When thinking about how it relates to mental health, many people associate exercise with a way to manage anxiety — not something that makes anxiety worse.
However, working out absolutely can increase a person’s anxiety. Typically, what happens is a certain kind of exercise triggers a stress response in your body, which means your cortisol levels increase and your anxiety skyrockets.
Ray Bass at mindbodygreen recently spoke with holistic psychiatrist Ellen Vora, M.D. and gynecologist and obstetrician Anna Cabeca, D.O. about why stress can trigger anxiety for some people, which exercises are worse for anxiety, and which exercises are best for anxiety.
Unsurprisingly, it looks like exercises that make you feel stressed and overstimulated can contribute to anxiety. Usually these are endurance exercises, also called aerobic exercises, because they can suppress serotonin production. The American Heart Association list examples of endurance exercises such as:
- Brisk walking, jogging, and running.
- Sports like basketball, tennis, and soccer.
So, what about exercises that are less likely to trigger anxiety? Think about those that decrease cortisol and help your body rebalance without throwing your hormones out of wack.
Unsurprisingly (again), yoga is at the top of the list.
Yoga in general has a beneficial effect on wellbeing and on hormonal balance. It reduces cortisol, increases the circulation of our other hormones.
Of course, as the doctors point out, it’s crucial to remember everyone is different. What causes one person anxiety might not cause you anxiety, and what helps lessen someone else’s anxiety might not help lessen yours. For example, endurance exercises don’t cause everyone anxiety; if they did, we wouldn’t have so many runners, boxers, and swimmers.
Likewise, lower-adrenaline exercises like yoga don’t soothe everyone (as much as it pains me to type that!).
So if you’re looking for ways to avoid the anxiety you experience while working out, think about the kinds of exercises you enjoy. You’re less likely to develop anxiety if you’re doing something you like, right?
How about you? Has a certain kind of exercise or exercises triggered your anxiety? What was it, and what did you switch to?