Going to the Gym when Feeling too Scared
Objective: So, you decided that you wanted to go to the gym. You have the shiny new sneakers, protein shakes, and the perfect workout playlist.
Going to the gym is rewarding spiritually, physically, and most importantly, mentally.
This article is for the people that want to go to the gym, yet held back by social anxiety and procrastination etc.
U.S. News & World Report Magazine says “By the second week of February, some 80 percent of those resolutions are back home with a new kind of remorse staring back at them in the mirror – the remorse of disappointment”
Everybody deserves a healthier lifestyle. Now, let’s work on the mental obstacles in between you, and your fitness goals.
Why Going to The Gym is so Difficult?
Weightlifting doesn’t bring any noticeable benefits at the beginning. Also, it comes with punishments: sore muscles, tiredness, sweatiness.
Especially considering that many people add a stressful job on top of that. Which is also physically taxing.
Find the list of 25 low stress jobs for people with anxiety here.
The larger pay-off becomes much more noticeable over a relatively long period of time. This concept is known as delayed gratification. This is part of the reason for going to the gym is difficult for many.
Delayed gratification tends to give users the results they desire in the longer-term. Delayed gratification tasks give pleasure relatively much longer after a task or activity is completed.
I find motivating yourself with positive reasons, is helpful for many of those with social anxiety. Exercising at the gym is an activity that does not give you immediate results and satisfaction in terms of physical results you can see.
Activities and objects that give our brain an instant feeling of pleasure are known as instant or short term gratification (Video games, Social Media, Drugs etc.).
Power of Positivity
I am a firm believer that positive reinforcement is more effective and sustainable in the long-term then punishments and negative feedback.
There have been studies done suggesting so in multiple scenarios: children, animals, students in the classroom.
There was a breakthrough study on this, done at New York State Hospital. After realizing only 10% of nurses were properly sanitizing their hands when going from patient to patient.
In this study, an electronic screen was installed outside of sinks and washroom doorways.
The first method used negative feedback. When nurses would properly sanitize their hands, they were assigned a pass. However, when they failed to do so, they received a fail message.
After a 16-week period, the passing rate increased from 10% to 81.6%.
The second method was focused on positive feedback. When nurses would meet the hand sanitizer requirements, they would receive messages like: “Great Shift” and if lagging behind(failing), they would receive messages like “Keep it Up”.
The positive method was proven an estimated 17.5% more effective.
Why is Positive Reinforcement so Effective?
Because it gives you something to look forward to. “The actions we make are based on positive reinforcement”.
Imagining what we will receive as a reward gives us something to look forward to.
Changing your mindset means giving telling yourself the positives of doing a task. Instead of focusing on the negatives of failure.
The only result of being either passing or failure is demoralizing. Best case scenario, you did not screw up, and worst case you let yourself down.
Building Habits, and Positive feedback loops
We need to think positively. However, exercising comes with delayed gratification(reward). Therefore, we need to positively visualize our future until the results are here -The Power of Positive Thinking.
Remember, going to the gym repeatedly should turn from a grueling chore, into a habit. Patience and consistency are the quickest way to make it happen. Trust in the process.
A research study from the University of London suggests “It takes an average 66 days to form a new habit, according to new research by Phillippa Lally” Some habits can begin to form from as early as 21 days.
After exercising your body physically, the gratification received will make it easier for you to go to the gym, while also making other aspects of your life easier. This concept is referred to as a positive feedback loop.
Using Positive Visualization to Overcome Gym Anxiety
“We can never maintain peace in the outer world. Until we make peace with ourselves.” – Dalai Lama
Being too scared to go workout at the gym can start from the mind. When you’re feeling anxiety towards the situation in an imaginary context. Then, you can’t really expect yourself to come mentally equipped when you’re there in the flesh.
What is positive visualization?
In layman’s terms, positive visualization is imagining things going well; Usually in a situation that a person is feeling anxiety and stress towards.
Positive visualization is a mental barrier/shield that can help others overcome mental obstacles.
