Anxiety Myth #16: Rigorous exercise can reduce and even cure anxiety disorder.
Many sources recommend rigorous exercise as a remedy for anxiety disorder. While rigorous exercise may be okay for those who experience mild anxiety, it can actually make things much worse for those who experience higher degrees of anxiety disorder. Why?
Anxiety symptoms are actually symptoms of stress. We call them anxiety symptoms because behaving anxiously is the main source of the stress that causes the body to become overly stressed and then symptomatic.
Rigorous exercise stresses the body. When the body is already overly stressed and symptomatic due to overly anxious behavior, stressing it even more can make you feel much worse. And if you react to your symptoms, an increase in symptoms due to rigorous exercise could create a negative cycle of: rigorous exercise caused increased stress = increased symptoms = increased worry = increased stress = increased symptoms = increased worry, and so on.
While exercise can be beneficial, it’s best to keep it within the light to moderate range if your anxiety, and especially symptoms, is above mild degree anxiety.
You can read more about this in Chapter 4 in the Recovery Support area of our website.
How can this myth hamper recovery?
It’s true that rigorous exercise can make a person feel better in the moment and shortly afterward. But it’s the after effects of the stress the body experiences from rigorous exercise that often takes its toll.
And if you believe rigorous exercise can help eliminate anxiety unwellness and you exercise rigorously, the stress coming from your rigorous exercise could cause your symptoms to persist. Persistent symptoms may cause you to become frustrated and disheartened. Feeling discouraged can contribute to anxious behavior, which can interfere with recovery.
Moreover, some people experience an increase in symptoms while exercising rigorously. This increase has caused many to become even more concerned about their health and anxiety condition, which again can exacerbate their condition overall.
How can this myth make things worse?
If you believe rigorous exercise can help eliminate anxiety unwellness and you exercise rigorously, the stress coming from your rigorous exercise may cause your symptoms to get worse rather than better. If you believe your condition is getting worse, you may become more anxious and even depressed, which can exacerbate anxiety disorder and its symptoms. This increase in concern can cause an even more profound negative loop of increased symptoms = increased concern = increased stress = increased symptoms = increased concern = increased stress = increased symptoms, and so on.
So rather than rigorous exercise providing a benefit, it’s often a source of continued struggle, or worse.
While in anxiety disorder recovery, we recommend light to moderate exercise, as that level of exercise can be beneficial without putting additional stress on the body.
Again, we explain this in more detail in Chapter 4 in the Recovery Support area of our website.
All of us at anxietycentre.com have experienced problematic anxiety and know how out of control it can seem. But we also know that there are many ways we can gain control over it. Getting the right information, help, and support, and then doing the right work and for long enough, is all that is required to successfully treat anxiety unwellness. No one needs to suffer needlessly!
Anxiety isn't something that needs to be cured because it isn’t an illness. Dealing with our apprehensive behaviors, which cause issues with anxiety, and knowing how to address the physiological effects of anxious behavior addresses the entire anxiety unwellness problem.
Anyone can do this work with the right information, help, and support.
Again, no one needs to suffer endlessly. There is help available. Many people have overcome issues with problematic anxiety, including all of us at anxietycentre.com. The road to complete recovery is clear and well traveled. Those who do the right work can succeed!
For more information about anxiety, anxiety disorder, and recovery, see our “Anxiety 101” section.
NOTE: Anxiety disorder is caused by overly apprehensive behavior. We address issues with anxiety by addressing our overly apprehensive behavior. We do this via the combination of good self-help information, anxiety counselling, and support. Until the overly apprehensive behaviors are addressed, it’s unrealistic to think something else can ‘cure’ them.
ALSO NOTE: Some people can benefit from rigorous exercise. But this is the exception and not the rule. Based on our personal and professional experience with anxiety disorder, the majority of anxious people find rigorous exercise a detriment rather than a benefit.
The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - we call these core causes the underlying factors of anxiety - a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.
For more information about our Anxiety Counseling option; our Available Anxiety Therapists; to Book An Appointment with one of our anxiety therapists; common Anxiety Signs and Symptoms; common Anxiety Attack Symptoms; the symptoms of panic attack disorder; anxiety Recovery Support area; information about Anxiety; and our Anxiety 101 section; or click on the appropriate link or graphic below:
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Authors: Jim Folk, Marilyn Folk, BScN. Last updated September 2016.