Next in our #useyourvoice campaign, we look at gym anxiety. We all know exercise is good for our mental health, but what if you’re too anxious to get to the gym? Here, personal trainer and fitness influencer Alice Liveing shares her advice (and yes, she gets anxiety, too)
As a personal trainer and fitness influencer (650,000 Instagram followers and counting…) with a chart-topping fitness podcast, you probably can’t imagine Alice Liveing suffering from gym anxiety (or any anxiety at all). But it’s a myth Alice, 26, is working hard to dispel. Using her impressive platform to educate her followers, Alice regularly shares her own struggles with anxiety – both in the gym and outside of it – alongside the popular health and fitness content we’ve come to know and love her for. Here Alice shares what she’s learned…
Always have a plan
One of my biggest tips for people suffering from anxiety at the gym is to go in with a plan. There’s nothing worse than stepping through the gym doors, only to feel like you want to turn around and leave. Find credible people on social media who are qualified personal trainers (you can always message them to check) who provide credible fitness content you can recreate in the gym. Others things I think really help are music – getting into a really good headspace with some happy music you like listening to – and going with someone if you’re really nervous, so you can coach each other through it. Think ahead!
Remember even PTs feel anxious
I think people imagine that when you achieve a certain level of experience, that anxiety suddenly goes away. But there are times I go to the gym now and feel intimidated. The gym can be an exposing place, it strips people back to basics and can be really nerve-wracking. When I first started using weights it was completely unheard of and there were no women I knew who were weight-training. It was a massive confidence-kicker stepping into the weights section and even recently, I’ve had people come up to me and give unsolicited advice. We all know exercise is good for our physical and mental health but stepping through the door can be hard for everyone.
Classes are great, but they’re not for everyone
Exercise is so nuanced and everyone’s approach is different – there’s no one-size-fits-all. Some people like hiding at the back in gym classes and think being on the gym floor is more exposing. On the flipside, others don’t like being seen by anyone and are much more comfortable finding a little space on the gym floor and getting on with a workout. Personally, I think classes are beneficial for people who don’t know where to start because they’re a great way of getting your head around basic movements and putting together exercises with a bit of coaching. It can really help with confidence to go and work out on your own later.
If you really hate it, try something else
My only fitness rule is that exercise should be enjoyable, otherwise you’re never going to stick to it. Obviously there will be times it’s tough and you don’t feel like it, but you should leave with a sense of accomplishment and feel good. If you’re not experiencing that, maybe it’s time to check in with yourself and try something different. For me, that’s boxing – I absolutely love it! Boxing is all about my mental health – I’m not an amazing boxer, but I know I’ll leave feeling so much better. In my experience, anxiety manifests itself physically – I get panic attacks and a tight chest, so to punch something feels like I’m physically letting go of that. It’s had a massive impact on how I feel.
Get a sweat on at home instead
I have a big following of people who have kids and don’t have the luxury of getting to a gym, and people who can’t afford gym memberships – it’s a massive privilege, after all. Working out at home is a really good way of getting exercise into your day and you can have a really good workout in your living room. Knowing what you’re doing is key – always have an idea of what you’re going to do in that session so you can go in, execute it really well and finish knowing you’ve had a good session. They’re especially great when you’re travelling or working difficult hours.
Feeling good in your kit really helps
Always go to the gym in whatever you feel most comfortable in – if that’s your dad’s old T-shirt, that’s fine! But having something that fits you comfortably, makes you feel good and is sweat-proof is really helpful in getting you into a good headspace to train. If you’re wearing something that fits your figure that you feel good in, you’re probably going to feel more confident than if you weren’t. Investing in a couple of pieces of gym gear that you feel really good in is the perfect incentive to get into the gym.
Hire a PT short-term
I’ve had a few clients who’ve said ‘I just want a few sessions to know if there’s anything I’m doing wrong’ and then, off they go on their own. I’m more than happy to do that and I think a good PT will understand if you just want a few sessions – signing up for 10 sessions isn’t financially viable for a lot of people. If you want something that sets you off on the right path and gives you a bit of know-how around the gym, you’re absolutely within your rights to ask for that and it can be extremely helpful. But I also recognise it’s a privilege because a lot of people can’t afford PT sessions at all.
Find your support network
In or out of the gym, know who your closest people are – the ones you can call no matter what and open up to about anything. Some things are really uncomfortable to talk about, especially if you have a specific anxiety or something that really worries you, so have that person you can open up to, so you’re not suppressing or holding everything in. Trust me, that just makes everything worse…
Try some breathwork
I’m a big fan of breathwork, or 3D breathing. Try breathing out through the ribs and the tummy (trying to expand all of your abdomen) and imagining your ribs going out and your tummy and your back expanding. Doing big, deep breaths like that has been proven to tap into your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to relax you manually. I do it lying on my back, hands on ribs. You can instantly see someone’s shoulders drop when they do it. Allow yourself to do at least five big, deep breaths and then revisit how you feel.
Alice Liveing’s podcast ‘Give Me Strength’ season 2 is out now and available to listen to here.