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Gym Anxiety Post Pandemic

rh counselling service ltd May 09, 2022
Gym anxiety


For those who like to work out, the only options in the first lock down, were Joining a zoom class, Youtube, Joe wicks TV classes and if you were lucky enough to be able to purchase weights at a reasonable price before demand overtook supply and prices skyrocketed, you might have been able to keep up with your gains.

If you were like me, I intended to be one of those people that would use lockdown to concentrate on me, I’d come out a different woman, all slim and toned and whilst I was furloughed, I actually did manage to lose over a stone, however it didn’t last long, those weights soon began collecting dust.

Going into the 2nd lockdown, I’d begun like most, working from home and was able to see clients face to face in my practice. Whilst I welcomed regular work back into my life feeling a sense of purpose again, I also felt deflated knowing I had to try to maintain my new walking/workout routine, which going into the winter was hard. As I write this, I find myself feeling guilty, I can’t help thinking I missed the opportunity to lose more. Luckily, I know where this thought process comes from, Self-doubt, Self-sabotage and living with a constant negative battle in my head between my brain and my emotions, it’s a wonder I even get up in the mornings. I am constantly kicking myself for not allowing more time to do the thing I love but adding my “home” workouts to an already multipurposed, environment just didn’t work, I ended up putting too much pressure on the situation and became overwhelmed, resulting in not being able to do anything.

You see I like many, worked full time at home, multitasking between spreadsheets, seeing online clients, managing my business, making lunch for everyone, supporting my family & friends, and home-schooling a child who was struggling. Reflecting on it now, I realize I was in survival mode.

What people haven’t yet realized through this pandemic, is that our bodies and minds were responding to a completely new way of living, at the same time as trying to survive, appearing normal on the surface, keeping up appearances yet underneath, we have all been fighting an invisible enemy.

Throughout the lockdowns, going for longer walks in the morning really was my only option and something I am so grateful to have been able to do however, for me nothing beats that feeling of walking out of the gym, knowing I’ve just had an epic workout.

It's taken me a while to get back into the swing of it, I am aware that I need to be careful not to overdo it that I cause an injury or worse, work myself up so much to it, that the excitement turns into anxiety. Try not to overdo it if you are wanting to get back to the gym, if you need some help ask a personal trainer at your gym.

If like me, you are one to struggle with motivation, please know you are not alone.The current dialogue in my brain goes something like this:

Me: I can’t wait to get back to the gym and lift those weights

My brain: Are you sure you can handle weightlifting, what if you’ve forgotten how to do it, you need new trainers before you go back and what about your gym wear, it’s a bit old now because that’s all you’ve been wearing for the past year.

Me: It’s ok, no-one cares about what I look like at the gym, they are all there for the same reason and won’t care if my trainers don’t match my leggings or if the leggings are the latest fashion.

My Brian: Leggings????!!!!! With your thighs and rear??!!, your right people won’t care what your wearing, they will be too busy laughing at the size of your back side and tree trunk legs.

Me: Maybe I need to go on a diet now to prepare, No!! I don’t need to diet; I just need to track and be sensible.

My Brain: Are you mad? Get on those scales…. OMG how much do you weigh, compare yourself to everyone else, go on a shake diet and don’t you dare think about leaving the house till at least next year, you really let us go, it’s your fault were like this.

Me: Hang on a minute, you’re the one who refused to let me get up earlier to train, always finding something else more important to do, like sleep for a bit longer even though I didn’t need it and forced me to watch that recorded Netflix series whilst having our 2nd takeaway in a week, you said it was ok because everyone would be doing the same as us.

My Brain: Don’t blame me, I was just trying to keep us safe.

Me: Great, thanks for nothing, now I don’t know if I can go back, I feel ashamed.

My Brain: Ahh don’t worry, let’s get a Chinese and open that bottle of wine, might as well make the most of the opportunity, while we can get away with it.

Me: ok, your right, there’s always tomorrow.

Tomorrow comes……

My Brian: I can’t believe you ate that Chinese and drank tall that wine, you’re such a slob, why do you always give in so easily.

Me: Now I feel so guilty, I can’t possibly go and do a workout.

Sound familiar?

Gym anxiety is another way the brain keeps us from doing what we want to do, it’s not necessarily the gym that triggers the thought process that causes anxiety, it’s fear of judgement, fear that we might fail to get to our target or fear that if we do go, we set unrealistic goals by expecting to see results quickly, putting increased pressure on an already fragile situation.

This fear is really self-sabotage, the brain gets involved and stops us from even trying, giving us the excuse that the obstacles are too high, the journey too long and then, the what if’s start to get in the way. The brains need to survive, kicks in and keeps us frozen in the fear, preventing you from overcoming the anxiety and thus, the cycle continues.

