The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Gym anxiety has increasingly become an issue for college students

3 min read
students exercising

Taking a fitness class is a good alternative for those who may struggle with working out alone. | Victoria Percherke

By: Mikayla Mcdonald and Senior Writer, Victoria Percherke

Feeling agitated and nervous about working out, sophomore psychology major Casey Reyes, finally gathered up the courage to exercise at UMW’s Campus Recreation fitness center.

Reyes’ gym anxiety all began at a local fitness center in Wallace Creek, North Carolina. Just after attending a fitness class, Reyes recalls trying out machine equipment and thinking that the patrons around her were staring and giving weird stares while she worked out. 

“[It also didn’t help] that I felt intimidated by those who looked like they knew what they were doing and [were] fitter than I was,” said Reyes.

Gym anxiety can be described as having feelings of self-consciousness and nervousness while being in a gym setting. Oftentimes, students experience feelings of fear of being judged based on one’s fitness level, and/or their uncertainty on how to utilize gym machines and equipment.

Dymond Booth, a clinical intern at the UMW Talley Center, says that, “A common circumstance, in which many people may experience anxiety is in public settings and performance situations – such as at the gym. This form of anxiety may be referred to as ‘gym anxiety’. In essence, gym anxiety is the “worry or fear” about performing in a gym environment. Gym anxiety is characterized by increased self-consciousness, fear of being judged, and worry about one’s own performance in comparison to others. Many individuals experience gym anxiety and for some, it can be a major deterrent for going to the gym.”

Some common causes of gym anxiety can vary “depending on a number of variables that may range from normal anxiety to pre-existing mental health concerns or even physical disabilities,” said Booth.

A few factors that may influence and contribute to gym anxiety are low self-esteem, having a disability, low self-confidence, pre-existing social anxiety, history of bad memories at the gym and insecurities related to body image.

“Gym anxiety can affect an individual’s self-esteem, sense of self-worth, self-perception, and confidence, which may prevent them from exercising as they want to,” said Booth. “It may also result in individuals injuring themselves, in an effort to perform at the level of the people to whom they compare themselves. A person should not only focus on their weaknesses in comparison to others, but acknowledge and appreciate their strengths, as everyone is different.” 

Exercising is a great way to feel good overall and to generate body positivity.

“It is generally understood from numerous psychological studies that exercise can be one of the most effective remedies and interventions for anxiety and depression. In other words, regular healthy participation in an exercise routine can be helpful for combating symptoms of anxiety and depression, such as general worry, sadness, and low self-esteem. While reducing the prevalence of these symptoms, it can alternatively boost morale and energy, which are two factors that can improve self-esteem and self-confidence,” said Booth.

The Talley Center lists ways in which people can reduce possible anxiety: Increase exposure to being in a gym environment, which will slowly help build one’s comfort and familiarity with the setting. Challenge cognitive distortions about being judged by others. As you look around, you are likely to notice that not everyone is really watching you. It is more likely that you will see most of the other gym members focusing on their workout or daydreaming. Having a good support system can also be really helpful for reducing anxiety. Going to the gym with one or two friends can help improve your self-confidence and increase focus on your own goals and progress.

Reyes describes how she was able to overcome, at least in part, her gym anxiety.

As Reyes attended more activities hosted by Campus Recreation, like the fitness classes, she found herself becoming close with the other attendants. Reyes’s favorite fitness classes are zumba and yoga. 

“At the beginning of class, I would be anxious, but as time goes on and I get more into the workout, I do not feel as anxious. I like to work out now as it helps me relieve stress, as well as boosts my confidence,” said Reyes.

Campus Recreation provides various posters around the gym that encourages those who might feel uncomfortable with exercising. While there are signs around the building, there are also step-by-step directions on how to properly use equipment on each of the machines. If patrons are in need of any further guidance, the student staff there are trained in giving specific directions.

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