Your question: Why do I get anxiety after working out?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. Through this article I would like to guide you through the workings of your anxiety, and why it occurs after exercise, looking into the relationship between your mind and body during physical activity, and how you can deal with this feeling and diminish it through strategies.

You’ve finally made it a point to go to the gym or take up a sport. After all, physical activity is vital to maintaining both physical and mental health. But suddenly, you feel intense anxiety after your first workout. Your heart races, you feel very sensitive on an emotional level, and other unpleasant physical emotions creep in.

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably had this happen to you once or several times after exercising. I would like to start by telling you that it is quite normal, and it happens to people who are just starting to exercise as well as to people who have been training for a lifetime.

Anxiety is an unpleasant experience, of course, but it is also normal and part of our life. We must learn to deal with it as best we can, and if it starts to cause problems in your daily life by appearing at inopportune times, it’s time to take action.

Body and mind have a close relationship. Physical activity triggers a lot of physiological reactions in your body, and even if you don’t notice it because of the adrenaline and concentration you apply during exercise, also physiological reactions. So yes, anxiety, anger and even deep sadness is normal after exercising.

There is no need to feel ashamed of this. Besides being common, it has a solution. Before I propose some alternatives, I would like to take you through some of the reasons why anxiety occurs in the context of exercise and physical activity. Knowing your body and mind is always the first step to start improving.

Why do you feel anxious post-work out?

There is no doubt that physical exercise has a positive impact on mental health. One study(1) showed that adults who engage in regular physical activity experience fewer depressive and anxiety symptoms.

So you may wonder why you feel anxious after exercising. The answer is not simple, however, it is a fairly common problem. It has been shown(2) that aerobic exercise tends to generate anxiety in people after exercise.

One of the explanations for this problem is that during exercise, your body is constantly being stimulated, both physically and mentally. When you exercise your heart rate increases, you feel tension in your muscles and your blood pressure rises. All of this means that when you are at rest at the end of your exercise routine for the day, your nervous system sends the signal to your body that it is still active, so you feel agitation, tension and fear commonly associated with anxiety.

Another reason you experience anxiety after exercising is related to the thoughts you associate with physical activity. Some people associate physical activity, sports and exercise with pain and injury. It is likely that during your exercise routine you have disturbing anxious thoughts related to the fear of getting hurt during the workout, and at the end of the exercise session, your body collapses and generates an intense feeling of anxiety because of the physical state of exhaustion post-work out and because of the anxious thoughts that persist even after finishing the exercise.

What does post-work out anxiety feel like?

The symptoms of anxiety that appear after physical exercise are:

  • Muscle tension
  • Fatigue or dizziness
  • Intense fear that may not have any origin
  • Tachycardia and shortness of breath
  • Feeling like you are going to faint
  • Emotional sensitivity: easily irritable or intense urge to cry

What can you do to manage your exercise-related anxiety?

We commonly think that if something is hurting us we should give it up completely, but this is not always the case. Here, the problem is not the physical exercise, but the anxiety itself, which you can address through both physical and emotional strategies.

Breathing exercises

Breathing is key during physical activity. Naturally, people breathe in an agitated manner while exercising. At the end of your physical activity, breathing gently, inhaling through your nose for three seconds and exhaling through your mouth for another three seconds, will allow your body and mind to understand that you have come out of the activation period, and that now in the rest period, your body and mind should slowly decrease agitation and energy. Applying this post-work out breathing exercise constantly will be very helpful.

Decrease the intensity of your workouts

It is common that because of the pressure you put on yourself or because you want to impress other people, you want to demand more from your body than it can give at any given time. Intense physical activity without adequate preparation can cause you to feel anxious after training. Decreasing the number of miles you run or the number of pounds you lift will initially decrease the feeling of anxiety, and eventually, eliminate the anxiety altogether after workouts.

Train in a group

Creating friendships in sports and training environments is positive because, in addition to allowing you to socialize in new areas of your life, it will give you a sense of security and reassurance to manage post-workout anxiety. Having people who support you and have common goals, in some cases experience with post-workout anxiety, will help increase your confidence and decrease your anxious symptoms.

In my experience…

Post-workout anxiety related to exercise and sports is common, and is linked to the pressure you put on your own body and mind to achieve certain goals. Physical activity is valuable and healthy for your body, but when it becomes an obsession and a competition with yourself, it is a sign that you should change the pace for your health.

I hope that with these suggestions you can improve. I recognize and applaud you for seeking professional counseling, because it shows that you want to feel better and you are on the right path to change the things that make you feel bad. I believe that you have the capacity to improve, although sometimes your mind makes you believe that you have no solution. It was a pleasure to write to you.

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