Starting your fitness journey can be intimidating, especially if social situations cause you anxiety. The gym can feel like the last place you want to go when there are voices in your head telling you that people will be judging you or that you won’t belong. The truth is that everyone who attends a gym shares the same common goal: bettering ourselves. Everyone who works out starts somewhere — you aren’t a professional right off the bat. The voices in your head are simply just that: voices.
I have struggled with social anxiety my whole life, and the gym was a burden that I was not ready to conquer until this past year. Putting yourself first and realizing that you are just like everyone else is the first step in conquering social anxiety when it comes to fitness. With COVID-19 vaccines becoming available and gyms reopening, you may feel inclined to start working out publicly again, but your social anxiety is holding you back. Here are some tips and tricks that helped me overcome my social anxiety in the gym and that I think can help you, too.
- Create a game plan
The endless rows of machines and equipment can be intimidating when you are a first-timer with social anxiety who’s entering a gym. Before heading into the sea of weights and machines, map out your gym day so you know which direction to head when you walk through those doors. Create a plan that is comfortable for you. Using machines that you are not used to can make you feel awkward, so stick to what you know. Eliminate as many obstacles as you can before you head into the gym so there will be fewer things you have to worry about once you’re actually in the facility.
You may think that you are surrounded by experts, but I can assure you that you are not the only one that is nervous or is a beginner in that gym. Gyms have a lot of flexibility, so you can personalize your own fitness journey. Before heading into the gym, research what your gym has to offer. Maybe you want to try a cycling or yoga class, or maybe you want to just stick to squats and the treadmill. Find what works for you and run with it!
- Start off small
Overcoming your social anxiety and stepping foot in a public gym is a big enough accomplishment all on its own. That being said, you don’t need to push yourself to a limit you aren’t comfortable with. When you finally make the commitment to conquer your social anxiety in the gym, start the workout process with small routines and work your way up. You may not be used to working out in front of others and for long periods of time, so it can be mentally exhausting.
When you’re first starting to navigate your anxiety, create a schedule that allows you to take baby steps into the world of fitness. Try going once or twice a week for only 30 minutes or an hour at a time. As you become more comfortable and your anxiety eases up, try going for longer or more frequently. Start off small with your exercises as well. Try implementing two to three exercises into your gym day at first, and as you go more often you can add more exercises or machines. You aren’t going to be ready for a weightlifting competition as soon as you begin your journey, so it is completely okay to avoid machines or weights altogether.
Some of us with social anxiety may be familiar with the machines, but aren’t comfortable using them in front of people. Therefore, create a routine that utilizes machines that minimize social interaction. A successful workout routine is all about what makes your mind and your body happier.
- Have a workout buddy
Having emotional and physical support is important for someone with social anxiety, especially in the gym. Being alone in a setting you aren’t used to is frightening, so try overcoming your social anxiety by bringing a workout partner. Whether that partner is a friend, personal trainer, significant other or family member, bring them along to encourage you and act as a shoulder to lean on when your anxiety is getting the best of you. Having a familiar face around makes the intimidating workouts more tolerable and fun. Your workout buddy can push you, encourage you to try new workout classes or even help you make a friend in the gym.
A saving grace in my journey of social anxiety is having a shoulder to cry on. Now, I didn’t think that would be so literal when I brought my boyfriend to workout with me on my first public gym outing, but it was indeed literal. I cried before walking into that gym. At that moment, my social anxiety was hitting me like a truck, but he provided a shoulder to cry on and encouraged me to face my fears and step foot in that gym. I did just that. I wiped the tears off my face and kicked butt in a public gym. Having a support system goes a long way for someone with social anxiety.
- Focus on you and only you
Your fitness journey is only about you and no one else. With social anxiety, it’s easy to think about everyone else besides yourself. You think about who is looking at you or who is judging you. You tend to compare yourself to others. When it comes to overcoming anxiety in the gym, the best thing you can do for yourself is thinking about your personal progress, rather than comparing yourself to others.
This was a hard one for me to learn. The first time I entered a public gym, all I could think about was that I wasn’t worthy of being there. I could’ve sworn there were eyes on me from every direction, but I reminded myself that this was simply a figment of my imagination. After I came to this realization, I did a routine that made me feel absolutely amazing in my own skin. It wasn’t a hard workout or an intense one, but it was amazing for me because I focused on me and only me.
Be aware of how you are feeling and the goals you want to achieve. When working out, be present and attentive to yourself. Concentrate on how the workout feels for you, focus on your breathing and focus on the workout at hand. Everything else doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, you’re at the gym to work on yourself, not someone else.
- Practice a healthy mindset
Negative thoughts come easily to the mind of someone with social anxiety. As I said before, everyone in a gym has the common goal of improving themselves. When heading into the gym, you might be thinking that everyone is judging you, but in reality nobody will judge because that was once them. Everybody was once where you are. Nerves are common for someone that is entering an environment they aren’t comfortable in, especially if that environment is the gym.
Remind yourself that you deserve to be in the gym and the negative feelings you are experiencing are not true. Evaluate these thoughts and decide whether they are factual or are just simply an outcome of social anxiety. Take on a positive outlook before you walk into the gym. Think about how you are taking steps to improve your well-being. The greatest accomplishment is when you decide to put yourself first.
Social anxiety can be exhausting and feel like it is never-ending. When it comes to the gym, overcoming anxiety can feel challenging and impossible. By finding what works for you and putting yourself first, you are taking steps in the right direction to overcoming your anxiety. It is normal to feel nervous when starting out on your fitness path, but don’t let that stop you from becoming a better you.