Mental Health and Fitness: My Experience Becoming a Gym Regular

Jenna Natwick
Jenna Natwick

| 3 min read

Jenna Natwick
Sweat, crowds and scrutinizing eyes: for most of my life, the gym was probably the last place I’d want to be. As someone with anxiety, going out in public is a difficult enough task. The idea of adding physical activity into that mix was simply a nightmare. However, I now find myself going to the gym at least three times a week. If you’re anything like how I used to be, you may be wondering how. Here are the ways I overcame some of my obstacles and discovered the positive effects of regular physical activity:

Find a gym buddy

Over a month ago, my best friend texted me and suggested we start going to the gym together. I was reluctant but decided I would give it a try. One day couldn’t hurt. When that day came, I was shocked to discover how much fun it could be. I had tried working out before in my home, at my university’s gym; it all felt like a chore. With a friend, the gym felt more like hanging out. The gym was just another opportunity to spend time with her.
Along with making the experience more enjoyable, having a friend with me also helped ease my anxiety. When I’m alone, I often experience difficulties with concentration and negative thoughts and worries. Having someone I feel comfortable around can act as a buffer to diminish my fears.

Establish a routine

My anxiety often escalates in unfamiliar situations. Establishing a routine can help provide comfort and ease anxiety. My friend and I have a routine whenever we go to the gym. We alternate between arm and leg days, and often use the same machines and exercises. For both days, we often begin and end with cardio on the treadmill. I know what I will be doing every day, which helps calm my anxiety and keeps the gym a positive experience.

Avoid negative self-talk

Negative self-talk can be common during times when we’re feeling self-conscious. According to Cleveland Clinic, negative self-talk can heighten feelings of anxiety. I am often more susceptible to negative self-talk while I’m working out. If my negative thoughts spiral out of my control, they can ruin my gym experience for the day, and maybe even for days after.
To combat my negative self-talk, I will remind myself that what I am thinking is not true. I will remind myself that I am safe, and I am doing my best. I celebrate any victories and give myself grace on anything that I struggled with.

Positive changes I’ve experienced

The positive mental health benefits of exercise are well-researched. According to Mayo Clinic, exercise is known to release endorphins that can improve your sense of well-being. However, I didn’t fully believe it until I experienced it myself. After only a week of regularly working out, I found I didn’t experience as much of a buildup of anxiety. I recognized this change most during a week when I didn’t attend the gym as frequently. I felt more restless and stressed when I hadn’t found the time to workout and burn off some of my anxiety.
I’ve also been able to sleep better during weeks when I regularly exercise. According to Mayo Clinic, having difficulty sleeping is a common symptom of anxiety disorders. I often experience this symptom. However, during weeks when I go to the gym, I find it much easier to sleep at night. This finding is supported by Johns Hopkins Medicine, which reports that exercise can make it easier to fall asleep and can improve sleep quality.
Opinions expressed in this blog belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan or its subsidiaries and affiliates.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Jenna Natwick

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