I was recently contacted by a reader inquiring about guest posts. I love guest posts and I am happy to share this one with you today:
Meeting Your Fitness Goals while Managing Anxiety
By Christine Hill
Anxiety is the single greatest cause of mental illness in the United States today. Anxiety disorders affect about 18% of our population, or 40 million adults. For those of us who suffer from social anxiety, PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder, specific phobias, OCD and major depressive disorder, it can be especially hard to reach our fitness goals. I’ve noticed in my own life that when I’m anxious, I’m more likely to overeat, oversleep, and fall into self-destructive health patterns.
Anxiety disorders can have a fundamental impact on our lives, health, and well-being. They can manifest themselves in dramatic ways with physical problems ranging from IBS and sleep disorders to chronic pain. Anxiety can anchor us in harmful addictions (like, say, smoking, or binge eating) and hold us back from becoming who we want to become. It pollutes our relationships and ambitions, and rob us of joy and satisfaction in life.
One common misunderstanding regarding anxiety is the distinction between stress and anxiety. Stress is an external force, like weight bowing down a bridge. Anxiety is an internal reaction to stress. Sometimes we don’t have any control whatsoever on the amount of stress that life piles onto us. However, because anxiety is an internal reaction, it is something that we can learn to control and moderate in a healthy way.
It only takes 5 minutes of exercise to start getting anxiety-relieving benefits. When we get stressed and overbusy, it’s tempting to skip exercise, but exercise is actually one of the best ways to relieve anxiety!
Exercise has always been really hard for me, but I got better at it when I started thinking of it as a sneaky lifehack that turned my brain’s natural processes to my advantage. Exercise stimulates natural feel-good hormones (endorphins). It also helps your body’s regulatory systems (like the heart and circulation) operate better, which will create a positive feedback loop to your brain and impede the process that leads to anxiety. Exercise has also been proven to lead to better sleep, which reduces the negative effects of stress on your body and mind.
How to put it in action?
- Set up a routine.
- Not into running? That’s okay! There are tons of other ways to get good cardio in. Check out some ideas from this article.
- Do it with a friend so that you’re more accountable for your goals.
- Make a conscious effort to answer your anxiety response with exercise instead of unhealthy reactions.
Deep Breathing and Mindfulness Meditation
If you’re immediately turned off by the terms “deep breathing” and “mindfulness meditation” because they sound a little too airy-fairy to you, check your assumptions. Meditation is promoted by many official health authorities as the very best method for managing numerous mental disorders, from depression to addiction. It’s also widely recognized as one of the best ways to reduce stress.
One of the great benefits of meditation and deep breathing techniques is that it’s free, anyone can learn to make it effective for them, and it can be done anytime, anywhere, directly in response to anxiety episodes.
If you’ve never been able to get effective results from meditation or deep breathing, you’re probably doing them wrong.
- Sit down and close your eyes, and breathe naturally and easily.
- Start to count: four seconds breathing in, three seconds holding the breath, four seconds breathing out.
- Put one hand on your chest and one on your belly and concentrate on the breath itself going in and out of your body.
- Dismiss fringe thoughts as they arise and intrude on your meditation, and instead draw your own focus back to the breath and the specific sensations as the air enters and is released.
Meditation gets easier and more effective the more that you do it, so start today. Set aside 5-10 minutes each morning or evening to give it a go, and then draw on this practice throughout the day as stresses arise.
While setting down to talk to “Dear Diary” at the end of a day may seem like the exclusive realm of preteen girls, it’s actually a powerful self-management and self-directed psychology technique that benefits everyone, from world leaders to creative geniuses.
Writing down our thoughts and concerns allows us to identify and separate ourselves from the things that plague us. Once they’ve been delegated to paper, we’re able to use wiser judgement and perspective as we look over the issues. Sometimes, simply the act of writing siphons away the stress, as it allows us to stop carrying things with us, without us feeling like we’ve had to admit that it wasn’t difficult or worth recording and keeping around.
Some Other Surprising Approaches:
Check your diet: Eliminate substances like caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, and illicit drugs that throw off your natural hormone levels and regulatory system. Cut out other unhealthy practices, like eating on the go, or opting for fast food too often. A healthy diet supports a healthy mind.
Get rid of half your stuff: We don’t need as much stuff as we own. Many experts say that the actual burden of ownership adds additional stress to us every day. Remember that physical clutter = mental clutter.
Go on a tech cleanse: It’s estimated that we process 174 newspapers’ worth of information each day. We’re on constant information overload, and whether the messages are perceived as positive or negative, they can drain our energy and destroy peace of mind. Try a tech cleanse and spend some time quietly with only your own thoughts.
Cut way back on expenditures: Finances are the biggest stressor of the average American. If you’re overloaded by debt and financial worry, consider hiring an advisor who can help you gain peace of mind. Do everything you can to eliminate unnecessary expenditures that add to your financial load.