Let’s be honest.
You know that a regular fitness routine would ease your social anxiety.
You read about it in self-help books and on the internet. Your therapist recommended you join an exercise class at your local gym.
You think you should give it a try.
There is just one problem.
The mere thought of going to the gym makes your hands sweaty and your heart pound. Your mind conjures up a million reasons as to why you absolutely can not start an exercise program now.
What do you do?
If you read my story, you know that I suffered extreme social anxiety growing up. Well into my 20’s social interactions drained me.
Following an exercise program, however, was the catalyst for my healing and growth.
It started with running.
When I say that running saved me from living a life in isolation and fear of other people, I don’t exaggerate.
In 2006, when I started to trot down the forest trails in South Africa, I didn’t know how powerful the effects of exercise can be.
Today I do.
Today I use that knowledge to help my clients increase their self-esteem and reduce anxiety symptoms by following an exercise program.
Exercise can be triggering for people with social anxiety. You feel self-conscious when working out. Running down the street, you “feel stupid” or ruminate if people are watching you and what they are thinking. Going to the gym is terrifying, as your fear of being judged and made fun of rises to unthinkable heights in this environment.
Another issue is that the bodily sensations of working out feel similar to having an anxiety attack, making you panic even more.
So what is the solution?
You have to start anyway.
Exercise will likely have a massive positive effect on your anxiety levels – once you got past the initial apprehension and have developed a consistent routine.
For a proven game plan to start an exercise routine despite being anxious about it, read on. I will give you 4 strategies that will help you get started and conquer your fears.
1. Start Slow And Take Your Time
Your workouts don’t have to leave you gasping for air. Go easy at first and dial down the intensity when your increased breathing and heart rate makes you uncomfortable.
Over time you will get used to the bodily sensations and become more comfortable experiencing them.
Your brain will learn that you are safe while exercising and experiencing the physical sensations that come with it.
Give yourself time to get used to the rapid heartbeat, heavy breathing, and sweating while you work out. With enough practice, it won’t bother you anymore. Simply view “getting used to the sensations of exercise” like any other skill you had to learn. When you learned to write, you took small steps. You learned how to write each letter. Then you put them together to form words and, finally, sentences. Now writing feels natural to you.
Starting slow and taking your time also applies to working out with others. Don’t feel like you need to join a group exercise class or find a workout buddy. I know this advice is thrown around a lot, but these ideas might make you want to puke if you have severe social anxiety.
Work out in your living room instead, go for walks in nature, go for a bike ride.
When I started exercising, I couldn’t fathom working out with someone else or in front of others. In fact, I didn’t even feel like I could go for a run through the busy city streets during daytime hours.
This brings me to the next point:
2. Work Out During Off-Peak Hours
If you feel self-conscious working out in front of others, ease into it by exercising during off-peak hours.
I successfully used this strategy when I first started exercising.
I would run in the very early morning hours when it was still dark, only very few people were on the streets, and hardly anyone would see me. It took many months of running until I felt more comfortable running in daylight and through crowded streets.
When I started going to the gym, I used the same strategy and went before work in the very early morning hours when no one was there, except for the front desk staff.
3. Work With A Personal Trainer When You Have Social Anxiety
Even though this thought might make your stomach churn, you should start working with a personal trainer.
A good personal trainer will create a program customized to your needs and ensure that you use good form when performing the exercises. That way, you reduce the risk of injuries and make progress in your fitness journey.
But the benefits go beyond simple program design.
A good trainer will be your cheerleader and accountability partner, making it less likely that you skip workouts and talk yourself out of your exercise program.
Most importantly, a good personal trainer makes your mental health as much as a priority as your physical health.
Tell your personal trainer that you have social anxiety.
Yes, this will be uncomfortable, but it is in your best interest.
They need to know when clients have asthma, diabetes, or other physical illnesses. They also need to know when clients have a mental condition.
Your personal trainer needs to feel comfortable working with anxious people. If he isn’t, well, then he is not the right fit for you.
Once you found a trainer who is comfortable training people with anxiety, they will work with you to manage the symptoms. They will stay calm and know what to do should you have a panic attack in the middle of a workout. Make sure you also communicate your go-to anxiety-relieving strategies.
4. Use Online Fitness Coaching When You Have Social Anxiety
If you feel too anxious to go to a gym or work with a personal trainer in person, consider online coaching.
Online fitness coaching is a great way to get started with an exercise program under a personal trainer’s guidance.
There are several advantages as compared to in-person training.
First off, online coaching gives you the possibility to choose the perfect trainer for you, independent of location or time constraints.
Depending on where you live, there might not be any trainer who has experience with social anxiety or that you feel comfortable working with.
Secondly, working with an online trainer gives you the advantage of trying out new exercises without anyone watching. You can send your trainer videos to check your form whenever you feel comfortable doing so.
The communication channels are not fixed either.
If you feel uncomfortable having video calls, ask if it is possible to communicate via text message and email only.
Personally, I offer all my clients to base our communication on text messaging and email only. We might change to video calls throughout our coaching relationship, but you, as my client, decide when you are ready.
Last but not least online training is also cheaper than hiring a personal trainer in person.
An hour of in-person training with a personal trainer can easily cost you between $70-$150. An online fitness coach will not only structure your training program and give you feedback on your exercise technique, but they will also be available to answer all your questions about fitness and exercise.
If You Still Have Doubts
I know how overwhelming it feels to start an exercise program. Social anxiety made it hard for me to establish a consistent routine.
But I persevered and, through running and weightlifting, found a way out of social isolation.
If you also want to pick up exercise to develop your self-esteem and reduce the impact anxiety has on your life, please get in touch.
I will help you tailor a program to your specific needs and be your accountability partner, cheerleader, and personal fitness concierge.
You can do this.