[Photo courtesy of Ernst Moeksis]
Ever heard the saying ‘healthy body, healthy mind’? When it comes to anxiety treatment this saying has never been truer. Studies have shown that regular exercise can brighten your mood, reduce anxious thoughts and decrease the physical symptoms. Along with medication and psychotherapy, regular exercise should be a key part of your strategy for overcoming social anxiety disorder.
How does exercise reduce social anxiety?
Although we don’t know exactly why, it’s believed there are a range of reasons why exercise relieves anxiety and chases away the black clouds of depression:
- Distraction – focusing your thoughts on hitting a tennis ball or running around an open manhole prevents you from mulling over your last (probably incorrectly perceived) social calamity. Anxiety is driven by negative thinking. So using your brain more constructively can give your emotions a welcome break.
- Biological – exercise safely releases stored up adrenaline, which is what causes you to sweat or feel sick when you’re anxious. This means you’ll feel more relaxed and less on edge after you’ve finished your run.
- Strengthens your heart – your heart is a muscle and making it stronger will help it perform better in stressful situations. As your heart strengthens, from regular exercise, it’s less likely to start hammering in your chest in anxious situations.
- Improves your mood – the increased blood flow to your brain causes mood enhancing ‘endorphins’ to be released. Endorphins are feel good hormones, and when they’re freed they can brighten your mood and evaporate gloomy thoughts.
- Self esteem boost – just knowing that you’re doing something practical to relieve your anxiety, rather than feeling miserable in bed, will make you feel better about yourself. Regular exercise will make you feel fitter, stronger and give you a much needed boost to your self esteem.
The best way to beat ‘do nothingness’ is to do anything!
Whilst the idea of running through a crowded park or risk losing at tennis might seem off putting, the only way to beat the bedridden blues is to start doing more. In my previous article I discussed why you should be more active if you want to overcome your social anxiety disorder in the long-term.
Lying in bed mulling over your latest (perceived) mishaps is only going to make you feel miserable and think the world is an unfriendly place. To break out of the pattern of hiding at home, you need to pursue activities that will give you a sense of accomplishment and give your mind healthier stimulation. Exercise can make you feel better about yourself and will also give you fulfilling goals to pursue, such as improving your golf swing or being able to jog further.
Exercise should be fun, so choose a type that you’ll enjoy and won’t feel like a chore. Here are a few ideas you should think about trying:
- Walking or jogging – these will get you out and about so you can say hello to strangers (and even smile if you’re feeling brave) to help overcome your fears. Gentle, regular exercise can strengthen your heart, lungs and reduce anxiety’s physical symptoms.
- Weight lifting or sprinting – explosive bursts of energy will make you bigger and stronger. Being physically fit will help you feel better about yourself knowing you’re in trim shape.
- Tennis or golf – taking up a skilful sport will give you a fulfilling goal to pursue as you strive to improve. Just remember to be easy on yourself if you don’t play as well as you’d like. Nobody got better at anything without practice.
- Yoga – Ileana at Beating Social Anxiety would be able to tell you about the benefits of yoga for anxiety treatment. Yoga will help release some of the strain in your muscles from feeling tense, as well as enable your thoughts to drift and encourage a more relaxed state of mind.
Whichever type of exercise you choose to do, you should aim to fit 20-30 minute sessions at least three times a week into your schedule.
Regular exercise’s wide range of positive effects, in reducing both the physical and mental symptoms, means that it should be a key part of your journey to overcoming social anxiety disorder.