by Liberty Stembridge, Lifestyle Columnist
Published in Lifestyle on 2nd November, 2018
Gym anxiety is a common problem that at some point or another, has affected every gym-goer, whether it looks like it or not. For some people, gym anxiety can stand in the way of reaching their goals and have a seriously detrimental effect on their self-esteem. If you're one of the many people who suffer with gym anxiety and feel like it's stopping you from making progress, there is plenty you can do to help yourself - many frequent gym goers started off in the same position, but with a bit of work, overcame their fears.
The key to overcoming a problem is to first understand the problem and admit that you are struggling. Anxiety about going to the gym is perfectly normal and natural, almost everyone who goes has a bit of nerves to begin with. The key is to not let this stop you, just as you wouldn't let nerves stop you from making a presentation that could get you a promotion, neither should you let any nerves from going to the gym stop you from improving your fitness.
Gym anxiety has four common causes, and more often that not, it will be a combination of these that stops you from being confident in the gym. These are: fear of the unknown, fear of being judged, fear of making a mistake and comparison to others. It's important to recognise which of these is stopping you from getting into the gym and address the root cause. If you keep comparing yourself to other people in the gym, noticing how they are stronger or have a "better" body in some way, or if you constantly imagine yourself messing up or making a fool of yourself, try to take note of these thoughts and suppress them as much as possible. If you can let go of the negative thoughts and emotions telling you that you can't, you'll be able to achieve much more, much quicker. Try to remember that you are at the gym to better yourself, just like everybody else - this is your personal practice, and in all likelihood, nobody cares what you are doing.
If you are completely new to the gym, taking a few classes can really help to ease you in and teach you the ropes. Classes are at set times with a qualified instructor, meaning you have more incentive to go and plan your day around the class, and you have the added benefit of a teacher to tell you what to do, keep you motivated and correct you if you are at risk of hurting yourself. Many people find working out in a group, with music, means that they have a much more motivated and energetic workout. Most gyms run classes, and because of high demand they will often implement sanctions if you keep missing classes, which gives you a good incentive to go.
There's nothing worse than a packed gym. For some people this might be fine, but for many the idea of having to walk into a cramped room and try to find the space to work out sounds like a nightmare and can trigger feelings of anxiety. You might not get the equipment you want or have the space to workout properly as you'd like to. Try instead to find the quietest times and go the gym then. This might mean working out during your lunch break or in the early morning, but a more relaxed, empty space can seriously help to reduce any anxiety, which will keep you going back to the gym again and again.
Possibly the best way to overcome feelings of anxiety or judgement while you're working out is to simply tune out everyone else. A pair of headphones and your phone is an absolute must. You don't have to listen to workout music either, if this makes you feel conspicuous - many people choose to watch videos or listen to a podcast / audiobook while they work out, which has the added benefit of keeping you more engaged and distracted. If you're a student you could even download revision material to get the ultimate amount of productivity from your time.
A lot of gym anxiety often stems from feeling like you don't know what to do, and that you might embarrass yourself.If this is the case, start planning ahead. If you're not sure what to do with certain equipment, google it ahead of time - sites like gymventures.com can help you to identify equipment and then use it properly, It's also a good idea to prep exactly what workout you want to do while you're in the gym, and have it ready on your phone to look at while you're there. This way you'll know exactly where you need to go and what you need to do, and you'll likely have a lot more confidence while doing it, rather than wasting time trying to make decisions over what equipment to use or what order to use them in.
Many gyms offer personal trainers or tour guides. Enlist their help, especially if there is a free introduction. These free introductions can be invaluable, they'll show you around and teach you exactly what to do with each piece of equipment, where to go to use certain things and so on so forth. Alternatively, if you are nervous about meeting new people or going to the gym alone, take a friend with you. If you have a friend that's already a regular gym goer, that's even better, but they don't have to be. What's important is that you both give each other a little more confidence.
It might sound corny, but ultimately the key to overcoming gym anxiety is to believe in yourself and know that you can overcome your fears. Knowing that you have the ability to change your life, get healthier and overcome your own limitations is incredibly empowering and, ultimately, is what will get you to go to and stick to going to the gym.