Anxiety is crippling, it stops us from thinking about things logically. It is so pre-occupied with managing our responses to each situation that if you ask it to consider something new, it will push back and resist any change and, at every opportunity. Keeping you safe, it uses fear and irrational thoughts to make you feel like you are out of control, the body responds to the fear by reacting in a physical way, heart beats faster, you feel sick, your mouth dries up and you start to feel dizzy. The only thing that eases it is agreeing with the brain and allowing the fear response to take over and once it wins, it takes great delight in rubbing it in our faces, making us question why we even bother trying. Anxiety debilitates us, making us feel not good enough and renders us useless at any given chance it gets.

So, what can we do to address gym anxiety?

If you are feeling anxious about returning to the gym environment or have wanted to try it for a while now but have always held yourself back, it may help to ask yourself why. In my experience there two issues that encompasses most reasons.

Fear of judgment and Fear of Failure

If you have ever been to a commercial gym, you will have experienced at least a handful of stereotypical gym buffs, you know, the ones who stand in front of the mirror, flexing and admiring their protruding pectoral muscles at any given opportunity, grunting, and throwing weights around to try and make as much noise as possible, so that much to your disgust, the whole gym notices he just lifted a PB.

Not forgetting the perfectly petite, toned girl, working every machine effortlessly, whilst gently patting her forehead and trying desperately to be seen by everyone. How off putting right? how can we “normal” people ever feel comfortable around these seemingly perfect people?

There really is no point in even signing up right? Wrong!!

Everyone makes assumptions and judgments when they feel insecure in themselves!

Read that again!!

And just because you think it, it doesn’t mean it’s true!

Read that again too!

*I’ll let you into a little secret, that boy who you saw flexing in the mirror and throwing his weights around lives with crohns disease. It’s taken him years to be able to lift that weight, every time he lifts, he feels indescribable pain, but he does it anyway because he knows if he wants any hope at living a longer life, he needs to keep his body in the best possible shape he can.

*That girl who looks so perfect, all made up and wearing the latest fashionable gym attire, has suffered with body dysmorphia since she was 11, because someone made her feel like she wasn’t good enough unless she was slim. She goes to the gym every day; you see a perfect looking body but when she sees her reflection in that mirror, all she sees are imperfections.

So, you see fear of being judged doesn’t belong to one group of people, it’s not just yours to own. The reason you’re feeling so negative about yourself isn’t because everyone else is perfect and you're not good enough, that's just the brains way of giving you an excuse not to even try.

*Note not based on a real life story.

Please believe me when I say, no-one is gossiping about how you look, they aren't watching you walking into that gym thinking anything other than, good for you! You don’t have a sign on your back saying please feel free to judge me.

Procrastinating your goals

Gyms make profit from memberships, that monthly outlay for you, is a wasted investment if you’re not going to make the most of it. The gyms aren’t going to waver your membership if you don’t go. You might if you have a good gym, get an email or a text message saying they miss you but, in all honesty, it makes no odds to them whether you go or not, they still get their payment. The difference is, for you to realize that it would be a missed opportunity for you, think of how nice it would feel to have some time alone or with a friend and doing something that makes you feel good about yourself after you have done it. So many of us are willing to feel guilty about wasting money, rather than allowing yourself a little time to do the task and feel good about the result. Procrastinating goals is all about not being willing to move out of a comfort zone. Often when I procrastinate a task, I know that it’s because I am about to take a leap into the unknown. When I feel this, I like to imagine that if I had never applied for university because I felt comfortable in my 9-5 job I wouldn’t be where I am today, running a successful private practice, doing what I love and helping others. Procrastination is a natural response to fear. When our brains keep us stuck in thoughts of “you’re not good enough” or “it’s easier to stay here in bed, rather than go out and exercise” we are giving into the fear. If we don’t ever challenge the fear, how can we live? We can’t, we would just exist. Procrastinating your goals at the gym is no different to avoiding going for a promotion at work or starting that business you’ve always wanted to do; it is fear and anxiety that holds us back and negative thoughts keep us stuck.

Are you procrastinating, if so why, what are you afraid of? Email me your thoughts, I’d love to help you.

Getting back to it

If you are returning to the gym, you may be feeling disappointed that you have lost some of your gains or even gained a few pounds over lockdown but remember, everyone is in the same position, we are all back to square one. Even if you have been able to use weights at home, the gym gives us the accountability and focus we need and have all missed from the other members, the PT’s and gym managers. When you find a good gym, it will feel welcoming, friendly and make you feel like you are a genuine member of the fitness family, regardless of where you are in your journey. If you want to try the gym, don’t let your fears hold you back because it’s not just increased physical health you benefit from, it benefits your mental health too.

It’s true what they say, we only miss the things we love when we no longer have the option of having them. I missed the gym in lock down, it’s my escape, my time to do something for me it’s the place that helps me not only on a physical level but on a mental health level too, it helps me focus and it decreases my anxiety, sure I didn’t go as often as I should have before the pandemic, but I can promise you one thing, despite my brain thinking the worst, I will definitely be making a point of proving it wrong, I'm going to make the most of it from now on.

 Remember the reason to go to the gym, is not to lose weight, you go because you like working out. Your body thrives on the feeling you get after the workout because the body releases feel good endorphins, not to mention your brain functions much better post exercise.