I felt a bit confused today as I drove home. I realized I was fighting an anxiety attack, but I couldn’t figure out why. I usually feel a lot more relaxed after I workout, but today, aside from feeling hungry and tired, relaxed just wasn’t happening. I went back through the day in my head. What had interrupted my usual feeling of leaping-through-the-daisy fields that comes after a trip to the gym?
Well, let’s see. Today I had a rather enjoyable day at work, so that probably wasn’t it. I had a fairly busy period of time after school, so that might have had something to do with it. There was the usual, with lots of changes coming up, including school getting out a week late, VBS coming up at church, summer travel just around the corner (that we don’t have official dates for since Stephen’s jobs only gives time off two weeks in advance), and the budgeting for all that travel to think about. But the more I thought about it, I knew something was missing. There had to be something else that had taken the ZING out of my gym time and driven my tics and anxiety sky high.
Right before I got home, I realized exactly what it was.
I didn’t bring a book to read.
It might sound silly, but I have a rhythm for my workouts, and that rhythm includes distraction. Not only does my workout need to get my body up and around, it needs to move my mind away from the present time as well, particularly when I’m preparing mentally for a busy time. We’ve talked before about all the mental benefits of exercise for stress relief and tic reduction, but today we’re going to go over tips to maximize those benefits through your exercise. They might seem simple, but they just might surprise you, too.
Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Workouts
1. Make sure your workout clothes fit well and make you feel good about yourself.
I will be the first one to admit that I check myself out at the gym. I mean, come on! The place is WALLED with MIRRORS! How does one not look at one’s body there?
I will also tell you that stress relief will be slower in coming if you look at your reflection and immediately want to hide because you look awful. For some people, looking awful might be having clothes not fitting right; others may feel they look awful because their exercise clothes are holey and three sizes too big. Others might not see you as looking awful, but we all know we’re our own worst critics.
So why not shut that inner critic up?
This is one of those areas that I’m learning more and more to appreciate spending a few extra dollars for. It’s worth it. Much of this anxiety about how we look can be changed with one or two sets of workout clothing…the good kind. Yes, workout clothes can be expensive, but if you can find even one outfit that you’ll feel good in, you’ll probably enjoy your workout a lot more. Instead of looking at the size, examine what you feel in those clothes. If you feel athletic when you slip that green and blue Adidas or Puma matching shorts and shirt on, then that’s one less thing to stress about when you’re in the gym.
Because who doesn’t like walking in front of the mirrors and thinking, “I look like I belong here!”?
2. Put Your Brain Somewhere Else While You Exercise.
My gym is the one where they put news on in front of my favorite stationary bike. While I appreciate the gesture, the last thing I want to do while I’m destressing is watch more stressful stuff. Sure, I like the news…when it’s the right time. But honestly, how often does the news have a day full of butterflies, unicorns, all-is-happy-and-free? Exercise is a time where you take a break from the real world, and for most people, that break lasts about an hour, tops. It’s not wrong to leave the world of worries for a while just to catch your breath (or lose it to a fantastic burst of cardio).
Here are some of my favorite distractions while I work out, depending on which gym I’m at:
- Read on my ereader. (You can do a real book, too. I’m just in love with my NOOK.)
- Watch something non-political, like a home renovations show.
- Read reviews on Amazon for possible upcoming Fathers Day gifts.
- Make up action scenes in your head where you’re the hero (…Or is that just me?)
Whatever you do, make sure it allows your mind a short break from reality. Our brains weren’t mean to run 24/7 on the latest news reports.
3. Vary your workouts.
I’m a creature of habit, but every now and then, my favorite machines are undergoing maintenance, so I must find alternatives. These are often when I discover new favorites. This is how I found the rowing machine, Hip Hop Level II (My dancing – clogging – and hip hop are very different things.), and that fun machine that’s kind of like a stair climber, but it’s more like you’re rollerblading once you’re on it.
It’s important to keep exercise from becoming boring. If you become bored, it’s easy to begin avoiding the workout because you know exactly what to expect. If you’re not sure what else to try, think outside the box and shake it up a little! I’ve found that being active inside and outside the gym can yield the most satisfying results for me.
4. Listen to upbeat, non-stressful music.
We all know that music can have incredible effects on our emotional moods. Studies show that listening to the right kinds of music can really lower anxiety. This is a hard balance to strike, however, as you generally don’t want to listen to Moonlight Sonata while you’re trying to make that last mile on the treadmill.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to swing in the completely opposite direction and use only music that fuels the adrenaline. Since I grew up in a house of two brothers and a dad that coached my sports teams, I thought it was required listening to choose ACDC or Black Stone Cherry. I’ve realized that as good as some of their songs are, however, these bands often leave me feeling anxious and pumped up even after I exercise. They fuel the fire, but they don’t leave me feeling any sort of resolution.
What I’ve started doing is if I feel I need that extra “pumping up” at the beginning of my workout, I listen to harder Christian groups like RED, Skillet, or Thousand Foot Krutch (TFK) when I begin. Then, when I’m done with my cardio, I switch to more happy uplifting music like stuff from Jamie Grace, Owl City, or Group1Crew. These songs put me in a positive mood, but they help me wind down from the adrenaline high I was on during cardio.
Do you have to use my playlist to workout with? Absolutely not. My brother might die if I put Owl City songs on his Army-Workout-Playlist-Thingy. My point is that it’s important to be choosy about what goes on your workout playlist. While it’s tempting to push a bunch of hardcore, heart-pumping songs through your headphones, you might want to see what’s really helps you destress if that’s one of your workout goals like it is mine.
5. Reward yourself after the workout.
I mean it. Reward yourself with a delicious snack.
What I do NOT mean is going to the smoothie stand and buying yourself a 2000 calorie Caramel Macchioto with extra whipped cream. (1) That will make you feel terribly guilty later on because you know you not only just ate through your entire workout, but also the rest of your daily calories, and (2) sugar and bad fats can make your anxiety levels spike, and if you’ve got Tourettes (like me), they’ll make your tics jump as well. So what kind of delicious rewarding snack do I mean?
On the website, French Women Don’t Get Fat, the article, “Chocolate,” talks about all the health benefits that come from chocolate…dark chocolate, to be specific. From reducing cholesterol to clearing arteries to providing antioxidants, this bit of Heaven can not only help you satisfy that sweet tooth, it can also help you be healthier!
Of course, as the book, French Women Don’t Get Fat, stipulates, everything in moderation. It’s probably not advisable to eat a whole bar of dark chocolate after your workout. It’s still pretty high in fat. The great news is that if you’re eating true dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacao, you’re not getting nearly as many sugars as you do with milk chocolate. Also, the higher the cacao percentage, the more rich the dark chocolate flavor, and since true dark chocolate is bitter, that means you’ll probably get your fill much faster.
Although, if you just can’t acquire that dark chocolate taste, find something else that’s a little decadent that makes you feel rewarded, but doesn’t just undo everything you just did for your body. Some people like protein shakes. As long as you know what’s in yours and are okay with it, feel free to try those. If a handful of blueberries covered in (a little bit of) whipped cream floats your boat, then go with that! It’s important that your healthy choice is something you can look forward to, so it’s okay if you spend a bit of time finding it.
What about you? Do you have a tip for getting rid of anxiety during your workout? What do you do that makes your workout fun? If it motivates you to workout, there’s a good chance it’s worth it. If you’re not sure how to do this, I suggest talking to your doctor. He probably has stuff you’ve never heard of! If you like today’s post, or would like more free information about neurological disorders, health, education, and encouragement, please sign up for my weekly newsletter. As always, thanks for reading!
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