Many of my clients, half of my family, and a good number of my friends have suffered or are suffering with anxiety. The effects can be unpleasant, debilitating and long lasting, The partners and family of anxiety sufferers may be under a great amount of strain caring for and supporting their loved ones and they themselves put their own health at risk. I would like to ‘give a big shout out’ to all the partners and family of people coping with anxiety, as well as the sufferers themselves, and wish them all enduring recovery.
Mounting scientific evidence shows that exercise and physical activity can alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, though it is often the family and close friends of people with anxiety that are paramount to the instigation and continuation of exercise through their encouragement and support. Unfortunately, anxiety is often concomitant with depression, therefore the energy and mental outlook required to perform voluntary exercise can be absent. Seemingly tireless partners and family do the invaluable job of reassurance in the face of fear and promotion of physical movement to aid in managing anxiety.
Exercise may improve mental health in the following ways – (this excerpt taken from Idea fitness journal).
By enhancing physiological health. “Physical activity benefits overall brain health by reducing peripheral risk factors for poor mental health—such as inflammation, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease—and by increasing blood flow and associated delivery of nutrients and energy,” says Angela Clow, PhD, professor in the department of psychology at the University of Westminster, London, and coeditor of Physical Activity and Mental Health. Depression and other mental ailments are associated with low physical activity; being more physically active reduces mental illness risks (Cooney et al. 2013).
By raising tolerance for emotional stress. Since exercise is stressful, regular exercise increases a person’s resilience toward other forms of physical and emotional stress. Having more physical and emotional strength—from consistent fitness training—seems to help people adapt better when tough situations occur (Otto & Smits 2011).
By increasing familiarity with physical stress. For some anxiety sufferers, an elevated heart rate, profuse sweating, chills and other stress symptoms that can occur during an anxiety attack are, by themselves, upsetting. By exercising regularly, people can learn to control their experience of physiological stress—like an elevated heart rate or sweating—and these symptoms can become less frightening.
By boosting self-efficacy. People who master a new skill improve self-efficacy, which subsequently leads to higher self-esteem. Learning how to exercise is an example of a skill that increases self-efficacy. High self-efficacy predicts well-being, while low self-esteem is associated with mental illness (Clow & Edmunds 2014).
By fostering social contact. Social interaction improves mood. Exercise frequently occurs together with others or with friend and family encouragement. This support boosts mood (Cooney et al. 2013).
By diverting negative thinking. People with depression or anxiety often get stuck in negative thought cycles. Exercise, especially when mindful, may be a diversion from self-rumination, focusing thoughts away from negative inner concerns toward engagement with the present and with pleasurable experiences (Otto & Smits 2011).
By encouraging engagement instead of avoidance. Focusing on exercise pursuits provides value. Creating a structured program directs focus on the value of activity, rather than withdrawal, and teaches persistence. This lesson in engagement, in spite of escape urges, can help people with anxiety to overcome avoidance in other life areas.