Anxiety and exercise link

Anxiety continues to be my constant companion, and I twitch and jitter to try and work the nervousness out of my system. I didn't have a specific source for the anxiety, though I seldom do. All I know is that this anxiety is really making me want to exercise. Like run-til-my-shoes-wear-out exercise. It makes me feel better. I took a brief walk yesterday, which helped, but it didn't quite seem like enough to neutralize the anxiety. I still tap-tap-tapped my knee as frenetically as ever, and I could hardly stand to sit still (as evidenced by my lack of posting yesterday. I can tweet on my phone, but I'm not yet talented enough to blog).

This complicated relationship I have with exercise--well, when you get right down to it, it's not that complicated: I'm addicted--was explained a lot by some new research in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders:

Acute changes in obsessions and compulsions following moderate-intensity aerobic exercise among patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder

The researchers found that

Participants reported reductions in negative mood, anxiety, and OCD symptoms at the end of each exercise session relative to the beginning. Changes in the magnitude of the effect of exercise in reducing negative mood and anxiety remained fairly stable while levels of self-reported obsessions and compulsions decreased over the duration of the intervention. Results of this study point toward the promising effect of exercise for acute symptom reduction in patients with OCD.

Well, it's a good treatment if you don't take it too far.

Research like this makes me feel a little less guilty for falling into the seemingly obvious potholes that were in my way. A lot of anxiety resulted in a lot of exercise. In the beginning of this pattern, if I can even find a beginning, I could have made better choices and extricated myself from the cycle. But the anxiety and restlessness of being on exercise restriction (of which I am partially off, yay me) has also driven home how entrenched in the cycle I was.

If I were allowed free reign over my exercise today, would I go back? I don't know. Part of me knows it's bad and stupid and really pointless, but part of me doesn't know if I'd be able to resist a no-holds-barred access to fitness equipment. Which is why I'm staying away from machines and looking into yoga and dance classes.

In the meantime, I just need to find something that works as well as exercise.

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10 comments: said...

I could have written this post too. I feel the same way. Today, my mom was like, "Just sit. Relax." And Im thinking, "No, my legs are going to crawl out of their skin if I can't run, sprint, and never stop." I totally get what you mean. Running has the ability to get out of control for me (as it recently has). In the past, what has worked for me is following a training guide to some race. For whatever reason, when the trianing guide says "2 miles," I stop at 2 miles and don't keep going. But when I get on that treadmill and decide to "run till I feel calm," then I run for way too long. Training guides also have 2 rest days a week usually. For whatever reason, I follow that. It doesn't take away the anxiety, but using a trainng guide is a way I have found to keep running "in check."

I think it's a good idea to look into dance and yoga. You're on the right track. You're simply looking for an activity to make you feel better and less anxious.

Harriet said...

Oh boy. My daughter could have written this post. If she doesn't get out for a bike ride in the morning, she's a mess for the rest of the day.

I've suggested yoga and meditation but she isn't interested. It's counterintuitive to slow down when your body is telling you to run it off or bike it off or whatever.

As a person with a lot of anxiety myself, I know that slowing it down can really help. I took a great class on meditation-based stress relief (based on work of Jon Kabat Zinn) and I find it helps a lot.

Hang in there.

Anonymous said...

Exercise has the same effect on my anxiety... I've never been a big fan of yoga/dance, though I know a lot of people like it. I do like spinning, though, and with that you get the fun of machines but in a group setting with a very defined time limit. I do it because I'm too uncoordinated to bike on the road:)
Taking a hot shower or bath is my best for when you can't exercise for whatever reason.

Amy said...

Ugh, if you find something that works, let me know. I feel like there are two categories: things that work really well and are totally bad for you vs. things that work so-so but are totally okay for you. But there are enough non-destructive people on the planet that someone, somewhere must have the trick for the latter to oust the former.

Katie Goode said...

Sometimes it takes finding a couple of things that work together... Come up with a list of things that seem like they have the potential to help with your anxiety. Then, instead of immediately turning to exercise, try one of those things for 15-30 minutes first.

Or, start adding other things when you're not at your most anxious. Peak anxiety time isn't the time to try yoga or meditation. Try it during a less anxious time so you can learn the skills that will help prevent the peak anxiety moments.

Anonymous said...

A hot stone massage. When I get that, all stress and anxiety floats out of me.

Meditation helps too. And you don't have to get all Eastern and Buddhist about it. Check out a book called "Meditation Made Easy" (approximate title) by Loren Roche. He used to have a web site (haven't looked at it in a while) but much of the same stuff is in the book. It's very intersting, and encouraging. He says things like "yes, you can meditate even if you smoke cigarettes, eat meat, and don't like to sit in cross-legged positions". Reading his book really opened up mediation to me.

Anonymous said...

Oh Carrie. Your post is about me as well.
I haven't find anything that works as anxiolytic as exercising, moving around, being exhausted and coveed with sweat.
Sometimes long cold shower really helpes, my muscles and mind relax a bit. My therapist calls it borderline self injuring (I can stand there really long), but she still likes it much more than my frantica running or cycling.
I hope we all will be able to find something really enjoyable and not ED related to overcome the anxiety. said...

Wow, so many people experience this. In my "real, live life," I think I'm the only person who feels the need to move - move fast and move hard until I feel the "angst" (that appeared for no apparent reason) is gone. On this blog, however, apparently I'm not a weirdo - this is very common. Nice to know :)

Kim said...

Very interesting post. I struggle with this too. I'm convinced that exercise DOES help my anxiety (and I'm sure there is a scientific basis for this, as you've noted), but I also have a tendency to take something, anything, too far. It's probably about balance and having some structure so we don't do that extra 10 minutes or .5 mile or whatever it is. People told me to try yoga, but I realize that I can take even that too far. I have to really watch it for myself. I feel good about my "routine" now, but it is a routine.

Carrie Arnold said...

Thanks for all of your insights and comments.

I have done yoga in the past and found the post-yoga Gumby feeling to be quite soothing. And I play "laser tag" with my cat (it involves one of those laser pointers and it just blows Aria's little furry mind that there is this red dot she just can't seem to catch), which does involve a little bit of activity, though it's only good while Aria stays interested.

I guess my issue is that I want something that works as good as exercise, and I want it NOW. Addicted, much? I try to tell myself that finding a replacement will take time and effort and blah blah blah. I suppose one option would be to see my psychiatrist for a little helper for the meantime. A little boost for the SSRI so I don't want to crawl out of my freaking skin. I'm already almost maxed out on Prozac, but he knows his stuff and might know of something else out there.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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