8 Tips for Overcoming Gym Anxiety


Can I let you in on a little secret?

I have a LOT of anxiety. Like, a lot. People really have no idea. Especially after sixteen years as a model, people expect me to be very comfortable in my own skin. Friends call me a social butterfly and an extrovert. Nope. Nope nope nope. So much anxiety, my friends. So much. Most of it revolves around social situations, whether that means going to a work event, a party, or going to the gym. If there are people around, I’m anxious. For years, this has made me avoid the gym. I just knew that people were judging my form or judging my body or just judging me being in “their” space. The gym didn’t feel like a place I was allowed in. I didn’t belong. One time, this trainer came over and suggested I do my exercise a different way. Now, the rational part of my mind knows he was both trying to be helpful and also probably trying to get some business, but the anxious part of me ran right out of the gym and didn’t go back for weeks. Running out of the gym every time something is uncomfortable is not productive when wanting to develop a workout routine.

My husband and I were down in Florida for the holidays last month and I went to work out at the gym in my mom’s community. It was a really nice gym, but it didn’t have a ton of space or equipment, so I had to improvise. When I saw him after and he asked how my workout was, I told him just that. His response: “Wow, that’s like a 180 from who you were at the beginning of the year!” See, he knew that I used to straight up leave the gym if the machine I had planned on using was occupied (or wasn’t there at all). It threw me off so much if someone was using “my” machine or if the gym was too busy, that I would basically just short circuit. I couldn’t think of anything else to do. My brain would become completely overwhelmed with anxious thoughts and I would just go home. So being able to improvise in this Florida gym was a really big move for me. As of late, I dare say I actually enjoy going to the gym. I still have my moments, but I’ve at least finally come to believe that I belong in any gym and can fit right in there (just like you can!). It’s taken me years to really get to this point, but along the way I’ve developed some tips that help keep my gym anxiety at bay. If you struggle with gym anxiety, try them out and if you find them helpful, let me know! I’d also love to hear if you have any tricks that have helped you. Our health is too important to let our anxious thoughts get in the way. Happy gym-ing!

Step 1)  Remember that this anxious feeling is something you can overcome.

We have to be real here: it will likely take quite a bit of work (but hey, everything worth doing takes work!), and it might not go away entirely…but I promise you that your gym anxiety is something you can learn to deal with. Also, please do not forget that this is not a linear process. There are many times I have gone to the gym and have had a successful workout with no moments of panic and I would think to myself, “I’m HEALED!” just to go back again to feeling panicky and anxious the next week when some super fit dude would be working out next to me and I would just feel him judging me. This progress has literally taken me years. But I hope that these tips can help you move along more quickly than I did as well as have fewer set backs. Thinking that this is an easy process will set you up for failure. Thinking this is an impossible process will also set you up for failure. But settling in the truth that this is a challenging but totally doable process will help you stay on track. If you know it’s hard, you won’t associate failure with something being wrong with you, because you’ll know this is hard for everyone. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it on the reg. But also remembering that it’s not impossible (people conquer their gym anxiety regularly!), will get you up and in those gym clothes in the first place. It’s a two-pronged thing.

2) Find a gym that is not intimidating.

I’ve heard some people say that this is why they love Soul Cycle: it’s so dark and everyone is so focused on their own ride that you can get a great workout without worrying about any judgement. Personally, I go to Blink. Their whole motto is that they are a gym for everyone. Gyms with similar vibes are Crunch or Planet Fitness. I used to go to Equinox (super swanky gym!) and I was just constantly looking around comparing myself to all the people doing the latest fancy workouts. (I even remember a time where it seemed like everyone was barefoot, which made me of course feel self-conscious about wearing shoes!). Find a gym that makes you feel welcome - a place where no one is showing off but everyone is there with the same goal of improving their health and fitness. As you feel more confident, you can move to a more extravagant gym if you want. (This will even give you time to create a budget for a fancier gym since Lord knows they are expensive!) Additionally, try to go when the gym is quieter. It will allow you to get more acquainted with the equipment with much less stress. Ask the front desk when their less busy hours are and do what you can to get there!

