Exercise for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

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You might be someone who is having trouble finding a good therapist to help you with your generalized anxiety, or you might not want to go to one. Maybe you don't feel like trying medications, or you have tried them, and they haven't helped you or have given you side effects. Even if you are going this route, you might be seeking an extra boost to help you feel better.


Exercise for  general anxiety disorder might be just what your looking for. Everyone knows exercise makes you feel better. It gives you energy and releases feel-good chemicals that help you relax and combat stress. 

The majority of studies done that explore exercise for  generalized anxiety disorder concluded that the benefits are better than placebo or waitlist and, in some cases, worked almost as well as medication and cognitive behavioral therapy, currently the gold standard for treating generalized anxiety disorder.

Exercise may be an affordable option for treatment for generalized anxiety or in addition to the therapy and medication you are using! 


John Ratey is famous for his books on exercise, and its benefits on mood. He describes generalized anxiety disorder and exercise benefits as follows:

  • Exercise decreases muscle tension.
  • Exercise increases the availability of critical anti-anxiety neurochemicals, including serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), similar to the current prescription meds for generalized anxiety disorder.
  • It stimulates our more advanced brain functions and decreases our threat response.

Warnings about exercise for general anxiety disorder

Although exercise for general anxiety disorder can be beneficial, I would only suggest it be an option to consider if it makes you feel good about yourself. 

  • Many of my clients hear exercise and associate it with a failure to do what they "should" or body image issue. It can start them down a cycle of feeling they aren't enough or have failed at just one more thing. 
  • This then becomes something they punish and shame themselves for rather than something they add to their day to help them relax and use as part of their self-care plan. 

  • Exercise can be one tool, like therapy or an antidepressant, that you use to treat your generalized anxiety. If it becomes a weapon you use against yourself, please drop it as a strategy you are trying. Instead, pick up self compassion.  

What are the best forms of exercise for generalized anxiety disorder?

Research shows a single bout of aerobic exercise can improve your mood, sleep, and self-esteem. Researchers are regularly doing studies to determine the optimal exercise for anxiety. It's important not to get caught up in that. People with a generalized anxiety disorder are less likely to exercise. It doesn't matter what you do. Any little bit will make you feel better! Once you start focus on the good feeling. Try to keep doing a little every day until it becomes a habit. 


The best forms of exercise for generalized anxiety disorder are the ones you enjoy doing and stick with! Research has shown that yoga, aerobic exercise, and even resistance exercise training (RET) can reduce generalized anxiety disorder symptoms.

References

Gordon BR, McDowell CP, Lyons M, Herring MP. Resistance exercise training for anxiety and worry symptoms among young adults: a randomized controlled trial. Sci Rep. 2020 Oct 16;10(1):17548. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-74608-6. PMID: 33067493; PMCID: PMC7567848.

Gregory L. Stonerock, Ph.D., Benson M. Hoffman, Ph.D., Patrick J. Smith, Ph.D., James A. Blumenthal, Ph.D., Exercise as Treatment for Anxiety: Systematic Review and Analysis, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, Volume 49, Issue 4, August 2015, Pages 542–556, https://doi.org/10.1007/s12160-014-9685-9


Simon NM, Hofmann SG, Rosenfield D, et al. Efficacy of Yoga vs Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs Stress Education for the Treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Psychiatry. 2021;78(1):13–20. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.2496


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Medical information obtained from this website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.