Manage Your Anxiety With Exercise


Social anxiety disorder is a common type of anxiety disorder. A person with social anxiety disorder feels symptoms of anxiety or fear in certain or all social situations, such as meeting new people, dating, being on a job interview, answering a question in class, or having to talk to a cashier in a store. Doing everyday things in front of people—such as eating or drinking in front of others or using a public restroom—also causes anxiety or fear. The person is afraid that he or she will be humiliated, judged, and rejected. The fear that people with social anxiety disorder have in social situations is so strong that they feel it is beyond their ability to control. As a result, it gets in the way of going to work, attending school, or doing everyday things. People with social anxiety disorder may worry about these and other things for weeks before they happen. Sometimes, they end up staying away from places or events where they think they might have to do something that will embarrass them.



Exercise has been studied as a possible treatment option for anxiety symptoms, both as an extra treatment coupled with medication or psychotherapy, and as a stand-alone treatment. In addition to general health benefits, exercise has also been reported to help poor concentration, fatigue, feelings of depression, muscle tension & pain, irritability, and other general symptoms and feelings of anxiety.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, researchers have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise (also known as cardio exercise) has been shown to decrease tension, increase mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. Even five minutes of cardio exercise can stimulate these anti-anxiety effects!

This type of exercise usually involves:

  • Running
  • Jogging
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Walking

People with social anxiety are unfortunately unconsciously biased to attend to certain things that evoke anxiety – they are not even aware of this. One study found that exercise and relaxation activities like yoga can impact on how people perceive or interpret certain situations, viewing their environment in a less threatening way – definitely a good thing.


Yoga – this involves stretching, movement, breathing, relaxation and meditation to exercise your body and mind.

Pilates – a system of exercises using special apparatus, designed to improve physical strength, flexibility, and posture, and enhance mental awareness.

Progressive muscle relaxation – this takes you through your body and encourages you to relax one muscle group a time


Improves Your Mood – the increased blood flow to your brain causes mood enhancing endorphins or ‘feel good’ hormones to be released. One study showed a reduction in anxiety symptoms following exercise plus participation in a Cognitive Behavioral Group Therapy. They also found a significant reduction in depressive symptoms. People with social anxiety benefited from a combination of exercise and group CBT .

Numerous studies have shown that exercise improves one’s self-esteem, and a sense of wellbeing. Regular physical activity can result in fewer depressive and anxiety symptoms. This supports the view that exercise offers a protective effect against the development of mental illness.


Anxiety Sensitivity and Exposure – Anxiety sensitivity is a term used when a person misinterprets or catastrophizes anxiety related sensations based on the belief that they will result in disastrous physical, psychological, and/or social outcomes. So the increased heart rate associated with anxiety may be misunderstood as a ‘heart attack’ which can be enormously frightening. A number of research studies have pointed to the effectiveness of short-term cardio exercise to reduce anxiety sensitivity. An anxious person is said to have ‘high anxiety sensitivity.’ Exposing someone with high anxiety sensitivity to the physiological symptoms they fear, such as rapid heartbeat, sweating or breathlessness, in the context of physical exercise, increases their tolerance for such symptoms. This can help show the person that the physical sensations of anxiety, which they fear, are uncomfortable but are not a serious threat to them. Repeated exposures through regular exercise might lead to less psychological or behavioral responses to the feared sensations.


The Role of Self-Efficacy – In Social Cognitive Theory, a person’s sense of self-efficacy regarding their ability to apply control over potential threats has an important relationship to anxiety arousal. Self-efficacy refers to a person’s belief in their own ability to succeed in specific situations.

People with high self-efficacy are not as troubled by thoughts of worry and experience less anxiety. It has been argued that successfully coping with the stress of exercise leads to increased levels of self-efficacy. As fitness improves, the person experiences greater strength, less pain, more stamina, etc. In a study looking at how exercise intensity and self-efficacy effects can reduce anxiety, researchers found that self-efficacy (or having confidence in your own ability) decreased anxiety during moderate exercise. This study suggests that moderate levels of exercise leads to better self-efficacy and therefore reduced anxiety.

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