What makes you most anxious—your finances, public speaking, expressing yourself in relationships, your health? We all have areas of life that put us on edge. There are many good strategies to use in those specific situations to handle how you feel. These include pre-planning, practice, and breaking these situations down into small doable actions that you can step into little by little.
Yet, what if your anxiety is more generalized? What if it comes up in many situations? In this article, we’ll explore a powerful practice that you might not associate with anxiety, but which can make a dramatic difference in how confident, relaxed, and empowered you feel in all situations in your life.
So, what is this surprising remedy and how does it work?
The answer is strength training. That’s right, strength training, as in lifting weight. Now, before you shake your head, let me explain.
When you practice strength training, your muscles begin to strengthen in the first few weeks and this increased strength makes you feel stronger emotionally as well. Strength training is also progressive. You get stronger and stronger the more you do it. You can very tangibly mark your progress as you are able to lift heavier weights and/or do more sets and repetitions. This is powerful positive reinforcement that makes you feel good about what you’re doing.
When you feel stronger, you feel more capable. In contrast, when you are anxious, you feel like you might not be up to the challenges you face. Feeling stronger gives you a generalized feeling of strength that translates into empowerment.
Strength training is also a routine that you can learn to rely on. It gives you predictable and repeatable results, which is emotionally satisfying and comforting. You feel more control in your life, when you know you can practice your routine and get reliable results. These results include not only changes in your muscle tone and strength, but also in your brain and body chemistry.
A good strength training workout releases endorphins which help you relax and feel positive. Strength training has also been shown to stimulate neuro-genesis in your brain—in other words, it promotes the production of new brain cells. These new brain cells expand the neural connections in your brain, which help you see new possibilities and learn new skills. For example, some of my best writing comes right after a good workout—and I often get some of my best inspirations and problem solutions during or after my physical training.
By focusing on feeling the muscles that you are working, strength training becomes a meditation. It trains your mind to focus, be present in your body, and let go of other distractions. This is a powerful skill that you can apply when you are feeling anxious. You can focus on being present in the actions you’re taking and watch your anxious feelings fade to the background. Have you noticed that once you’re involved in doing something you get in the flow and your anxiety dissolves?
Now, you might have an idea that strength training is for athletes or bodybuilders and that it takes hours and is very hard work. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. You can get good results from doing a few exercises, for a few minutes, just a few times per week.
The key is to do exercises that involve your whole body and do the exercises to the point where you feel your muscles working and you feel yourself breathing deeply. This tells you that you’re putting some pressure on your muscles and bones, so they will respond by getting stronger. As you get stronger muscles and bones, you’ll not only be healthier and feel better, you’ll stand more upright and look better, too. This will give your confidence another boost.
Here are a couple simple exercises to get you started:
1. Squat down as deeply as you can, while keeping your feet flat on the ground and raising your arms up overhead. Do 1-3 sets, of 8-15 repetitions, 3 times per week. You can make this more challenging by holding hand weights.
2. Hold the top of a pushup position with your arms and body straight while raising one leg, then the other, a few inches off the ground. Do 1-3 sets, of 8-15 repetitions, with each leg, 3 times per week.
Once you get started and begin to feel stronger, you may want to learn more exercises and vary your routine. This will make things more interesting and be even more effective. Strength training is a great example of how you can use your body to shift how you think and feel.
I’d love to hear your favorite strengthening exercises in the Comments below.
P.S. Take this free Holistic Fitness Quiz to learn more tips on how fitness training can positively shift how you think and feel!