in article about anxiety at the gym, a photo of two people lifting weights

How To Get Over Your Social Anxiety at the Gym

Sometimes starting is the hardest part — especially if working out in front of others makes you anxious.
May 31, 2022
7 mins read

All throughout life, it is important to pay attention to both your mental and physical health. But if your social anxiety is keeping you from hitting the gym, check out these tips and basic exercises to make your workout session less stressful.

What Is Gym Anxiety?

Gym anxiety is very common, especially in the 21st century. Many children, teenagers and adults suffer from stress and anxiety within a gym environment. This can stem from a childhood hatred of physical education at school or can be a more recent development in adulthood.

This anxiety can cause people to dread going to the gym, become extremely uncomfortable when at the gym or just avoid the gym altogether. The anxious thoughts that people have when thinking about working out in front of others are usually the same from person to person. People fear that others are staring at and judging them, that they will be clueless when trying out new equipment or just lack the body confidence to be anxiety-free in a public gym. It is important to remember that many people feel this way, and that these feelings of self-doubt are not based on the real thoughts of strangers at the gym.

Tips To Get Over Gym Anxiety

1. Plan Before You Go

Sometimes, people feel anxious about the idea of going to the gym, which can make them become too stressed and upset to even leave the house. If this is how you feel, try planning out your workout before you go. With a planned workout, you can put your mind at ease knowing that you do not have to wander around trying to figure out things to do. Even better, if you have a broad plan, you can do it in any order, meaning you won’t get thrown off if someone is using a machine you had planned to use.

2. Slowly Expose Yourself to the Gym

Forcing yourself to go to the gym six days a week right off the bat won’t be good for your physical or mental health. It is nearly impossible to avoid seeing people altogether at a public gym, but there are ways to work around seeing a lot of them. Try avoiding peak times like early in the morning before work or in the early evening after dinner. The fewer people there are at the gym, the less anxious you will feel about doing something you find embarrassing. Additionally, try introducing distractions like music, audiobooks or your favorite shows to your workout.

3. Be Consistent

Consistency is key. While it is important not to force yourself into doing too much work, it is also important to be committed to working on your physical and mental health when going to the gym. If you lose your motivation, you won’t feel like going at all. Routinely going to the gym will help you build habits, and the more practice you get, the more confident you will be.

4. Choose Alternative Methods of Exercise

If going to the gym causes a debilitating amount of stress, fear and anxiety, try working out in other ways. At the end of the day, working out shouldn’t be a punishment. If you hate going to the gym and associate it with negative feelings, you won’t want to continue. Luckily, there are a multitude of ways to get healthy exercise that doesn’t involve going to a gym. Try working out outdoors, working out at home or getting exercise in fun ways.

5. Seek Out Professional Help

If you feel like you can’t get over your fear and anxiety, and that it is keeping you from getting the benefits of working out, then it might be time to seek out professional help from a doctor or therapist. Social anxieties come in many different forms and can feel like they are controlling your life. Going to therapy or getting on medication can help with that.

Basic Exercise Methods To Start With

1. Using Simple Machines

If one of your biggest fears about going to the gym is using the equipment incorrectly, then try using simple machines that you might have used in the past such as the treadmill, stationary bike or stair climber. It might also be helpful to use machines that are common within the gym, so that you don’t have to worry about someone waiting for you to be done. Also, keep in mind that machines that are complicated (and ones that aren’t!) usually come with how-to-use diagrams or even QR codes that will take you to a video demonstration.

2. Using Free Weights

Using free weights, medicine balls, yoga mats, kettlebells or resistance bands are all excellent ways to get good exercise without having to use a machine. If the complexity of the gym equipment is daunting, using loose items like these can allow you to do exercises the way you want, not the way the machine tells you.

3. Working Out in a Different Environment

Gyms can be stressful, even for an experienced gym-goer. If the gym environment is making you not want to work out at all, then it is important to come to terms with the fact that you just might not like going to the gym. But exercising is crucial for your physical and mental well-being, so giving up on working out shouldn’t be an option. Try working out outdoors, at a private gym with a friend or with a personal trainer.

4. Working Out at Home

Working out in the privacy and comfort of your own home is always an option. In the era of COVID-19, many people have had to get used to doing a lot of things at home. This included working out. There are tons of at-home workout videos to watch and learn from. And if you work out at home and build your exercise knowledge, eventually you might feel confident enough to do the same exercises at a gym!

Be Mindful of Your Body

At the end of the day, it is important to be mindful of your physical health and your mental health when starting your exercise journey. While many people start to work out aiming to see instant results, that is rarely the case. Working out is about the journey you take to becoming healthier. And if you start to feel better, stronger and healthier, it doesn’t matter how you got there.

Janey Schmidt, Columbia College Chicago

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Janey Schmidt

Columbia College Chicago
Bachelor of Arts in English

I have always been an avid reader no matter the format. I am especially eager to read, write, and talk about all things fantasy!

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