How to positively visualize.
Try imagining yourself going through the experience one step at a time. Signing in to the front desk, then changing your clothes, to stepping foot onto the floor and pushing yourself through a fulfilling workout.
Visualize yourself during, and the joy that you’ll feel while progressing closer towards your goals through each repetition(1 workout).
Meditation and positive imagery jibe well together. Spiritual leaders understand the power of visualization on mental and spiritual health.
Buddhist monks meditate on mountains or under waterfalls because it gives them a clearer peace of mind.
All though highly recommended, meditating in these isolated retreats isn’t always feasible, so here are some characteristics of a healthy place to meditate/visualize.
- Clean and clutter free: No clothes lying around, garbage, food, assignments/papers(documents).
- No distracted noises: White noises and/or background noises such as waterfalls. Unexpected hostile noses (e.g. alarms, stomping, yelling) makes it difficult to relax
- No interruptions: Avoid calls, people forcing themselves into meditation space, bothering you etc.
- Smell: Keep a smell that is relaxing and welcoming.
- Relaxing environment: Usually best to visualize away from areas where you usually feel anxious or have felt/experienced trauma before.
- Imagine your inner self as a child
Mental well-being is strongly attracted to the memories and experiences we’ve had growing up. Thus, leading towards a secure base in one’s self-esteem.
One in 45 people did not secure a positive base that instills confidence in oneself. Fortunately, there are exercises to help treatment.
The best part? All you need is you. Try imagining yourself as an inner child, sitting outside in a calm place like an island or meadow.
Give yourself the love and affection that you deserved. Let the inner child know that you’ll care for them. Learn more about -(https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-freedom-change/201805/rewiring-your-avoidant-anxious-or-fearful-attachment-).
See how the imagined inner child reacts to your gesture. Try giving them a hug; Is the child resisting? No worries. Be patient with them and try again later.
There are many other mindfulness exercises you can use to improve anxiety and negative thoughts.
Positive visualization to Stay Motivated
Going to the gym is already difficult for most people. Adding anxiety to the equation makes it worse. Focusing on your mind is vital, particularly in the beginning stages.
Try using Positive Visualization(imagery) to inspire you to stay motivated, even when the process becomes difficult. Especially at the beginning before the results.
Positive visualization may Increase gym results. Simply imagining completing certain exercise movements, and focusing on specific muscles can increase muscle strength and stamina.
Positive Visualization for Motivation
When I needed to exercise, I would always look at the results. Initial lack of progress is demoralizing. Setting a desirable goal, you are working towards is extremely helpful in staying disciplined (Jordan Peterson, 2016)
After deciding on a workout plan visualize the results that will come with it. Sit back, close your eyes, and imagine what you’ll feel like in 1 year, after exercising your body. The energy that you’ll have, that come with a physically active lifestyle.
Firstly, exercising will make it easier for you to conquer social anxiety. Why? Because conquering social anxiety has physical symptoms: (e.g.)
Being physically fit, allows patients to better handle the physical symptoms that may stem from social anxiety and panic attacks: Breathing rapidly, Having an increased heart rate-(https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anxiety/symptoms-causes/syc-20350961)
Meaning that every lift pushes you one step closer to overcoming your social anxiety(metaphorically).
“Physically active people have lower rates of anxiety and depression than sedentary people. Exercise may improve mental health by helping the brain cope better with stress” -(https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/exercise-stress-and-anxiety)
How to get motivated by benefits
I could copy and paste the benefits of exercise from “exercise.com”. However, I’m afraid this method would go in through one eye, out the other, just kidding… kind of.
Inspire yourself, try thinking of what the benefits of exercise mean to you. We know working out at the gym improves circulation. This is an ultra-bonus considering how anxiety is related to poor blood circulation. – (“ https://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety/circulation-problems”)
The benefit of good blood circulation leads to healthier glowing skin, which helps improve your self-image. This concept is called, the benefit of the benefit.
