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Aug. 17, 2021

How Group Fitness Classes Help Chronic Anxiety

How Group Fitness Classes Help Chronic Anxiety

Group fitness classes can be a healthy way to reduce chronic anxiety. Learn several different activities you can try to improve your mental wellness.


This episode of Anxiety Therapist Podcast is sponsored by BetterHelp. Enjoy 10% Off the first month of therapy using the link above.

Chronic anxiety. It can make you feel like you're on a treadmill that you can't turn off. Hello and welcome to episode 15 of the anxiety therapist podcast I'm your show host Frank Sasso. I'm a clinical psychotherapist out of Chicago, Illinois. If you haven't done so already, please hit the follow button on whatever app you're using. This way you never miss another episode. In today's, show I want to talk about just one powerful way that you can start to fight back anxiety symptoms and that's through some kind of group movement or group fitness program. Now, just to think about that for a moment, imagine how good you could feel if you were able to naturally start fighting back the symptoms of anxiety and get out of the haze. 

 Folks I want you to keep in mind something for the rest of this episode. And that is whenever I say the word movement or fitness, I want you to make that synonymous with healing anxiety, and even depression symptoms. In other words, this episode has very, very little to do with how you physically look and everything to do with how you're mentally feeling. My years of experience, both as a mental health therapist and a certified personal fitness trainer has shown me that group movement is a wonderful way to help somebody dramatically improve their mood level. All right, just a fast disclaimer here. This show is not meant to replace mental health counseling or medical advice, and I'm not your personal therapist.

Chronic Anxiety

 Yeah. Chronic anxiety. What we sometimes refer to as a generalized anxiety disorder and for people who struggle with it, it feels like they're on this busy highway with no off-ramp. They just can't get off. You know, years ago, when I first started working in the field of mental health, I had the honor of working for this organization called thresholds. Which is one of Chicago's largest agencies that provides a variety of resources for men and women who are struggling with severe mental illness. At the time, I had a very large caseload of people who were dealing with everything from bipolar disorder to PTSD, to major depression disorder, and nearly all of them suffered with some kind of episode of anxiety across the board. It really didn't matter what their diagnosis was.

That's because someone who struggles with just the symptoms of anxiety can be stricken with all kinds of other issues going on. So let me give you an example. Someone with everyday stress can absolutely experience the symptoms of anxiety, someone with a more serious issue like bipolar disorder or histrionic personality disorder, or trauma in their past that they're trying to cope with they can also experience anxiety. You know, during the height of the pandemic, when everything was locked down, I wasn't able to meet with my patients. I couldn't get outside very much like a lot of people. And I started to develop this sort of depression. And then it turned into this anxiety. Again, I think this happened for a lot of people. I call it the haze. Well over time with that isolation, I started to feel down and soon after I started to feel anxious about why I was feeling down.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, well, wait a second, he's a therapist. How could this be possible? I have news for everyone out there. Therapist also can experience anxiety or depression or other issues and that's because we're human. Now, here's the thing because I'm a therapist. And I like to think that I'm in tune with my own thoughts and feelings. I was able to recognize this and do some things to change it, to combat that anxiety. So I'm going to share my ideas around group fitness right now and why I think it can be a valuable, very powerful tool to help someone who's struggling with symptoms of anxiety. 

Why Group Fitness Classes Helps Anxiety

 All right. You might be wondering right now, why am I suggesting group movement or group fitness as opposed to working out or exercising on your own? Well, here, here's why. Take a moment and think about the animal kingdom for a second. Let's say you've got a pod of dolphins. If you've ever seen a pod of dolphins, maybe at the zoo, or even on television, you might notice that they like to travel together and they're very social beings. The same could be said for other Mammals, say like a pack of wolves or a family of monkeys. In all of these cases, these animals are very social creatures. And as human beings, we are too. Now sure, some humans are going to be more introverted than others, but by large, we are meant to be social beings. And if you take someone and isolate them long enough, then they can sort of start to slip into this anxiety and depression. And that's why I think that a group movement or fitness can be so powerful.

Related: 7 Best Home Gym Essentials

 

My Experience with CrossFit for Anxiety

 

I don't know about you, but during the pandemic, during the height of COVID-19 every day seemed exactly the same to me. It was like this big Groundhog’s Day repeatedly. Now I worked out from home. I've worked out for 20 to 25 years, but for whether it was a reason of lack of being around other people or just getting bored with exercising, I had plateaued, I got to a point where I just wasn't looking forward to it anymore. And because of everything else that was going on, I kind of went into this low-grade depression with some anxiety. Again, like a lot of people did. Well, luckily down the street from where I live. There's this CrossFit facility. Well, what's CrossFit? CrossFit is an area exercise regimen that incorporates Olympic weightlifting, aerobics, and gymnastics. But I don't want you to think you have to go out there and enjoying a CrossFit place. I'm just telling you about my experience. 

 

So, I showed up at the CrossFit place and I'm ready to do my exercises outdoors. And it was cold. The first few days I still experienced this sort of sadness. This low grade depression and anxiety, but after a week, wow did I notice a difference in my effect, my mood, I felt so much better. I had more energy, and I didn't have this kind of general anxiety or this doom and gloom that had been following me around for the prior several months. And I have some ideas about why this happened. Number one is showing up and interacting with other people that made a big difference. Even though I wasn't talking face to face with everyone because we were wearing masks, I was still socially interacting with people. Second was, I was engaging in this group experience. We were all out there working out together in the cold. We were having a good time and we were suffering together, but we did it as a unit. And that made a difference. 

