by Tony Gjokaj February 22, 2022 6 min read

When my depression was at its most severe, I would wake up anxious every morning.

I did not want to do anything because I was fearful of interacting with people at work and school.

There was absolutely nothing I looked forward to every morning.

I’ve come to realize that the acute bouts of stress that I experienced at that time, along with the inability to relieve that stress, worsened my depression and anxiety.

While there can be various stressors that can contribute to anxiousness, one large factor that played a part was my physical health.

I wasn’t healthy.

I didn’t eat any nutritious foods.

I had poor sleep hygiene.

I didn’t engage in any sort of physical activity.

But once I introduced physical activity into my life, things changed.

Pushing myself towards physical activity helped with my depression and anxiety, and I wanted to reveal to you what helped.

So let’s talk about exercise and how it became a powerful tool to help me conquer my anxiety!

You can also watch this video if you don't like reading too much!

How Exercise Helps With Anxiety

Research has been shown that those with anxiety tend to be more sedentary (less physically active).

This makes sense, because some of us with anxiety would rather stay home and be alone than do things that require some form of discomfort.

One thing you should consider is that exercise allows you to focus on something else other than the thing that makes you anxious.

Another thing to consider is that exercise helps you improve your brain health as well, producing chemicals like serotonin, our “feel-good hormone”.

Exercise has also been shown to help our brain build resilience to stress. This means that we are better able to handle stress and our emotions.

This makes exercise a powerful tool to have in our arsenal.

Conquering Anxiety With Exercise

With anxiety, it doesn’t matter what style of exercise you do.

What matters is the following: Consistency, Accountability, and Motivational Bursts.

With that being said, let’s explore some strategies that will help you in the long term

I. Take Small steps. 

One of the most common issues we have when dealing with anxiety is the huge bouts of fear our brains have with doing anything that causes any sort of discomfort.

The goal with exercise at this time must be something that short, painless, and simple to get to.

If you need to go on a brief walk or do some push-ups to start, set a goal. 

This can be something like 5–10 minutes of working out. 
THAT 5–10 minutes compared to not doing ANY exercise of the sort is huge.
From there, you can add more time to your exercises the more momentum you get.

You can slowly introduce more exercises or go for a longer-distance run.

Daily consistency is more important than the perfect workout here.

II. Build up to a few hours of weekly exercise. 

Once you build that consistent habit around exercise and you started to add to the duration, it’s time to build up to a defined weekly exercise goal.

Research has shown that those who had a high level of physical activity are better protected against anxiety symptoms compared to those with a lower level of physical activity.

Now, how much is enough?

We can look at various studies revolving around exercising for depression and anxiety to set a good reference point.

One study, for example, found that 20–30 minutes of daily exercise can help with depression
This equates to around 2.5 to 3.5 hours of weekly exercise.

While this is a good reference point to start, I recommend striving to get ~3.5–4 hours of weekly exercise.This is not only for mental health benefits, but it gives you an ample amount of time to practice and better yourself through your preferred style of fitness.

Whether it is running, weight lifting, or martial arts… do something that you can stick with and enjoy.

III. Accountability partner. 

Now that we have a reference point for how much exercise to do, we now have to reinforce that consistency.

One way to ensure you have that consistency and motivation for exercise is having an accountability partner.

Find a workout partner who will hold you accountable to reach your goals.

You can do this in a variety of ways: attending group classes, in-person workouts, or even face-timing or being on the phone with someone while you work out together.

Do whatever it takes to help you accomplish your fitness goals, regardless of how unconventional it may be to some people.

IV. Get a coach.

Having a personal trainer or a coach will help reduce the anxiousness you have with the gym or with exercise in particular.

Let them know your main focus is to help with your mental health. That you want to feel better, move better, and be more confident.

They will guide you through this process.

Coaches or trainers can help you build a structured plan and workout once you’ve set the foundation for exercise.

V. Join a supportive online community. 

For more support on your journey, find an online community of people that want to see you succeed with your goals.

You can find these groups on Facebook, Reddit, and even Discord.

In these groups, be active by documenting your process and engaging with others on their journey.

Chances are you will get tons of support from them because you are giving value.

One of my favorite subreddits is EOOD, which helps people use exercise as a way to manage depression.

Alternatively, you can join our Facebook Group that I am building up. You can join it here.

VI. Monitor how you FEEL after a workout.

When people start their fitness journey, they do so with the intention to see themselves get fitter.

One advantage you have in exercising for mental health is that you are prioritizing how you FEEL as a result of your workouts.

And these improvements come almost immediately, compared to body improvements which may take weeks and even months.

If you’re feeling better — THAT IS PROGRESS. 

One of my clients has been training with me consistently for two months.

I told them to focus on their mental health after their workout sessions… and to take note of how they feel afterward.

This has helped them so much with exercise consistency.

Don’t forget that with exercise, you become better at managing stress as well.
This will have a carryover at not just gym exercises, but some of the challenges you experience in everyday life.

VII. Document your journey.

Now that we monitor our immediate feelings post-workout, we should also document our progress with exercise.

We can do this in various ways:

  • Keep a journal or record some of your exercise sessions on videolike my client Chris does.This has helped hold Chris accountable on his journey.
  • Journal your anxiety levels on a scale of 1–10 upon waking and after workouts.If your anxiety is super intense in the morning but dissipates after a workout session, take note of it. Chase the exercise.
  • Monitor your workouts based on the weight, sets, and reps you do.Getting better at exercises is HUGE progress!
  • Talk about your progress in online communities.This can be Facebook Groups, Subreddits, and more.

Once you document this progress for a couple of weeks, you’ll realize how much progress you’ve made.

You’ll find that you like exercise because it’s your time when you stop focusing on your anxious thoughts.

You’ll start focusing on the NOW: pressing that weight off your chest while doing a bench press. ;)

De-Stress with the Bench Press

As we have mentioned prior, physical activity can help manage stress, anxiety, and depression.

Having something that we can go to in order to de-stress is of utmost importance to our mental health.

If you’re interested to use exercise as a way to manage depression and anxiety, I’ve got something for you: our LIFT Your Morning Mood Course. 

In this course, we give you 30 days of hacks you can use to improve your well-being, along with strategies to reinforce the mood lifting pillars (exercise, nutrition, and sleep).

You can get it by signing up to our course here!

Until next time!

Tony Gjokaj
Tony Gjokaj

Tony is the Owner of Reforged. He is a PN1 Certified Nutrition Coach and has been in the fitness space for over a decade. His goal is to help millions exercise their way out of depression and anxiety.

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