Exercise and Physical Activity
as Tools for Anxiety Control

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At first glance the relationship between exercise and anxiety may not appear obvious. Most people would agree that when they feel anxious or depressed the tendency is to do less than usual.

Why is physical activity beneficial for dealing with anxiety?

Anxiety is negative raised arousal. Once you get a startle warning and buy into it by responding with further raised arousal, your survival instinct assumes you to be in mortal danger and so prepares your body to save itself by instigating the fight or flight response.

The purpose of this is for you to either kill whatever is threatening you before it gets you, or to run like hell and escape. 

In order to do either of these things the large muscles in your legs need increased oxygen and blood, so your heart starts to pump faster to provide this and you breathe quicker.

In a real life or death situation this response by your body would be appropriate. In most everyday life situations, however, the choice is not truly 'life or death'. Most such fears are in the mind rather than in reality. But the body's physiological response is the same.

With the proper fight or flight response, the body undertakes intense physical activity. This activity dissipates all the chemicals, such as adrenalin, which are produced in response to the fear.

Physical activity helps to get rid of all those unnecessary chemicals created by feeling anxious but not needing to run or fight

When we get anxious in everyday life we rarely do anything active - often quite the reverse. Therefore, we are building up an excess of natural chemicals which are not used. Physical activity helps rid the body of these. For this reason it is helpful to undertake some daily physical activity in order to help overcome anxiety.

The physical activity does not have to be very strenuous. If you have a hobby such as gardening or golf then that will do fine, as long as you don't stop doing it because you feel stressed!

Even walking the dog will do it and if you do this in a park or country setting you can be mindful of the sounds and sights of the natural world around you, keeping your focus on the here and now rather than indulging in head conversations.

mindfulness walking in the park

For those who like dance and more strenuous activity, the current fitness craze for Zumba might appeal.

If you prefer a more meditative approach, yoga can be as advanced or as basic as you like. You can buy dvds to do it at home or there are most probably classes near you.

Whatever form of exercise you choose it is important that whilst doing it you allow yourself to enjoy the experience, the feeling of movement. There is no benefit whatsoever in forcing yourself to do something and telling yourself how much you are hating it as you indulge!

Other Physical Pleasures

I have already considered the possibilities of 'touch therapy' such as reflexology, but other forms of massage can be equally helpful. The main point to remember is that whatever you do that you allow yourself to feel positive about in the actual moment whilst you are doing it, the better for you. The aim is to learn to focus more on the positives in life and less on the negatives.

Even is you do not wish to go somewhere public for a touch therapy, you can buy some appropriate oils or creams and use them at home, maybe first having a long soak in a scented bath illuminated by candlelight.

If you feel so inclined, a trip to a spa for a day or longer might also be appealing, to just abandon yourself to the sensations of the moment.

Everyday Feelgood Factors

pink flowers for mindful aromatherapy
soles of feet for mindful reflexology
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  1. Overcoming Anxiety
  2. Self Help
  3. Exercise