Tips For Preventing And Easing Anxiety About Going To The Gym

Implementing a new wellness routine into your life takes intention and adjustment. We are most comfortable with the familiar, and if the gym isn't somewhere you frequent, it can stir up anxious feelings of fear, inferiority, and confusion. All those complex workout machines, the bustle of others who know exactly what to do, and (inevitably) some level of comparison -– it's enough to intimidate anyone. "There's so much choice and so many options in the gym that even in normal circumstances, it can feel overwhelming," said fitness expert Stef Williams, founder of Stef Fit and the WeGlow app (via Marie Claire).


You may not be able to totally eliminate gym anxiety, or 'gymtimidation' as it's sometimes referred to (via Healthline), as even seasoned pros still have challenging gym days, but with some tools and tips, it's completely realistic to feel at ease — if not confident — while lifting weights, running on the treadmill, or trying a new yoga class at the gym. Even if you're struggling to get back into working out after time away – there's hope. Movement and activity are pillars of mental health, and as you care for your body, some of that anxiety should naturally fall away.

Ease into it with a plan

It's normal and even healthy to feel anxiety in some situations, and trying something new is one of them. If you've just signed up at a new gym, take a tour to become familiar with the flow of things. You'll also want to take into account your fitness goal and plan what your gym visits will look like. There's no need to jump in and workout five days a week from the get-go. Ease into it. "Come up with a plan: 'This is what I'm going to do, this is where I'm going to go, this is how long I'm going to go for,'" Leah Katz, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Portland, Oregon, told Shape.


It might be wise to attend one organized fitness class per week where you won't find yourself wandering the gym with uncertainty about what to do next. You'll become familiar with the environment and people slowly but surely. You might also find it helpful to write down your workout plan in the notes app of your phone to reference if you do begin to feel a bit lost. Say cardio is next in your plan, but the treadmills are all taken. Plan to use that wait as designated stretching time. And if you aren't able to hit every mark on your plan, don't give in to discouragement. You still made it to the gym, and you did more for your body than you would've if you'd stayed home.

Use mindfulness and don't compare

Comparison is the thief of joy, they say, and keeping focused at the gym can be easier said than done. But using mindfulness and correcting each negative thought about yourself as you walk through the doors to the gym will accelerate your path to fitness success. Reversely, it can also be tricky to focus when we feel self-conscious and are wondering if others are judging our bodies, progress, or workout routine. "I know it can feel like everyone is staring at you in the gym, but I promise they're not," fitness expert Stef Williams, founder of Stef Fit and the WeGlow app, told Marie Claire. "People are far too preoccupied with themselves to focus on you." 


If you notice your thoughts are beginning to take a downward spiral into negative self-talk, try to pause and focus on your breath, then reframe. You want to be sure to keep your motivation to work out strong. And if you find yourself thinking that you'll never be as fit as the people around you, remind yourself that you have no idea where they started, and you're here for your own unique transformation.

Bring a friend along

Adventuring to the gym with a trusted buddy who may or may not have similar fitness goals can greatly ease gym anxiety. Whether it's for emotional support, accountability, or just to make things a bit more fun, chances are high that you'll stick to your plan with someone by your side. According to Healthtrax, 95% of those who start a weight-loss program with a friend successfully complete it.


If your friend is aware of your anxiety around going to the gym and implementing a new fitness regimen, then they'll likely be able to help ground you when anxiety spikes. And perhaps you can do the same for them. Or maybe your BFF is a regular at the neighborhood gym, and they can show you the ropes, which should alleviate some nervousness. Once you feel comfortable and can maintain your routine without the added support of a friend, you should be able to fly solo smoothly.

Tune out with podcasts and music

If you find yourself getting too distracted at the gym and can't keep the negative thinking at bay, pop in your earbuds and play something you just won't be able to stray from. Your favorite album, true crime mysteries, stand-up comedy – whatever holds your focus and keeps your mind from wandering in unhelpful ways could be your fitness lifesaver. Listening to positive affirmations or spiritual teachers could also be great avenues for gym anxiety. "Likewise, nothing helps me zone out from others more than a good playlist -– the right music can make all the difference," fitness expert Stef Williams, founder of Stef Fit and the WeGlow app, told Marie Claire.


If you can find a podcast series that sparks your interest, try saving episodes exclusively for working out. This will help you look forward to your workouts and create a sense of routine and rhythm. A captivating audiobook could also do the trick. If you're eager to find out what happens next in the mystery novel you're listening to, chances are going to the gym will feel less like a chore.

Motivate yourself with rewards

If a new, flattering set of activewear motivates you and gives you confidence, then it's likely a worthy investment. The same could be said for new earbuds or a fancy water bottle. It's more than okay to indulge yourself in little ways if it means lowered anxiety and higher satisfaction with your gym experience. Alternatively, for those who are highly motivated by reward and delayed gratification, plan a special expenditure for yourself once you've reached a gym milestone. Maybe it's a new pair of shoes, a night out to the movies with the family, or a dinner date at your favorite restaurant.


"Pairing something pleasant and exciting with something that's not so pleasant and stressful can make it easier for you to go," Leah Katz, Ph.D., told Shape. It's important to make sure the rewards you choose for yourself are aligned with the healthy life choices you've now implemented. Scheduling a massage or reiki, for example, are wonderful and restorative rewards. In the same vein, buying a new book, journal, or set of oracle cards could also support your overall goal of well-being and wholeness.

Be here now

One of the quickest ways to alleviate feelings of anxiety is to be in the moment and tune into gratitude. So, if you're mid-workout and you begin to notice the familiar sensation of anxiety rushing in, look to your toolbox. A popular technique to ground and center is the 5-4-3-2-1 method. If you aren't familiar with it, you are going to tune in to your senses and internally name five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste (via PsychCentral). The idea is to focus on what is actually happening around you and not the worries racing through your mind. Essentially, this method should help you 'be here now.' Take a moment to thank yourself and be proud of the steps you're taking. 


"People don't spend enough time really relishing and savoring the feeling of having done a hard thing," Leah Katz, Ph.D., told Shape. "And that's actually one of the best ways to motivate yourself to keep on showing up."