How to Use Exercise To Help Reduce Anxiety

Trying to find ways to manage your anxiety can be hard. When you are in the middle of periods of high anxiety, trying to set your fears aside long enough to find something that helps can be as difficult as giving a presentation at school or work. There are many ways to treat anxiety, but sometimes those treatments can have complications.

For some, the side effects of medication makes them think twice about even giving them a try. However, these aren’t the only anxiety treatments available. In fact, many studies show that exercise can be just as effective as medication. Exercise is easier for many people to get into, and has many benefits that will help reduce your overall anxiety levels. Read on to discover some of the downsides of current anxiety treatments, as well as how exercise can help you avoid those downsides.

Some Anxiety Relief Methods Can Be Daunting


Many people turn to medication for anxiety relief. However, it is important to weigh the amount and severity of side effects that can come from anti-depressants and anxiety medications.

Another complication that can come from anxiety medication is that it can take several tries before you find one that works for you. There are many posts and questions on medical forums from individuals who have tried different medications, often asking if it’s normal that they haven’t found anything that works for them. Some people try a large number of medications and find that none of them have helped decrease their anxiety symptoms. Genetic makeup can cause people to react differently to stressful events in their lives, and the same is true for medication. Neurotransmitter imbalance can make it difficult for some people to find relief on any kind of anxiety medication.

This is not to say that medication can’t be helpful. If you are currently seeing a doctor for help with your anxiety and they suggest a medication for you to go on, trust them. They would only prescribe based on the belief that the medication will help you work through your anxiety problems. However, if you are worried about potential side effects, be sure to talk to your doctor about your concerns.


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For many people, meditation is an effective method of treating anxiety. However, those with anxiety have many reservations about starting meditation. They worry they might be doing it wrong, or feel like they don’t have time to get into meditation. Most of these worries stop people from pursuing meditation because of common misperceptions, maybe based on pop culture imagery leading them to believe meditation is a practice reserved for austere monks in Tibetan monasteries. Many people also believe that if they feel fidgety or want to move that they are meditating wrong, and this can discourage them from continuing to pursue it, even if it helped them.

How Exercise Can Help

So if meditation and medication aren’t helpful, what’s left? Many doctors and mental health professionals have recommended exercise to their anxious patients, and for good reason. There are many benefits to exercise that can help decrease current anxiety symptoms, and prevent more anxiety from building up in the future.

There are several studies that show that inactivity can create, or increase anxiety. When you are sedentary for long periods of time, your body builds up unused energy that just sits in your body. If you keep your dog inside for too long, they’ll start to act high strung or hyper. That’s because dogs and people alike were created for movement, and when we don’t move, our minds start to suffer from being kept still for so long.

Exercise is also a great way to regulate your immune system. Cardio training can help your heart pump more blood and your lungs distribute more oxygen to your body. Exercise also helps increase your overall health, which will naturally lead to a better immune system. There are some thoughts that a weak immune system can lead to anxiety.

Here are some of the exercise benefits that help most when it comes to treating anxiety.

Stress Relief

Exercise is a great way to relieve some of the physical symptoms of anxiety, like shaking, racing heart, and breathing quickly. The stress hormone cortisol builds up when you sit for long periods of time, which can often lead to a fight or flight response. Excess cortisol can often cause anxiety symptoms.

While exercising can cause a temporary increase in cortisol levels, they return to a normal level once you are finished. Aerobic exercise helps your body regulate cortisol levels by using muscle groups that draw on the stress hormone to perform their activity.

Sleep Improvement

Exercise can also help you get a better night’s sleep. It strengthens your body’s circadian rhythms (more on what these are) to help you feel tired earlier in the night. Exercise has also been shown to help those who suffer from insomnia.

Getting a better night’s rest can help with anxiety in several ways. Sleep deprivation can cause high levels of reactivity and anticipation from the amygdalae, or the emotional centers of the brain. Poor sleep can also increase anxiety levels, and make it difficult for you to handle the stress of your day. Anxiety can make it difficult to sleep in the first place, leading to a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation and increasing anxious feelings. Exercise will help you avoid that never ending cycle by helping you fall asleep naturally.

Energy Burner

Another common source of anxiety is having unused energy that just sits in your brain and your body. It’s easy to get fidgety and anxious when you feel restless. Exercise gives you a healthy way to burn that energy so that it won’t prevent you from sleeping or make you feel afraid in normal situations.

Many athletes have used exercise as a way to treat their anxiety. Aerobic exercise or high intensity workouts use up a lot of energy, and give your body a way to burn all of the stress and anxiety you’ve built up over time.

Endorphin Boost

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Exercise is a great way to increase the amount of endorphins in your brain. Many people have experienced a “runner’s high” after a long run, or after an intense session at the gym. This is the feeling of your brain being flooded with endorphins.

Endorphins also help reduce the amount of pain in your body. They work by blocking pain receptors in your body, similar to what pain medications do. Endorphins come from your pituitary gland, spinal column, and other parts of your nervous system.

What Kinds of Exercise Are Most Helpful?

The good news is you don’t have to do specific types of exercise to enjoy the anxiety fighting benefits. The most helpful type of exercise for treating anxiety is aerobic or cardio. As long as you are getting your heart beating and your body moving, you can do almost any kind of exercise and see your anxiety levels go down.

The best kind of exercise is whatever is most enjoyable to you. If you’re making yourself suffer through running even though you hate it, you might feel more anxiety and guilt over wanting to give up. Find something you enjoy and stick to it. If you have a hard time completing your exercise, schedule it into your day along with work and other commitments. You’re more likely to stick to it that way.

You don’t even have to participate in intense forms of exercise. Most kinds of exercise will help reduce your anxiety. Start out small. Even 30 minutes of walking around your neighborhood can give you the same anti anxiety benefits as going on a run or completing an intense workout.

Many people feel like they can’t treat their anxiety because treatment methods are expensive or unattainable. Exercise is easy for many people to access, even if you can only get out and walk, that will help you decrease your anxiety.

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