Anxiety & Strength Training

Close your eyes, take a deep breath and imagine you are standing at a barbell, barefoot or with chucks, getting your footing, bending down checking your form, grabbing the bar with a mixed grip, and being mindful to keep your butt down.  You take a deep breath, brace for the heavy weight and remember to lift with your legs coming to a full standing position slowly but surely feeling the muscle contract each time you lift the bar and put the bar down. You may grunt or growl or maybe even scream because in your in mind, you are determined to get that bar up even though it hurts or that weight is greater than what you anticipated.  If you suffer from anxiety you may find it hard to escape because everyday there may be things or environments that could trigger you. But if we ever find ourselves becoming anxious, you can apply the same preparation to properly strength training to help work through your anxiety symptoms. For instance, someone who has social anxiety may feel as if they are being judged or may be offensive to someone.  Physically they can feel increased heart rate, tense muscles, stomach troubles (eww TMI), feeling as if they cannot catch their breath or feelings as if they are outside of their body. Engaging in strength training can help to boost your physical and mental health well-being which can help to decrease your anxiety symptoms.

That’s great but how is this process going to help reduce my anxiety?

 Really? How Is it possible?

For a person who is working to reduce their anxiety symptoms and strength trains, it is not necessary that you run a marathon (or can you?).  You can do just enough to increase your well-being mentally and emotionally. In addition you can use the process in which you prepare to strength train to increase your coping abilities in other situations.  Let’s talk about James.

Who is James and why should I care?

James was diagnosed with social anxiety because of how he feels when he has to attend functions in which he feels others are better educated and knowledgeable.  He tended to shy away from social situations. Since James is an avid strength trainer and understands the importance of preparation. Preparation for exercise reduces the chance that he will become injured and increases the chance of proper muscle recovery.   James realizes that the tools he has learned made well-equipped to manage situations that cause him anxiety by using the same preparation techniques as the strength training process.

Warm up

Just as you must properly warm up your muscles to prepare them to do work (i.e. proper stretching).  Similarly James can engage in cognitive warm ups that will prepare him for these anxiety social functions.  After learning about which social situations gives him anxiety, his Center For Growth therapist helped him to learn about calm breathing that he can use to quickly calm down. He learned that when he is anxious he has a tendency to breathe faster that makes him feel lightheaded and dizzy.  He learned that calm breathing requires him to stop and take regular deeps breaths through the nose and out of his mouth (in for three counts, out for three counts). Since James already does this when he is stretching to prepare to strength training, he was able to use it when he had to go to his recent high school reunion.  Just like he uses calm breathing to properly stretch to reduce the chance of injury, he was able to use the same technique to see his old high school friends.

James also learned the importance of contracting and relaxing his muscles when he trains to maintain proper form during the exercise to ensure that the proper muscle is activated and that he will be able to properly recover after the exercise is completed.  He can apply the same technique when he is faced with social situations. He can use calm breathing and tensing and then relaxing his muscles can help to decrease his stress. This strategy can help lower overall tension and stress levels, which can contribute to anxiety problems.

Let’s Work!

James understands that he must listen to his body to determine if he needs to modify his workouts in order help him achieve his goals (i.e. increased strength, endurance, body fat loss).  Just like he has was able to work with his trainer to identify his goals and what it takes to be prepared and ready, James is working with his therapist to determine his goal of attending social functions even if it makes him uncomfortable.  After talking to his therapist, James determined that he wants to increase his confidence and become more social to meet new people. To prepare himself, he imagined himself on his wedding day where he felt all the love and support of his friends and family.  He did not have any negative thoughts about himself. When he feels that he is getting anxious, he can identify his negative thoughts then ask himself if his thoughts are fact based and if they are causing him to be anxious. If he finds that they are not, he can identify helpful and accurate thoughts (5 thoughts about why I am awesome).

Change is never-ending

People who train regularly understand that changes will need to be made if a program is found to no longer work (i.e. no body changes, decreased metabolism), it is good to modify it in order to change up your routine (the human body can easily adapt).  James understands that he should work with his therapist to identify which interventions have been useful when he has been in social situations and modify the ones that have not worked. He has learned a lot from using deep breathing and grounding techniques he was able to refocus his body that he could clearly identify  what he is feeling in that moment to get out of his head so that move away from the thoughts that are stressful and caused him to be anxious.

If you are experiencing anxiety and need support to decrease your symptoms, please contact Center For Growth at 215-922-LOVE.

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