Q: I make a point to go to the gym at least 3 times a week. It’s been one of my New Year’s resolutions, and so far it’s going great. It’s just that I get pretty bad gym anxiety when I’m there. There are a few things that set it off; maybe I’ll see someone staring at me in the mirror, or a new workout or exercise might make me self-conscious about the way I look. I don’t really feel comfortable using the locker rooms, either. 

I’ve thought about talking to some of the regulars that I see, thinking that it might help me loosen up, but everyone here almost always has headphones in, and I don’t feel super motivated to approach them. I know I’m only going to the gym for myself, and whatever anyone else thinks is irrelevant. But no matter what I do, there’s always this weird nervousness in the pit of my stomach when I’m working out. How can I cope with gym anxiety and feeling self-conscious at the gym? 

A: Being anxious on top of trying to motivate yourself to work out is no easy task. But you’ve done some of the work already. That’s because coping with your gym anxiety will be easier once you know what your triggers are. For many people, identifying their triggers and managing unpleasant thoughts and feelings is easier with a mental health professional’s assistance, but improving your understanding of your own experience is still valuable.

So—if you’re struggling with gym anxiety and are feeling self-conscious at the gym, the first step is (if you can) to identify what situations at the gym are creating your undue stress. From there, you may consider: 

  • Finding a friend or another gym regular who would be interested in working out with you: There’s some truth to the old adage that “there’s strength in numbers.” Having someone else to accompany you can help increase your motivation and confidence. 
  • Finding a trainer to help improve your form and self-confidence in the gym: Having a trainer’s assistance could improve your body awareness, knowledge of gym equipment, and workout know-how. The more comfortable you become with the gym, the less likely gym anxiety will be an issue for you.
  • Using YouTube or other online resources for gym tips and hacks: The web is the perfect place for finding advice and validation related to gym anxiety. And for women and beginners, keep in mind that there are content creators and communities on social media which are dedicated to helping those who are more likely to feel out of place or intimidated at the gym.  
  • Using deep breathing to re-center yourself if your gym anxiety starts to interfere with your workout: Diaphragmatic breathing has been shown to lower stress and improve the mood of those suffering from chronic anxiety. If overthinking and self-conscious thought patterns are taking over, learning to use diaphragmatic breathing could be a helpful coping mechanism.

Our physical health is one of the 5 pillars of self-care—which makes exercise an essential need that can improve both our body and mind. If gym anxiety is getting in the way of your fitness goals and making you feel self-conscious at the gym, try implementing our tips.