We all know how good working out is for our physical health, so let's start a conversation today about the benefits of working out for your mental health.
Exercise is underutilized as a method of managing and treating anxiety. It has no negative side-effects and it can be free, if you do it at home or outside.
Several studies have shown that there is a very powerful connection between exercise and anxiety. In fact, the coloration between both is so strong, that exercise on its own may be enough to drastically diminish the symptoms of anxiety.
How can exercise do this?
1. Endorphins - the body releases endorphins when you exercise. These are your body's natural 'painkillers', and in addition they play a massive role in regulating your mood and relaxing your mind. You know that 'feel good' feeling after a workout ? Yep! That's the endorphins.
2. Sleep - exercise tires out the body and can enable those who have anxiety to get a better night's sleep. A lack of sleep, or inability to sleep, makes the symptoms of anxiety worse. Exercise can release all of the excess energy in the body and mind - in fact, high intensity exercise has been shown to tire out the body and the mind simultaneously.
3. Inactivity anxiety - a lack of exercise can lead to an excess of energy and this energy can be misplaced by the body, resulting in increased tension and stress. An increase in stress levels can exacerbate anxiety. This is very much linked with the above point on sleep. A lack activity can feed into a lack of sleep, and together both of these elements can accumulate and worsen the symptoms of anxiety.
4. Healthy coping strategy- managing anxiety through exercise is a healthy coping strategy. Sometimes we turn to things like alcohol to manage anxiety. But the consumption of alcohol, as a coping strategy, will usually have a negative impact on anxiety and will often lead to a worsening of symptoms. Exercise, on the other hand, is a positive means of dealing with anxiety with lots of additional benefits such as improved overall health. If you are in a gym or a group, such as a running group, the camaraderie and friendships can be an additional support in managing anxiety.
So that's it - a brief overview of how exercise can help to cope with and manage anxiety. In the long term, a regular exercise schedule can dramatically alleviate the symptoms of anxiety. If you, or someone you know, is suffering with anxiety, please do seek medial advice - medication is may sometimes be necessary, but exercise can, and should, compliment it.
As always, feel free to get in touch,
If you need to talk to someone please phone one of the numbers below:
Aware (Depression, Bi-Polar Disorder & Anxiety)
Tel: 1800 80 48 48
National Suicide Helpline (Pieta House)
1800 247 247
Pieta House (Suicide & Self-harm)
Grow (Mental Health support and Recovery)
IACP (Counselling & Psychotherapy)
Shine (Supporting people effected by mental ill health)
Teenline Ireland Helpline
For references and further info please see below :
Exercise for Mood and Anxiety, Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Enhancing Well-Being, by Michael W. Otto, PhD, and Jasper A.J. Smits, PhD (Oxford University Press, 2011)