 

Benefits of Group Fitness on Mental Health

 

The other part about it was I didn't need to put any mental energy into what the workout for the day would be. I'd basically just show up, I'd hear the music, which stimulated my hearing. And that made me feel good. And I'd listen to the coach and I'd follow directions and do the workout. Again, that made a huge difference. Aside from just a social interaction and all the good things that were happening around that with the workouts was the physical benefits I was experiencing. You see, when you engage in any kind of moderate physical activity, your heart is going to beat a little faster. As a result, oxygen starts to get pumped out throughout the body. There's more oxygen flowing. Another thing that happens is your brain starts to create more dopamine. Dopamine is that feel-good Chemical that you often hear runners refer to as a runner's high.

 

A by-product also that's going on at the same time when you're exercising is cortisol, that stress hormone is reduced, your body's creating less of it. So it's sort of like this two-pronged approach to anxiety. First is the social interaction the group experience. The second is the physical benefits of exercise. You combine that all together and it's a powerful, powerful weapon against anxiety symptoms. If you are in an area of the country, or even the world that's still struggling with COVID-19 then you're going to need to wait a little while before you try doing a group fitness class. If you haven't already, please, get vaccinated. 

 

5 Group Fitness Ideas for Anxiety

 

I went ahead and I put together a list of eight or nine group activities that you might want to check out to help with your mood level, to help with your anxiety. And here they are. Some of them you'll suspect already would be on there. The first one is yoga. What better way to stretch your body to bring peace to yourself, especially in a group than to join a yoga class and there's yoga for everything. There is mommy yoga, there's hot yoga, there's relaxation, yoga, you name it there's a yoga for it.

 

Zumba.

 

The second one is a Zumba dance class. Now, if you've never done Zumba, it's a lot of fun. First of all, the music is high energy and it'll put you in a good mood, just the music alone, but then you add the movement and doing it with other people. And it's out of this world. I've tried Zumba a few times. I have to say, I'm not the best at it. I'm pretty clumsy, but maybe that's part of it. I still end up laughing and I have a good time doing it. 

 

Cycling Class.

 

The third on my list is cycling. Now, if you're someone out there who already has a Peloton, it's fine. You might want to just check out a cycling class at your local gym. Even if it's just a few days a week, it can make a difference when you do this with someone else. In my experience, when you have to show up to a place and you have to meet with other people, or there's an expectation that you'll be there at a certain time, this can sort of increase the motivation. It's kind of like meeting with a personal trainer. You know, you must be there, you paid for it so you might as well go. 

 

Walking Group.

 

All right, the next one is a walking group. Well, you might be thinking, where would you find a walking group? Write this down meetup.org, meetup.org is a website where you can type your interest into it and it will bring up like-minded people. It'll bring up other people in your area that either want to form a group or already have a group. In fact, you can form your own walking group with meetup.org. It's completely free. And that's for people that just want to do light exercise around other people. The next one would be Jazzercise. If you like to dance like that, or maybe ballet. The next one is called Tabata. Tabata is a mixture between say doing some sort of calisthenic workout and then cardio, you might do pushups, or you might do sit-ups for a minute. And then you might do a minute on the treadmill or a minute of jumping jacks. So that's out there Tabata. 

 

Tai Chi.

 

All right, the next one is Tai-chi. And I love this one. Tai-chi is so great because it requires you to really be mindful of the movements you're doing. And it can take a while to learn. a lot of people who deal with stress or high blood pressure really enjoy Tai-Chi. And again, best of all you're doing this in a community. So look up out there. Where's there a Tai Chi class around you.

 

Hiking.

 

The final one that I have on here, and I know there's many more is hiking. And in the same way that you use that meetup.org to find a walking group, you can find a hiking group. And if you can't find a hiking group, get some friends together or family or whomever you want and start doing some walking or hiking together so long as you're exercising and you're doing it in a group, you're socializing. 

 

Exercise Helps Anxiety

 

I hope today's show has given you some ideas on how to get involved in some sort of group exercise class or group movement activity. Let's move on to today's listener email. Today's email comes from Kathleen out of Miami, Florida. I'm going to go ahead and read you what she emailed me and then share my response with you. Here's what she wrote. "Dear Frank, I really struggle with anxiety and I seem to always have these racing thoughts. I have a problem though when I try to control my thoughts, my anxiety seems to get worse. Can you give me any ideas on how to ground myself? "

 

All right. Here's what I wrote to her. And first I want to say, Kathleen, if you're listening, thank you so much for tuning in to this show. Here's my response to Kathleen. "Kathleen. When we try to control our anxiety, it can often lead us to a worse place because anxiety has a way of sort of coming back stronger when we try to push it away. Instead, you might want to try the act of acceptance, which I discussed in a previous episode." 

 

Then I said, "Kathleen, here are three things you can try to try to ground yourself. Number one, name, three things you see around you. Number two, name three sounds you hear. Number three, move three body parts like your finger, your head, your foot, or whatever you'd like. Kathleen the reason I want you to try this is because when you focus on your movement or you focus on one of the senses, in this case, the sound, the sight, or that physical sensation of moving, you're bringing yourself into the present moment. You're bringing yourself into the here and now and not going down the rabbit hole of worry."

 

All right, that's it for today's episode of the anxiety therapist podcast. I want to thank everyone for tuning in and for leaving reviews. It means an awful lot to me, especially as someone who takes the time out to create this show on top of working full-time and then being a father. You can reach me by going to the website @anxietytherapistpodcast.com. From there, you can go ahead and leave me a voicemail write me an email or follow on social media. Again, that's anxietytherapistpodcast.com. I'm Frank Sasso. And thanks for listening to this episode of the anxiety therapist podcast.