Realizing benefits that are important to you, can make daunting activities seem more beneficial (worth it)
Getting back on that horse (workout routine)
There’s an age-old saying that says, once you fall off a horse, don’t be afraid to get back on it.
According to US News & World report, approximately 80% of people give up on their new year resolution by February.
Not too late to start your new year’s resolution again. Giving up on a new year’s resolution, simply because you failed to stick to your goals is illogical. The month of January takes up only 8% of the year.
Even taking 2 months worth of breaks (not recommended) and then coming back to workout again for the rest of the year. Still means working out 84% of the time.
Try taking it easy. Struggling too hard to keep on track
Why you shouldn’t be nervous
- Virtually nobody at the gym is natural
Literally, every person at the gym came inside there with an nonathletic body. People that go to the gym have been in your exact shoes before. Hopefully not literally, since they would be gross and sweaty from working out so hard. *just joking!*.
Being scared of being judged doesn’t really make sense considering that many people seen there will see themselves in you.
- You’re improving yourself
Nobody should be ashamed of improving themselves. improving yourself is encouraged. When you decide to make a positive change in your life, remember that people are going to be rooting for you.
“used to have horrible cars, because I never had money, so I’d always end up broken down on the highway. When I stood there trying to flag someone down, nobody stopped. But when I pushed my own car, other drivers would get out and push with me. If you want help, help yourself—people like to see that” -Chris Rock“
- Remember what you’re good at?
Also, remember what you’re good at. Do you play the piano, video games, write poetry?
I’m sure your thoughts when a beginner is missing all the keys, or not knowing how to properly maneuver a joystick are not cruel and degrading. That would simply be childish.
If you’re like me, helping others starting out on a path that I’m further down on feels rewarding.
Set Smart Goals
Specific: This needs to be something that you can write down. There can’t be any debates on whether or not this specific goal was achieved.
Measurable: Measurable goals are nouns, not adjectives.by making sure it’s a Noun instead of an adjective.
Achievable: You need to be able to achieve this goal without overexerting yourself. Can this goal be achieved based off of the current point you’re at? Deciding if a goal is achievable should be based on the level of difficulty, and you’re a track record.
Relevant/Realistic: Smart goals lead to the overall destination that you’re aiming for. The benefits of a goal should directly put you in a situation to succeed.
Time-Bound: There should be a specific deadline/target to reach. Next year is not a deadline. The next time you’re free is also not a deadline😉 Timely deadlines give you a target to work for on a consistent basis.
They also make you aware of when you’re falling behind the trajectory(path) of goal success which is being strived towards.
Never tell people your goals. This rewards your brain. Giving you the satisfaction of completing an unfinished task is counter-productive.
On top of this, it may apply unnecessary pressure, when you don’t live up to the expectations set for yourself. Deciding to live a more active lifestyle is stressful enough
Instead, show them. There’s a feeling of reassurance when people notice results, including you.
Results are noticed after a consistent effort. After you’ve developed a habit, people notice. Alleviating pressure, since reaching your goals is second-hand nature(habitual).
Exposing yourself to the gym in small doses
Go to the gym little by little, and do quick workouts / easy workouts
Being too scared to go to the gym is a huge mental obstacle for many. Can’t go over, then go under. Have you tried other physical activities?
New Physical Activities
When beginning at ground zero in terms of fitness; taking gradual steps is worth it. Weight lifting is one of the most stressful exercises. Why not try exercises that target anxiety, and then work your way up from there.
- Swimming: Water polo, Scuba Diving, Swimming Laps
- Fast Walking
- Dancing: salsa, contemporary dancing, break-dancing
Work out at Home?
Having a home gym can beat everything. Deciding to learn at home is a great way to get comfortable in a gym environment. After some progress, you may find that you enjoy working out at home; however, working out at the gym will most definitely be a breeze.
Choose a more Comfortable Gym
There are certain factors that can make a gym feel more comfortable depending on the goer.
- Less yelling and screaming or dropping of weights.
- People around your age.
- Going to a smaller gym with fewer eyes on you
- A gym that has more people of your gender/ethnicity
- Location and commute.
