Anxiety — we’ve all experienced this unsavory emotion at one time or another. That crippling feeling of nervousness, restlessness, or tension. That tightness in your chest, or those racing thoughts. For some, anxiety is a rare occurrence — while it’s not ideal, it’s still manageable. But for others, anxiety lingers constantly.
The good news is that in addition to speaking with a professional about any concerns related to stress or anxiety, there are many tools that we can rely on to help combat feelings of stress or anxiety that may come up during stressful times — exercise being one of them. According to science, staying active may have a direct impact on anxiety. And, get this — the benefits of even 20 minutes of movement are very real, and you don’t need equipment to get that workout in.
Here are just a handful of reasons why it’s super important to keep your body moving during stressful times.
Related: The Science on Why Quick Workouts Are Effective
4 Benefits of Exercise For Stress & Anxiety
#1 The Mood-Boosting Benefits of Endorphins
It’s scientifically proven that endorphins give us a natural high and help reduce stress, keeping us sane during these busy months.
While there’s plenty of stressors we can’t control, we can make a conscious choice to give our spirits a much-needed boost in the way of endorphins. In doing so, we’ll see a positive trickle effect on other factors like energy, productivity, and motivation.
But we get it, when you’re feeling anxious, moving your body might be the last thing on your mind. Try to remember how good those mood-boosting endorphins feel when you move and all the benefits that occur as a result of being active!
No gym needed either — choose a bodyweight workout, and you’ll still be feeling the burn while getting those endorphins flowing.
#2 Exercise Boosts Your Immune System
When we’re constantly feeling stressed and anxious, our immune system takes a hit. Chronic stress means increased cortisol, increased cortisol means increased inflammation, and increased inflammation can wear down our immune system. So how do we break this vicious cycle? Exercise! Luckily, exercise has a direct impact on our immunity and is one thing we can do each day to keep our bodies in fighting shape. So let’s get moving to build our defenses and bolster our immune system.
No need to overdo it either — overtraining can have the opposite effect.
#3 Exercise is a Free and Can Be Done Anytime, Anywhere
Feeling overwhelmed at work? Stand up and take a few laps around the office (better yet, get outside for a brief walk and 10 minutes of fresh air). Are you struggling to sleep due to an overactive mind? Roll out your yoga mat for a simple five or ten minute yoga flow to shift your body into a parasympathetic state and quiet those thoughts.
Be mindful of your time. Whenever you have a few minutes to spare, utilize it in a productive way. A way better alternative to scrolling on your phone is getting up to move your body and sweat out any unwelcome emotions.
Related: 20 Sneaky Ways to Move More (Even on Your Busiest Days)
#4 Exercise Can Give You Something to Look Forward To and a Goal to Achieve
When you’re anxious, it can feel like everything is spiraling and falling apart. Even if it’s just a 15-minute run or 20-minute at-home workout each day, a consistent exercise practice can provide you with a sense of stability through simply having a routine. Instead of being in your head with racing thoughts, this can help ground you back in your body and promote a sense of calm.
And, there’s no better time to goal set than now. No need to wait for the new year or some significant event. Start now! Instead of thinking bigger is better, start by setting small, achievable goals. You’re more likely to stick to them and think about how great it will feel to check them off as you go. Never been able to do a full push-up? Want to be able to get through a whole workout without modifying? Trying to gain muscle? Now’s a great time to channel that anxious energy into something productive.
Having a goal to chip away at each day and being able to see progress as you get closer to achieving it can be incredibly rewarding.
Move Those Anxious Thoughts Out Of Your Body
Many people notice their anxious thoughts and negativity quiet down during a workout and their mood start to improve. But if you’re struggling to start, remember: little changes make for big (and lasting results). When anxious emotions surface, start by going for a short walk. When that feels manageable, go from there! And if you’re still feeling stuck, come back to this guide and remember all of the benefits that come with movement. You got this.