3) Have a plan.

Now, this doesn’t mean you have to carry around a journal like some of the serious fitness people do. There are apps for this! My favorite app is Sweat. They’ve got several different trainers you can work with (I use Kelsey Wells PWR 2.0) and they’ve done a pretty great job making it easy to use. There are kinks here and there but overall, it’s worth it to me! It’s $25 a month and my gym is $25 a month, so in all I’m spending $50 a month on my fitness which, in NYC, is pretty freaking great. When I finish my Sweat workout, I turn to trusty old Google and type in “10 minute abs,” which pulls up several great videos for me to finish my workout with. There are lots of resources that will allow you to walk into a gym with a good workout plan.

4) Have a plan B that brings you comfort.

Sometimes, you just have to go to the gym during its busy hours. That’s just how life works for most of us. Consequently, some machines may be in use or even have a line of people waiting to use them. Don’t let this throw you off. Before you go to your workout, make sure you have some alternative moves that you can turn to if you can’t use the equipment you’d been planning on using. Is the Smith machine occupied? (Yes. It always is.) You can go to the leg press machine! That’s being used as well? Hello, goblet squats. Lat pulldown machine has a line? Get some dumbells, do some overhead presses and slowwwly lower them down to your starting position. Will these moves get you the exact same effect as the others? No, not exactly. But guess what? You’ll be working out! You’ll be building muscle, getting your heart rate up, and getting healthy! This isn’t about jumping in and being perfect. This is about building up your comfort level with the gym while improving your health at the same time.

5) Have a go-to, 30-minute move.

Along the same lines as having a plan B, if you find yourself completely overwhelmed, have a backup plan that you can go spend thirty minutes on while you reset your mind. This Plan B has been many different things for me over the years: jump-roping, the stair-master, the elliptical. Thirty minutes on any of these will get your heart rate up and allow you time to plan what else you want to do while there. And you know what? At the end of your thirty minutes of cardio, if you just can’t seem to get to the mental space where you can do a full strength-training workout, it’s ok. You’ll have gotten a thirty-minute cardio workout in, which is great! (And it is certainly more than you would have accomplished if you’d let your anxiety keep you at home.)

6) Ask for a tour!

So much of my anxiety used to come from not knowing which machines were where. Getting a tour of the gym, which the employees are more than happy to give, helps eliminate this so much. Additionally, if the employee shows you a machine that you aren’t 100% certain how to use, just ask! “Hey, could you just briefly show me how to use this machine? I want to make sure I’ve been doing it correctly.” If you are certain you’re using a machine the right way, you’ll be confident that people aren’t actually judging your moves like you think they are. Boom. You’ve moved past a piece of your anxiety.

7) Read, watch, listen.

It’s amazing how much information we absorb without even realizing it. They say children are like sponges, but we adults soak up a lot of peripheral information too! If you bring more of that information into your line of vision, you will be learning without even realizing it. Follow some Insta fitness stars, watch some YouTube fitness videos, pick up a fitness magazine or two. Remember that learning is a process and you will not know everything overnight. Those fitness stars were beginners at one point too. We all have to start somewhere.

8) Reward yourself.

Anxiety can be crippling. We know this. Facing it is really freaking hard. So, when you successfully face your anxiety and overcome it, reward yourself! You deserve it! Obviously don’t erase your hard work by rewarding yourself with an entire pizza or key lime pie…but find something that will bring you joy and remind you what a great job you’ve done. Positive reinforcement, baby. It’s a powerful thing (just like you!).

You can find me on all the social medias as @heidekmorris. I’d love to hear if these tips have helped you or if there is any other way I can support you in your journey through gym anxiety! Reach out there. Comment here. I’d love to connect and share.