Everybody knows that one of the best things you can do for your health is to get some exercise, preferably daily – it ain’t news. You want to lose weight? Lower your cholesterol? Gain some sweet muscles? Exercise is the obvious answer.
But with antidepressant prescriptions on the rise every year (Australia is now the second highest prescriber of AD medication according to ABC news) it seems like people are overlooking the best natural antidepressant in favour of the pharmaceutical kind. I know, I know…in the midst of a panic attack you’re far more likely to pop a sedative rather than pop on a leotard and start lunging to Jane Fonda’s finest exercise videos. And in the short-term, prescribed medication will probably alleviate your panic symptoms. But one shouldn’t pooh-pooh the long term effects of participating in regular routine exercise to help your anxiety.
Here are five reasons why you should be exercising for your anxiety.
Let me preface this post by saying that I am, at this point in time, taking an antidepressant medication. I am in no way suggesting that exercise should be used to replace antidepressant medication nor am I saying that antidepressants are useless in treating anxiety disorders. This post is merely about the benefits of exercising for your anxiety in addition to any other treatments you may be undergoing.
- Exercise Makes Your Brain Happy
Okay, here’s the obvious reason that most people are already aware of. Exercise has a proven chemical effect in the brain that results in you feeling good. When you exercise, certain neurotransmitters are released in the brain which have actually been shown to ease pain – physical and mental pain. Endorphins are also released when you get active – you know endorphins, the happy little chemical guys that give you a feeling of euphoria? As someone suffering from anxiety, ‘euphoria’ is a feeling that I rarely come across. I’m too busy worrying about every possible outcome for every possible scenario to actually feel any pleasure. Every now and then I’d experience that good feeling, like when I’d be hanging out with one of my comedic friends, or watching a particularly hilarious Simpsons episode…but I wasn’t getting an endorphin hit anywhere near as often as one should. When I started exercising regularly, I found that those elusive little endorphin friends would show up after every work out, and it became such a great release for me. An easy way to feel good when I spend 95% of my time feeling bad? Sign me up!
- Exercise Gives You Confidence
Ahh, the after-exercise glow. There’s nothing quite like it. Alright, by glow I mean sweat. And if you’re anything like me, you probably come away from exercising with a tomato-red face and sweat patches under your boobs, gasping for air like some kind of dying hippo. My after-exercise glow is more of an after-exorcism glow. But despite the clammy hot mess I become after a work out, I always end up walking out of there like I’m walking for Marc Jacobs Spring 2015. I’m not sure whether it’s from the happy little endorphin friends, or just because I know I’m getting closer with every squat and lunge to my dream body, but either way, exercising makes me feel incredibly confident. Put me in a car and tell me you’re driving me down the street and I become a quivering anxious mess. Put me in a gym and get me doing a work out and I suddenly become some kind of fearless female Rambo. Exercising gives you a confidence boost like nothing else can, even if – especially if – you suffer from a crippling anxiety disorder.
- Nobody Can Tell If You Panic
You’re probably looking at that reason thinking, ‘er…why is that a good thing?’ Well, when you suffer from anxiety and panic disorder, you tend to get worried about drawing attention to yourself. And a sure way to do that is to have a panic attack in public (or so our nervous brains tell us.) When you panic, what happens? You breathe heavier, you sweat, you might get a bit shaky or go red in the face. And when you exercise, what happens? You breathe heavier, you sweat, you might get a bit shaky or go red in the face. See where I’m going with this? One of the only places besides my home where I feel really safe is in the gym, because the fact that I might become breathless with panic is going to go totally unnoticed. No one is going to look at me and think ‘what’s that weirdo freaking out about?’, they’re just going to assume I’ve done one too many reps on the rower. (Obviously nobody is looking at you like a freak when you have a panic attack anyway, but like I said – in my mangled anxious brain, I feel like the entire world might point at me and laugh should I do the ‘unthinkable’ and panic in public.)
- Exercise Teaches You To Trust & Respect Your Body
Another fun aspect of my anxiety disorder is that I never feel in control. My body constantly ‘betrays’ me by signalling my fight or flight response at inappropriate times. Exercising is a form of body training – and I learn to respect and listen to my body because of that. I don’t know why my body responds the way it does when I go outside or get in the car, but when I’m working out my body responds predictably and accordingly. I know that if I do 30 walking lunges on Monday, I’m going to feel a bit sore on Tuesday. But I also know that a few weeks later, I’ll be able to do 40 walking lunges before I get sore, because I’m getting stronger every time. And that is a great lesson for someone with an anxiety disorder. You are teaching yourself that you are in control of your body, and that with practice you can become better at exercising that control.
- Exercising Regularly May Reduce Your Anxiety
There is evidence to support the fact that having a regular exercise routine can assist with a persons ability to cope with stress. There is a whole scientific explanation for this here, but let me just tell you that I can personally attest to this theory. If I have to go out somewhere and I’m starting to really panic, I’ll force myself to go for a quick walk or run. It doesn’t matter if I only go three houses down the street and back a few times – just as long as I get my heart rate up. It releases the negative energy and leaves me feeling calmer and more able to attempt the task at hand. And having a regular exercise routine in place keeps me happy because I know that even if I’ve had a shitty day, I’m always going to feel good after a work out.
There are so many other benefits you can get from exercising, and considering exercise is free, natural, good for you, and you can do it anywhere – why wouldn’t you give it a go and see if it helps your anxiety? You don’t need to jump straight into a gym, or do an hours slog at spinning class – twenty minutes of physical activity is sufficient enough to give you all the benefits and happy endorphin friends that your body and mind needs. If you don’t want to leave the house or work out in front of people, get on YouTube. There are countless exercise videos at your disposal which you can do in the comfort of your own lounge room while wearing your favourite sweatpants with the hole in the butt.
You might even find that eventually you want to join a boot camp, or a gym, or some dance/aerobic classes. Exercise might become a social outing for you, or it might just be your way of escaping from all the crap that runs through your head day in, day out.
Regardless of which method of exercise you choose, try to find some time once a day where you get your heart-rate up and get your stress levels down.
And if it doesn’t work for you I promise I’ll drop and give you twenty. (Apologies, that is. Twenty apologies.)