Why Do You Recommend Avoiding Rigorous Workouts?

Written by Jim Folk
Last updated April 21, 2022

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Video Transcript

Why do you recommend avoiding rigorous exercise when recovering from anxiety disorder and hyperstimulation?

Anxious behavior, such as worry, activates the stress response, which secretes stress hormones into the bloodstream, where they travel to targeted spots to bring about specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that prepare the body for immediate emergency action – to fight or flee.

This survival reaction is often referred to as the fight or flight response.[1][2]

Visit our “Stress Response” article for more information about the many body-wide changes caused by the stress response.

The higher the degree of the stress response, the more dramatic the changes.

Since stress responses push the body beyond its internal balance (homeostasis), stress responses stress the body. As such, anxiety stresses the body.

Consequently, anxiety symptoms are symptoms of stress. They are called anxiety symptoms because anxious behavior is the main source of the stress that stresses the body, and a body that’s under stress can exhibit symptoms of stress.

Furthermore, when stress responses occur too often, such as from overly anxious behavior, the body can become hyperstimulated (chronically stressed) since stress hormones are powerful stimulants.

Hyperstimulation (chronic stress) is a common cause of persistent anxiety symptoms.

As the degree of hyperstimulation increases, so can the type, number, intensity, frequency, and duration of symptoms.

Therefore, if you want to eliminate anxiety symptoms, you need to eliminate hyperstimulation (chronic stress).

Reducing stress, increasing rest, containing anxious behavior, regular light to moderate exercise, getting good sleep, avoiding stimulants, and being patient will eliminate hyperstimulation in time.

As the body recovers from hyperstimulation, it stops producing symptoms.

While regular light to moderate exercise can benefit recovery, rigorous exercise can interfere with, stall, and even reverse recovery. Here’s why:

1. Workouts stress the body.

Workouts push the body beyond its internal balance (homeostasis). As such, workouts stress the body. The more intense the workout, the greater the stress.

Consequently, strenuous exercise will increase the body’s stress rather than reduce it.

2. Strenuous exercise increases the body’s metabolism.

Hyperstimulation can elevate the body’s metabolism, taxing the body’s energy resources and over stimulating the nervous system.

Increased metabolism is one of the reasons many anxious people lose weight.

Increased metabolism is also a common cause of many anxiety symptoms, such as muscle twitching, trembling, dizziness, heart palpitations, ringing in the ears, and a multitude of sensory symptoms, to name a few.

Strenuous exercise can aggravate and even increase the body’s metabolism, adding to the adverse effects of hyperstimulation.

3. Strenuous workouts can cause a buildup of lactic acid in the blood.

A buildup of lactic acid is known to cause an increase in the feelings of anxiety and even the sole cause of involuntary panic attacks.

Any of these reasons can interfere with, stall, and even reverse recovery from hyperstimulation.

For these reasons, we recommend avoiding rigorous exercise if you are recovering from anxiety disorder and hyperstimulation. Light to moderate exercise is generally safe for most people in recovery because it doesn’t overly tax the body.

As your recovery efforts produce results, you can increase the intensity of your workouts and see how it impacts your recovery.

If the intensity of your workouts isn’t causing an uptick in symptoms and feeling poorly, it’s likely fine.

If you notice you are feeling worse a few days after your workout, you might want to cut back the level of intensity.

That said, some people don’t notice an increase in their anxiety or symptoms after a heavy workout.

For example, those who are in good physical shape might not notice any negative effects after a heavy workout because their body is used to that level of physical activity. In this case, they can continue with strenuous exercise as that level of intensity likely isn’t interfering with their recovery.

Overall, you’ll have to be the judge of how your body responds to different levels of activity.

Again, from our personal experience, we’ve found that strenuous exercise interferes with recovery from hyperstimulation for most people whereas light to moderate exercise doesn’t.

Furthermore, some people say they feel better immediately after a strenuous workout, so they think the degree of intensity is okay. However, it’s usually later in the day, during the evening, or even a few days later when they feel worse, so they don’t make the connection between rigorous workouts and an increase in feeling poorly.

That’s because it’s common to feel more relaxed immediately following a workout. Workouts use up excess stress hormones, and a reduction in circulating stress hormones will make us feel better. And, workouts increase mental well-being, so our outlook on life is generally better.

Overall, it’s not about how you feel immediately after exercise that’s important, but how you feel a few hours or days later.

Remember, the effects of stress most often appear sometime AFTER the stressor is over, usually a day to a week or more later.

Recovery Support members can visit the article “The After-Effects Of Stress” in chapter 14 for more information.

Again, you’ll have to judge how your body responds to the level of your workouts.

However, we do recommend regular light to moderate exercise because it can:

  • Burn off excess stress hormones. A reduction in circulating stress hormones can help you feel calmer and less anxious.
  • Improve mood and attitude.
  • Reduce muscle tension.
  • Provide healthy distraction.
  • Improve physical and mental health.

And so on.

Regular light to moderate exercise can also improve the quality of your sleep, boost your self-esteem and confidence as you look and feel better, and improve your body’s immune system. It can also help reduce specific symptoms, such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and muscle twitching.

The more regularly you exercise, the better the results.

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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 – which we call 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.

Additional Resources

Return to our Anxiety Frequent Questions archive.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including this Frequently Asked Anxiety Question.