- Open space, less crowded: *Go to the gym when it’s empty, or a gym that is less-crowded during your scheduled gym time*sma
Choosing and learning a workout plan
A common fear of going to the gym is the lack of knowledge and looking out of place. E.g. not learning/knowing how to use a workout machine properly, lifting a small amount of weight.
The best way is to go with somebody that knows how!
Go with somebody
My number one rule to going to the gym when feeling too scared? Go with another person. Being with another body helps put your mind at ease.
Also, research suggests working out with others can help you work twice as hard. This is known as the Kohler effect.
Hire a Personal Trainer
Personal trainers are helpful for beginners. Their efficient at helping people that have gym anxiety. Getting a personal trainer makes the learning process much simpler.
After helping many clients, with thier own needs.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on choosing a personal trainer that works for you.
Many gyms offer a personal trainer for free (or heavily discounted) for the first few sessions)
What if I don’t want or can’t get a personal trainer? The closest thing you can do is watch/get workouts online.
I highly recommend starting off at stack.com’s beginner’s workout guide. To help teach the fundamentals of working out.
You can also find many weightlifting plans and tips and instructions. I like to call stack.com the google of the fitness world. Learning the fundamentals can be a great emotional support when feeling scared of going to the gym.
Finding a Gym Partner/buddy
Going to a gym full of strangers accompanied by another stranger (personal trainer) can be anxiety-inducing. Having a friendly face is always reassuring, especially when they’re your friend.
Do you have a friend that already works out?
Many people have multiple friends to choose from. Let’s discuss finding the perfect gym partner for you. Key emphasis on you.
Key Traits of a good gym partner
Similar Body type:
When it comes to working out, different body types work better for different workout regimens. That’s why you’d never see Olympic 100m-dash Champion sprinter Usain Bolt, exercise with long-distance runner Eliud Kipchoge.
There are three classes of body types: Ectomorph, Mesomorph, and Endomorph
Figure 1 Muscle and Strength.com
- Flat Chest
- Lean Muscle Mass
- Slim frame
- Harder to gain weight
- Rectangular Body
- Gains muscle quickly
- Gains fat slightly easier
- Body is soft and round
- Muscles less defined
- Hard to lose fat
Gym partners should have similar goals and workout intensity.
Having a gym partner that is trying to be a professional athlete could be a mental obstacle. Assuming you’re weightlifting as a hobby.
This can leave one person feeling weighted down. The other partner feeling shy from being out-worked/outshined.
Similar skill/strength levels: Working out with people slightly ahead of your skill/strength is motivating. You can also learn to gain those desired results.
All though, when somebody is stacking a much larger amount of weight while using advanced techniques you’ve never even imagined. That can be intimidating. Especially if you’re a beginner.
Join a class. Virtually every gym has some sort of fitness class.
The benefits of joining a gym class:
- Classes are led by an instructor
- Less expensive compared to personal training
- Variety of options:
- Many beginners = low stress/competition
- Grouped/Segregated (e.g. seniors, women’s, beginners’ classes etc.)
- Emphasis on fun instead of results
Start off with simpler and natural feeling lifts (e.g. bench press, squats, lunges). These are also called free lifts because the weights are not tied down to the machine.
Using machines are easier for beginners. Feel free to use them as a step up to using free-weights.
Also, many machines have a diagram of how to properly use the machine.
Ask for a tour of the gym. Before deciding to work out, call the gym and ask to book a tour. They’ll have a staff member introduce you to different facilities.
Do some body-weight exercises for a few weeks to get in shape before going.
Go with somebody
The best way to face fears is with a supportive person pushing you from behind. Try going with a supportive person. Especially one that has shared a similar experience, that has been through.
- Go with somebody else: Gym partner, personal trainer, join a class
- Choose a similar gym partner: Body type, goals, intensity etc
- Ask for a tour
- Exercise at home beforehand or use machines
- Set measurable goals
- Visualize yourself lifting beforehand