Anxiety about the gym and how to overcome it

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental illnesses. And then there are many people who also develop a fear of the gym. Especially after more than two years with the corona pandemic, many people have a hard time going back to the gym. FITBOOK explains how this happens and how you can overcome the fear.

“Social phobia is the third most common mental illness after alcohol dependence and depression,” says Patricia Dieterle, psychological psychotherapist in. A. and team leader of the course Psychologists at Selfapy. In 75 percent of cases, it begins before the age of 16. Women are affected about 1.5 times more often than men, according to the expert, who has worked in digital care for several years. The specific fear of the gym (gym anxiety) mainly affects people who have never been to the gym. But even people who have had a long break, for example due to the corona pandemic, can often not get themselves to go to the gym. FITBOOK explains where fear comes from and how to overcome it.

How is the fear of the gym expressed?

Basically, anyone can develop a fear of the gym. Not just beginners but also people who have been training there for years. At some point, one suddenly becomes anxious, frightened and embarrassed in the training environment. It usually starts at the entrance: you feel uncomfortable, you want to avoid the staff and you avoid the coaches’ routine greetings.

Above all, you think about what other people might think of you. “What do people think of me when I go to the locker room? What do I look like when I do exercises? Who keeps an eye on me? What if I do an exercise wrong and make myself laugh?” These and similar issues become mental cinema of self-doubt, insecurity, and fear.

The corona pandemic has also triggered other fears. Many now feel uncomfortable in crowded rooms and when asked to touch objects that others have touched before. The fitness room is seen almost as a germ cell. So the simplest solution is to avoid this danger zone.

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Social phobias are very common

“Fear of going to the gym is not an independent anxiety disorder,” says expert Patricia Dieterle. It is perfectly normal to feel excited when you are in a new or unknown situation. “A mental illness that, among other things, can lead to fear of going to the gym would be social phobia,” Dieterle explains. In this case, however, the fear would not only be limited to the gym, but would also affect other areas of life.

Social phobias are very common in Germany. After alcohol dependence and depression, it is the third most common mental illness. About seven to 12 percent of people develop a social phobia at least once in their lives.1

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Signs of social phobia

  • Fear of being in the center of attention, of being observed and judged
  • Fear of being perceived as strange, embarrassing or ridiculous
  • Shame on normal behaviors such as B. walking, eating or talking in front of other people
  • resulting visible signs of fear such as B. Redness, sweating and trembling
  • physical anxiety reactions such as severe palpitations, nausea, diarrhea or muscle tension

According to Patricia Dieterle, whether a “normal” fear or a social phobia depends above all on the disability in social and professional everyday life. It is certainly only an expert who can assess it. However, anyone who avoids certain everyday situations, such as visiting a gym, for the above reasons, suffers from social phobia.

What leads to the fear?

How fear develops in humans is very diverse and depends on several factors. In particular, the corona pandemic is likely to be another factor contributing to the feeling of discomfort in crowded rooms and the fear of contact with viruses and bacteria when touching exercise equipment. Basically, it is an interplay of different factors that the information portal reports:

  • genetic predisposition
  • Personality traits such as shyness and fear of new, unknown situations
  • Excessive expectations of oneself, negative self-image, catastrophic fantasies about the effects of one’s own behavior
  • Focusing on one’s own physical symptoms, such as redness and trembling, makes them even worse
  • Parental control and overprotective parenting style
  • Negative experiences in childhood and adolescence, such as being laughed at, humiliated or excluded by others
  • Stressful life events (death or breakup of a loved one)

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How do you overcome the fear of going to the gym?

Anyone who develops an anxiety disorder as an adult will have a hard time overcoming it themselves. “The good news is that social phobia can be overcome. Psychotherapy is particularly well-suited for the treatment of social anxiety,” explains Professor Dr. Falk Ligring. education and research (BMBF).2

But if you only have a “normal” and temporary fear of going to the gym, not a morbid fear, you can overcome it with a few tricks.

  1. Go to the gym with a workout partner: Ideally, it should be someone who is well versed in equipment and exercises and will help you become more confident. But even if the training partner does not have much experience himself, you will have enormous pleasure from the present. You have someone to talk to and you are not alone in the center of attention. In addition, sports are more fun for two!
  2. Book some coaching lessons: Especially when you start working out in the gym, you should definitely book a few workout hours. This way you will learn how to use the equipment correctly and how to perform exercises correctly. In addition, the coach can make an individual training plan. Through the coaching classes, you also gain more confidence and learn to move confidently in a gym.
  3. Avoid rush hour: Ask at the reception when the fewest visitors train. Often it is early in the morning, during the day or late in the evening. So you do not have to queue to wait for free devices and you do not feel like an obstacle. In addition, the atmosphere is quite stressful when everyone airs out on the appliances after work.
  4. Positive connection to the fitness center: Embrace the idea that it’s good for you to go to the gym. They promote your health and get your body in shape. In addition, you are guaranteed to feel better after each workout than before.
  5. Set goals: for example, the summer season. Muscular arms and legs and a flat stomach are especially effective in summer clothes. Having a goal in mind motivates you to exercise regularly. And the fear of the gym disappears by itself.


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