They’re all gonna have droopy boobs like me one day, anyway.
What do that old dude & I have in common, besides droopy boobs & a generally cranky attitude? We both want to be alone at the gym. Not an issue exclusive to us.
When I searched “gym anxiety” a lot came up. Most of it was the usual “I’m fat/weak/clumsy/a heavy sweater & I’m afraid people will judge me at the gym”. To which the usual answer was “Get over yourself. You’re not so special everyone is paying attention to you.” While that is true, it’s not very helpful, especially for someone dealing with an anxiety disorder. It’s also kinda mean.
Everyone’s anxiety manifests differently, so there are no blanket answers. Personally, along with the “I’m fat & feel judged by all the fit people at the gym; everyone is laughing at me” form of typical gym anxiety, there’s also the anxiety that has caused me to cry in the grocery aisle – where only one other person was – suddenly overwhelmed by the idea of how many people were in the store. There’s also the perfectionism causing a paralyzing fear of making mistakes & the paranoia that feeds the idea everyone is watching & judging me. I’ve been trying to convince myself no one is paying that much attention to me in public for 20+ years, but it doesn’t work. The being alone thing is part of what I like about running. You may remember the only race I ever did.
Just not going to the gym is certainly one solution to this problem, but maybe not the best one depending on your goals. I have chosen that route a lot of the time, & history says this will come around again. If your goals lead you to pursuing the gym life in spite of your fear & loathing of other people, then here are a few suggestions from my experience.
1. Deep breaths, positive thoughts. Remember: it’s true, everyone is too busy worrying about their own workout to worry too much about you. Unless they’re assholes just hanging out to stroke their own egos, but how much do we actually care about those guys? If anyone’s behavior is making your seriously uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to talk to a gym employee about it.
I started out really uncomfortable running on the treadmill when people were on the other machines, but I eventually realized every machine has a television & everyone had their ear buds in. No one was watching me. It was comforting.
2. Look for a small, friendly gym. Fewer people = less anxiety. As for friendly, I look for smile & nod, maybe say hello, but not the chit-chatty, get up in your business type of friendly.
For those times someone does talk to me, if I don’t feel like talking, I find a nice smile is a good response. People are at the gym to workout, so I don’t think anyone gets too offended if you just acknowledge them & go about your business. If you’re having a bad day, keep your ear buds in & keep walking. They’ll probably assume you didn’t hear them.
3. Depending on your schedule, try to find the least busy times to go. There’s a lot of shift work around here, so it’s hard to find a time when no one is there. However, 3AM is usually good. Not a time I feel safe being in there alone though, especially if I’m going to be in the back room where it would be easy get trapped with no windows for witnesses. (Not that the doors stay unlocked or anything.) One of the positives about anxiety is it makes you very safety conscious.
4. If you’re on meds for anxiety, try to time your gym visits around your med schedule. Super easy if it’s PRN; just pop it before you go. I take mine three times a day, so that gives me a few choices. I go after my afternoon dose. Otherwise, maybe you can adjust your med schedule to fit your gym schedule.
5. Look cute. This is just general good advice. When I look better, I feel better. Depending on where my mood is, maybe that just means I took a shower. Last week I went to the gym one day wearing a baggy t-shirt & my hair up however. Watching myself in the mirror lifting (gotta watch my form, yo!) I felt more self-conscious because I didn’t like the way I looked.
Yesterday, I wore a pretty fitted tank top & had my hair done in an easy messy bun. The top was really about not having to deal with a shirt swimming around me during yoga & the hair took no longer than a ponytail to do. I didn’t have to spend a long time getting ready just to feel good about how I looked. When I was watching myself in the mirror, I felt good because I looked hella cute.
Beyond being cute, it also helped I could see my arms while I lifted. It was easier to see what my body was doing when it wasn’t swathed in a baggy t-shirt. If you’ve ever taken ballet, you know what I’m talking about. You probably had to wear a backless leotard so the teacher could watch your spine & back muscles.
6. Start small & work your way up. Just go in, do something you’re familiar with for a few minutes, then leave if you still don’t feel comfortable. Try doing a little more each time & hopefully build up your comfort level.
I’ve been trying to get into serious lifting, not the little lady weights they want to push on me, but, like a lot of women, am intimidated by the testosterone zone known as the weight room. I have tried doing some lifts, but felt so uncomfortable I didn’t keep them up. So now, along with all of the above, I have started doing just a couple of easy dumbbell lifts. Nothing difficult or heavy, & just a couple of quick sets. I’m in there a few minutes & gone. I’m hoping to comfortably get me used to being in there & get them used to me being in there so I feel like less of a sore thumb.
7. Having a friend to go with helps too, but I can’t speak to that. I have very few friends here, none of whom want to or are able to go to the gym with me. 😦 Make sure it’s a friend who understands & is supportive of your anxiety issues.
Hopefully if you’ve read this far, you’ve found something useful. If you have something to add, I would love to see it in the comments. Happy & safe working out!