain boring, but others, like track and field, completely messed with my head.

To me, running feels exactly like a panic attack

The pain in my chest. The short, hollow breathing. It feels like I can never catch my breath.

I hate how much my anxiety has impacted my life, but I will no longer let it defeat me.

Here are 5 tips to learn how to work out when exercising feels like a panic attack.

When Exercise Makes Anxiety Worse

1. FIGURE OUT A PLAN

Before you do anything, try your hardest to get yourself in the right mindset. It’s time to think.

Get to the Root of the Problem

Lay down in a comfortable spot, and think about the reasons why exercising causes you to panic.

Did you get made fun of in gym class? Were you pushed into exercising when your body wasn’t physically able? Does exercising feel like a panic attack?

Sometimes, our brains make unconscious connections that we are completely unaware of. Try to dig deep and find out the root to the problem you are facing.

What Do You Hope to Accomplish?

Next, try and figure out what you want to accomplish on this journey towards exercise freedom.

Do you want to face your fears? Do you want to be able to get your body more healthy? Or do you just want to fight off your panic attacks in general?

You can make mental notes or jot them down in a notebook.

I find writing out my thoughts to be the best. It helps make my thoughts more concrete, and I can always go back to them I ever lose sight of my goal.

2. WHAT CALMS YOU DOWN?

Now that you’ve found a plan, figure out what helps you during a panic attack.

What calms you down? What distracts you from your thoughts? What helps diminish them faster?

Is it music? Is it complete silence? Do you put on YouTube videos? Do you like having other people nearby?

I highly recommend keeping these resources close by when you’re on your journey, especially when you begin the physical aspects.

If you have a favorite song or TV show, try putting them on as you move your body. They’ve always been a great tool in distracting my mind.

Related post:


Did You Know There’s Online Therapy?

Talking to a therapist might help you break through your anxiety towards exercising.

BetterHelp is the largest online counseling platform worldwide. It makes professional counseling available anytime, anywhere.

You can get counseling in four ways:

  • Exchanging messages
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3. BEGIN IN YOUR HOME

Usually, the most comfortable place to be is in your home. 

You don’t have to worry about feeling judged. You can feel free to go at your own pace. And you can walk around with no pants on pretty much whenever you feel like it.

That being said, start the physical process in your home. Start small, and try your best to have fun with it.

Trot in place in your living room. Do some snow angels in your bedroom. Dance around the kitchen as you make a pot of Grandma’s famous spaghetti.

If the feelings of panic arise, look back at what calms you down. Focus on them. Breathe into them.

It’s okay. This is all part of the process.

*If you don’t feel comfortable in your home, try to find the place you feel safest and reintroduce exercise there.

4. VENTURE OUT

There is absolutely no reason to push yourself right away, but you can still work hard at trying to overcome this battle.

Once you feel more comfortable in the journey, now is the time to venture out of your home. 

Instead of participating in aerobic exercises like running or cycling, try doing some light exercises first.

While doing them, try to continue to distract yourself from the energy inside you by using mindfulness techniques

Focus on the nature around you, instead. What do you see? What do you hear? Breathe into the fresh air.

If you’d like, you can venture out of your home with someone you trust.

Walk around your neighborhood at a faster pace than you normally would.

If you start to gain feelings on panic, they can be a helpful tool in trying to gain back your awareness.

Other exercises to try:

I have an awesome beginner workout list: 10 Best At-Home Workout Videos for Beginners.

5. REINTRODUCE THE SENSATIONS

Now that you’ve taken all these steps, it’s time to reintroduce the sensations of intense exercise.

Know that when you’re prone to panic attacks, anything that feels remotely like a panic attack will automatically make your body respond in the same way. 

Heart rate increases during exercise, as well as during anxiety. Labored breathing increases during exercise, as with anxiety.

These feelings often go hand-in-hand.

But also know that these feelings of a panic attack aren’t necessarily a panic attack.

So when you’re ready, start making your heart pump faster. Get on a bike and pedal. Jog around the block.

Even if you last for only a couple minutes, this is huge progress.

When your heart rate increases and your feelings of panic intensifies, breathe into the feelings. Embrace the sensations.

Understand that these are good, healthy feelings.

They mean that you’re alive.

You might have to scream it out loud so your brain can hear you. But take it day by day.

Minute by minute.

Breath by stinking breath.

You can overcome this.

Does exercise make your anxiety worse? Tell me in the comments!

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