9 Tips To Overcoming Gym Anxiety

How I went from being too afraid to walk inside the gym to becoming a gym regular.

^ This is a picture of me from when I used to go to the gym at midnight and would leave if anyone else came in

Going to the gym becomes 10 times harder if you struggle with social or generalized anxiety. There’s too many people. It’s unfamiliar. You don’t know what you’re doing. You feel judged. It’s all around uncomfortable. You’re not alone. I’m going to give you the tips that helped me overcome my anxiety. I went from being too afraid to walk inside the gym to becoming a gym regular.

First, I want to stress that it takes time so be patient with yourself. It took me a couple of years to get to the point where I am now. It was a very slow progression. But since I’ve figured it out for you, you now have an advantage and hopefully it won’t take you as long as it took me. I’ve compiled a list of tips below, some may be more or less helpful depending on what progression point you’re at currently.

1. Find a workout plan — The reason why having a workout plan is helpful as a beginner is because it can be overwhelming to try and decide what muscle group you need to workout next, or what exercises you should do, or what to eat. Having a plan gives you one less thing to worry about. Before you go to the gym, review what’s on the workout for the day. Watch videos for each exercise to understand the form and what muscles they are activating. You will feel much more comfortable going into the gym knowing what’s on the agenda and how to do it.

Despite the misleading name, bodybuilding.com is a great source to start out with. The site isn’t just for bodybuilders. Their workout plans are very detailed so it will take out all of the guesswork. Every exercise has videos and written instructions for each so that you can be sure that you’re using proper form. They have a variety of plans to choose from ranging from beginner level to advanced. You can also search for the right plan depending on your goal (weight loss, muscle building, getting in shape).

*I am not affiliated with bodybuilding.com, this is based on my own personal research

2. Start at home — If you’re too afraid to go to the gym, start at home. This will help you get comfortable with the movements and you can learn in private without the fear of judgement. You would be surprised at how much you can do without a gym! There are a lot of “bodyweight only” workouts that you can find online. But if you want more, a pair of 5lb, 10lb dumbbells, and yoga mat will most likely be enough to get you started. I worked out at home for about a year before I decided that I wanted to take my workouts to the next level.

3. Stare at the gym — I know this sounds silly, but there was a couple of weeks where I couldn’t bring myself to go inside. I would get dressed in my workout clothes with full intentions of working out in the gym, but when I got there I wasn’t even able to get out of the car due to anxiety. I would sit in the parking lot and stare into the building (sounds creepy I know lol). So, I would just sit there and observe and eventually I would leave. But I went each day and everyday I intended to get out of my car. I did this for about a week and a half before I finally went inside. Take baby steps if you need to.

4. Find a friend — If you know someone who goes to the gym, reach out to them! Ask them to show you around. I’m the type of person who hates asking for help but after much thought, I finally asked a coworker who I had overheard talking about working out if he would show me around the gym. We weren’t even friends when I asked, but I knew that he was the opposite of me (people-oriented, outgoing, confident).You would be surprised at how helpful and willing people are! We eventually ended up becoming really good friends so it was a win-win!

Later I started dating a guy that was super supportive and understood my anxiety. If you have a partner, explain to them how you’re feeling and what your goals are. Now, me and my boyfriend go to the gym together M-F. Having someone to go with you is a great help, whether its your partner, friend, or family.

5. Start on the cardio machines — Gym machines can look intimidating and confusing. Start on the cardio machines. It allows you to actually be in the gym and get used to the environment. In a lot of gyms, cardio machines are placed in a location that allows you to oversee the rest of the gym. This way you can observe other people and map out the layout of the gym. Once you’re comfortable, you can make your way over the rest of the weight equipment and dip your toe in.

6. Start with small goals — When I decided to finally start going to the gym, I wanted to go all out. I wanted to go to the gym M-F and follow the diet plan precisely. If you’re the type of person that needs to go all out, by all means go for it. But it really set myself up for failure because it was unattainable. Working out and eating healthy is a lifestyle change. Changing habits takes time. It doesn’t happen immediately. There are days when you will fail and will miss your workout or have to eat fast food for whatever reason. Don’t be hard on yourself. Celebrate your small wins. You’re making progress.

7. Don’t focus on appearance — I know this one is tough. I envisioned myself looking like the girls in the workout plans and hoped to have six pack abs. But unless you plan on being a bodybuilder, I would forget about it. I used to look at myself in the mirror after every workout hoping to see changes. Now, I might catch a glimpse here and there but I certainly don’t focus on it. And I never check my weight on the scale. I realized I would never be happy if my goal was to look a certain way. Now, I go to the gym to be healthy, to take care of my body and my mind. I want to keep myself in shape so that I can go hiking or whatever and hopefully stay active as I get older. It’s about how you feel, not how you look. And if you feel good, you will automatically look better because it will show in your confidence. (Obviously, if your doctor has a healthy weight goal that you’re trying to obtain, that might be different)

Also, stop comparing yourself to photos. Bodybuilders put much more time and effort into looking a certain way than most people care to. Photos can be misleading. Different times of the day, flexing, and angles all play a part. No one looks perfect all the time. Just stay focused on what your priorities and goals are and fit working out into your lifestyle at whatever level you’re comfortable with.

8. Most people aren’t judging you, and if they are then they’re jerks — I used to have this feeling that everyone was judging me in the gym. I was probably doing an exercise wrong or looked like I didn’t belong because I’m really small and can’t lift much weight. Most people don’t care. And if they do, they’re probably overcompensating for their own insecurities. From experience, most people just want to go to the gym, do their workout with as little interaction as possible, and go home. I used to feel intimidated by the really huge guys working out. Now, I will work out on the bench next to them. Don’t assume that all of the super buff people are jerks either. You don’t want people judging you, so you shouldn’t judge them either (yes, I’m guilty of assuming in the beginning, but overtime I learned that most people are polite and considerate). And plus, everyone started out as a beginner at some point. Your workout is just as important as theirs and you shouldn’t let others stand in the way of your goals and your health.

9. Be proud of yourself! — Lastly, be proud of yourself! Even if it’s just sitting in the parking lot of the gym and creepily staring in the window, it’s an accomplishment! Set small goals and take baby steps. Changing your habits and your lifestyle is an everyday effort and it takes time but you can do it :)

If there is something I missed or if you have more questions, feel free to reach out to me or drop a comment. I was once the gym anxiety queen so I most likely have some insight. Everyone deserves to be healthy and to feel good about themselves. Don’t let anxiety stand in your way.

Public Sector Management Consultant | MPA | BBA