Updated: Aug 17, 2022
As I sat down to write this to you today, I have to admit, I struggled for several reasons.
One, because my anxiety was a bit elevated so I'm having trouble staying focused (thanks hormones).
Two, because I often feel that talking about exercise is like talking about politics or religion; no one wants to hear about why they should consider it.
And the third reason was that I wasn't sure exactly which direction I wanted to take this post.
I started and stopped over and over and finally took my own advice. I took off my shoes, stood in the grass, closed my eyes and let the sun shine on my face for a few minutes. Sunshine and air in, tension out; over and over until my son called and asked if I could bring him some Jimmy Johns... and here I am with a brain ready to write and a hungry kid who is just going to have to wait a few more minutes to eat.
That five minutes of standing in the sunshine, feet on the earth, brought clarity and got me unstuck and ready to share honest insight and information on how people dealing with anxious bodies might feel when they try to exercise but feel anxious, start to exercise here and there, then maybe even learn to like/love exercise once the benefits show up.
Don't worry, if you view exercise as punishment or an activity for only those being chased by zombies, I've got you. I refused exercise for a very long time. The whole thing a process and I'm here to take you into and through it. Let's get started nice and slow - no sweat needed.
MY STORY OF COOKIES, SADNESS, AND HATING SWEAT
If you're like I was, the thought of exercise might feel too hard, too sweaty, or too boring. Taking it a step further, starting to move your body could make you feel insecure, scared, or incapable. As a kid, I was a swimmer and as a swimmer, we didn't feel sweaty because we were always wet. For years, I avoided anything that required sweat because it was uncomfortable and gross. I am also a non-joiner when I feel intimidated by other people's abilities. Top those feelings of inadequacy off with an anxious body made worse by working out and there was no way I was going to intentionally workout.
Until I did.
As it turns out, raising four kids, teaching, dealing with anxiety issues, and trying to eat more cookies without gaining weight, is a lot so I decided to escape my house after dinner for an occasional evening walk. I grabbed my ear buds, listened to music or let my mind wander to the next story I could stay up and write in my online RPG until I made my way back down the road to my driveway.
This is how I started. I'm not saying this is the BEST reason to start taking walks but I am saying it was my reason for taking walks. It wasn't exercise in the BeachBody, Richard Simmons, or Peloton kind of way but it was moving my body in a way I hadn't done in awhile. It felt good and it was better than sitting on my butt on my phone feeling anxious.
Whatever movement looks like for you is great! Forcing yourself to take up running, Soul Cycle, or any other exercise that isn't appealing to you isn't likely to get you where you want and need to go. If your movement is bouncing on a balance ball while you watch Netflix, KUDOS to you. I did that too! If you are only feeling capable of 5 minutes, AWESOME! If you start walking to the end of the driveway instead of driving to the end of the driveway to get the mail, YES! That is a start and you're on your way!
As I continued walking, I noticed that I had started walking farther. Instead of going to the end of the road and back, I'd go to the end of the road, down to the other road and back - and sometimes I'd come back a little bit sweaty. Remember at this point, I was still pretty anti-workout and not rocking the sweaty life. I was about the snacks and alone time, but instead of escaping the way anxiety felt in my body, I was walking because I felt .... wait for it.....
Not only was I going farther faster, I was also noticing changes in my energy level.
I was less snappy with my kids and my husband.
I slept more and better.
My brain was more focused, less stressed, and my tendency to go worst case scenario seemed to be decreasing as well.
I started walking on a daily basis instead of here and there, pushing myself to get a full 8000 steps on the FitBit I purchased after swearing I would never own a FitBit or Apple Watch. It was a game and a challenge now, and the only person I was competing against was myself which means I couldn't lose. The routine I had created and the challenge to see how many steps I had taken each day was an instant motivator.
Things had shifted in my body which led to a shift in my thoughts.
Let me pause here and tell you a few important important facts you need to know if you're an anxious person who wonders what the heck happened to me.
Exercise is a fantastic way to burn off nervous energy that is stored in your body. This is the same energy that causes you to feel anxious and leads to anxious thoughts. Walking for cookies and peace and quiet allowed me to burn off anxious energy.
Exercise helps to lower cortisol levels in the body that are abundant when you are stressed or anxious. Higher cortisol levels lead to increased anxiety symptoms. Cortisol is a slow burn and goes down faster when you lower stress which I was doing when I started walking.
Exercise can also RAISE cortisol levels which means SOME PEOPLE can feel MORE anxious when exercising. I'll talk more about this in a minute, don't freak out.
The feelings you get when you exercise are similar to that of an anxiety or panic attack. (Rapid heart rate, breathlessness, sweating, muscle fatigue and aching/shaking, etc.) Learning to interpret these feelings in your body when you are exercising vs. when you are anxious is part of my coaching process and can allow you to feel these same sensations in a different light. Those feelings whether they are related to anxiety or exercise are not dangerous. You can learn more about this by scheduling a free consultation right now.
WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO NEXT
What's an anxious body to do when the thing that helps you feel better might also cause you to feel anxious symptoms? I think it's important to tell you, this has not been my experience. Often, people who experience cortisol surges during exercise are doing some pretty heavy endurance work on a frequent basis. If you are training for a triathlon, doing heavy lifting and HIIT, etc. you might have more cortisol in your body since it puts your body under "stress" the same way daily stress and anxiety would. (You're also likely not reading a post about how to start moving your body for cookies.)
Cortisol levels are often highest in the morning and go down gradually during the day. You can lower the cortisol level in your body naturally by
eating more fiber,
drinking water to flush your system,
getting enough and good sleep,
getting outside in the sunshine!
I was out in the sunshine, moving my body, drinking water before and after I walked. Walking can be meditative and it helped me sleep better at night, etc. All of these things happened naturally for me when I started walking because when you change one thing, you change everything!
Each time I talk with someone who is feeling the effects of too much cortisol and adrenaline causing anxious feelings in their body, they tell me nearly the same thing. When I'm anxious, I feel _____________. Some people tell me their chest gets tight, other say they shake, they can't breathe or swallow, their hands or body shake, etc. There is no right or wrong way to feel anxious, but there are some tried and true methods to handling your anxious body and thoughts differently that make a huge difference.
When you learn to feel the effects of the stored anxiety in your body without making them mean anything is wrong,
When you learn to ground yourself, move your body, and let the feeling be there, you open up the door for incredible changes in your nervous system, your thoughts, and your life! This is what we create in a working coaching relationship but BE WARNED! Once that door is open and your confidence skyrockets, you're on the path to bigger and better things. I don't want you to be blindsided by what you can accomplish. 😉
I can't wait to see what you accomplish! Let's talk.