5 High Energy Workouts To Do If You're Anxious
If your anxiety is acting up, it might seem counterintuitive to go for a workout. It's hard enough to breathe when you're having a panic attack, let alone think about getting out of the house and hitting the gym. But high-energy workouts might help ease your anxiety, experts say.
Many folks who are prone to anxiety avoid exercise because the increased heart rate from a workout can feel like a panic attack, says clinical psychologist L. Kevin Chapman, Ph.D. Still, he says, that doesn't mean exercise can't eventually alleviate anxiety or even reduce the severity of panic attacks. Increasing your ability to tolerate distressing sensations can be a very important part of anti-anxiety treatment, Dr. Chapman tells Bustle, and working out can be a helpful component of that treatment.
High-energy exercising might make it harder to breathe, but it also generates endorphins. These hormones can stimulate mood boosts and therefore help calm you down from panicking. Even if you have general anxiety without a panic disorder, these endorphins can help you ease toward a more relaxed state of mind. The more you practice this kind of exercise, the more your body and brain will learn that even when your heart rate is high, you can still be safe and even happy.
Knowing that you're going to be OK while you're engaging in high-intensity exercise can be difficult, says psychotherapist Lillyana Morales, LMHC. "It is completely possible for individuals with anxiety to engage in workouts, but it may mean working up to the desired goal," she tells Bustle. "If you’re someone who ends up in a panic attack 10 minutes into a workout, then aim for five."
You don't have to leap right into high-intensity work, either. Many of my personal training clients with anxiety who excelled at high-energy exercise needed to work up to their goals over time. "Setting small, attainable goals will allow you to create a safe space for yourself," Morales says. These five high-energy workouts can help you combat your anxiety and even have a little bit of fun. Just make sure you're going at your own pace.
1. HI(I)T Up YouTube
Sometimes, even if you want to have an intense workout, it's just too much to ask of yourself to leave your apartment. And that's OK, because YouTube has you covered. If you're looking for high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts that you can do at home, YouTube has some great options for you. You can pause the videos whenever you need to, and best of all, you don't have to change out of your Captain Marvel pajamas to do it.
2. Make A Netflix-Marathoning Game
Pick a show, any show (preferably something you like). If you're feeling unable to get out of the house but you want the comfort of familiar and beloved characters cheering you on, make an exercise game out of it. Every time those two best friends who totally are in love with each other exchange an all-too-meaningful glance, hammer out 10 pushups. Whenever the villain cackles maniacally, try a few jumping jacks. When your favorite character is being an absolute cutie (again), channel the energy into a few good old mountain climbers. You'll have the comfort of a great TV show and the anxiety-fighting benefits of some awesome high-energy moves.
3. Get To The Park
It might not be easy to get outside when you're feeling anxious. If you can get yourself to a local park, though, know that just being outside can help reduce your anxiety. Once you're there, you can mix up all kinds of workouts: pushups on park benches, pull-ups on jungle gyms, I'll sprint until I pass that garbage can, or I brought my best friend with me so we can play catch. Your high-energy exercise doesn't have to be about reps or sets. It can be about fun, and shaking things up however works best for you in the moment.
4. Kettlebell Swings
Kettlebell swings are a great way to keep your entire body focused, coordinated, and engaged. You can find a solid selection of kettlebells in most gyms (they often live in yoga rooms or open fitness areas). Choose a light kettlebell if you've never tried the exercise before, and place it about a foot in front of you. Stand with your feet about hip width apart and brace your stomach like someone's about to punch you. (Weird, I know, but it'll help protect you from hyperextending your lower back.) Send your hips back like you're trying to touch a wall behind you and use that hinge to bend your torso forward, keeping your back in a neutral position the whole time.
Grab the kettlebell handle securely with both hands and drag it back toward you, letting momentum bring the bell between your legs and back behind you. Keep the bell above your knees (don't bend over so much that you're swinging it right above the floor) and then pop your hips up until you're standing straight again. The momentum from your hips, not the tugging of your arms, should bring the bell out in front of you, lifting it to about chest level. Keeping your grip firm but not tight and your elbows soft but not bent, hinge at the hips again to repeat the movement. Exhale each time you hinge your hips up to swing the bell in front of you.
Rinse and repeat for 15 seconds, and build your way up to 30 seconds and then 45 seconds or longer. Rest as needed, then go again. If counting reps keeps your mind more occupied and calmer than staring at a clock, you can count reps instead (start at about 10 and build up to 20). Either way, the goal is to engage your entire body and your mind by coordinating a complex but low-impact and high-energy movement.
5. Rowing Machine Intervals
If you're able to get to the gym on your anxious days, access to cardio equipment can be helpful. On many rowing machines, there are options to adjust the screen to show you how much energy you're putting into each stroke. You can often toggle the view screen to represent this in numbers or in live-feedback line graphs. When my anxiety is extra high but I want to row, I'll often concentrate all my focus on keeping the lines of the graph steady with each stroke, or making each one bigger than the last. Focusing on small, almost inconsequential goals helps keep my mind occupied while my body uses up my anxious energy.
Timing yourself can also be helpful. Try rowing hard for 20 seconds, then resting for 20 seconds, and repeat. When you build more endurance, add more time to each working round (30 seconds rowing, 30 seconds resting, etc.). By focusing on the time, you're less likely to focus on your sensations of panic, letting yourself channel your anxiety into a great workout.
Even if a high-energy workout helped ease your anxiousness last week, it doesn't mean it's the best thing for you to repeat today, and that's OK. "It’s important to honor where your mind and body are because pushing past your limits can set you back," Morales says. "Being gentle with yourself is the key to success."
If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.
Lillyana Morales, LMHC, MA in Mental Health Counseling, psychotherapist
Dr. L. Kevin Chapman, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, founder and director, The Kentucky Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (KY-CARDS)